CALL US TODAY (608) 218-4215

Can Sciatica Cause Knee Pain? What You Need to Know

Can Sciatica Cause Knee Pain? What You Need to Know

Sciatica is a condition that affects the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back, through your hips and buttocks, and down each leg. This nerve is the longest in your body, and when it’s irritated or compressed, it can cause significant discomfort and pain. One lesser-known symptom of sciatica is knee pain. But how exactly does sciatica cause knee pain? In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between sciatica and knee pain, including how exactly can sciatica cause knee pain, and what can you do about it, plus the causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body. It occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched, usually by a herniated disc, bone spur on the spine, or narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis). This pressure causes inflammation, pain, and often some numbness in the affected leg.

Sciatica typically occurs in individuals starting in their 40s, with the primary cause being a bulging or herniated disc in the lumbar spine. This condition results in pressure on the sciatic nerve, leading to pain and discomfort. Symptoms of sciatica can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating pain. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or electric shock. It can be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms. Generally, sciatica affects only one side of the body. The nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve originate in the lower spine and are susceptible to irritation or compression.

Does Sciatica Cause Knee Pain?

Many people ask if sciatica causes knee pain, the short answer is yes, it can. When the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed, it can lead to referred pain in areas connected to the nerve, including the knee joint. This is because the nerve pathways from the lower back to the leg include branches that influence the sensation in the knee. If these pathways are affected, it can manifest as knee pain. Sciatic pain radiates along the nerve path, which can extend into the knee and even further down the leg.

Causes of Sciatica-Related Knee Pain

There are several reasons why sciatica might cause knee pain:

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc in the lumbar spine can press on the sciatic nerve, causing pain to radiate down the leg and into the knee. This is one of the most common causes of sciatica-related knee pain. The spinal disc can bulge or rupture, leading to significant sciatic nerve pain.

Arthritis-Related Changes

Arthritis in the spine can lead to the development of bone spurs, which may press on the sciatic nerve. This pressure can cause pain to radiate down to the knee. Spinal joints affected by arthritis can become inflamed and impact the nerve roots.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves. This pressure can cause sciatica, which may manifest as knee pain. The spinal canal narrows and compresses the nerve roots, leading to pain.

Tight Hamstrings

Tight hamstrings can put additional strain on the lower back and sciatic nerve. This tension can exacerbate sciatica symptoms, including knee pain. The soft tissues in the hamstrings can affect the nerve’s function and cause discomfort.

Tight Glute Muscles

Tight glute muscles can compress the sciatic nerve, leading to referred pain in the knee. This condition is often associated with piriformis syndrome, where the piriformis muscle irritates the sciatic nerve.

Symptoms of Sciatica-Related Knee Pain

If you’re experiencing knee pain due to sciatica, you might notice the following symptoms:

  • Pain behind the knee: A common symptom where the pain is located primarily at the back of the knee.
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness: These sensations can extend from the lower back down to the knee.
  • A warm sensation, sharp pain, or dull ache: Different types of pain can occur, ranging from a warm, burning sensation to sharp, stabbing pain or a persistent dull ache.
  • Inability to bear weight: Severe pain might make it difficult to stand or walk.
  • Buckling or giving out of the knee: The knee may feel unstable and give way when you put weight on it.
  • Weakness: Weakness in the leg muscles can occur, making movement difficult.
  • Knee pain accompanied by low back pain: Pain in the knee along with discomfort in the lower back is a telltale sign of sciatica.
  • Tightness or cramping: Muscles around the knee may feel tight or cramping up, adding to the discomfort.

Tips for Relieving Sciatica that Affects the Knee

Tips for Relieving Sciatica that Affects the Knee

Relieving knee pain caused by sciatica involves addressing the underlying sciatica itself. Here are some tips on what helps knee pain from sciatica to help manage and alleviate the pain:

Hot or Cold Compress

Applying a hot or cold compress to the lower back can help reduce inflammation and ease pain. Cold packs can numb the area and reduce swelling, while heat packs can relax tense muscles.

Avoid Aggravating Activities

Avoid activities that exacerbate your pain, such as heavy lifting, bending, or prolonged sitting and standing. Pay attention to what triggers your pain and modify those activities to help manage your pain levels effectively.

Avoid Prolonged Sitting or Standing

Prolonged sitting or standing can worsen sciatica symptoms. Take breaks to move around and stretch, and use ergonomic chairs to support your lower back. This helps maintain a healthy range of motion in your spine and reduces pressure on the nerve.

Increase Core Strength

Strengthening your core muscles can provide better support for your lower back, reducing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Exercises like planks, bridges, and abdominal crunches can be beneficial.

Stretching and Strengthening

Regular stretching and strengthening exercises can help relieve tension in the muscles that might be compressing the sciatic nerve. Focus on stretching your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. This can improve your overall range of motion and help alleviate sciatic nerve pain.

Regular, Low-Intensity Exercise

Engage in low-intensity exercises such as walking, swimming, or gentle yoga. These activities can help improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and promote overall spine health. Regular exercise is key to managing sciatica and maintaining a healthy weight, which reduces strain on your lower back and knees.

Proper Lifting Techniques

Use proper lifting techniques to avoid straining your back. Bend at your knees and hips, not your waist, and keep the object close to your body as you lift. Approximately 10% of those who experience lower back pain are diagnosed with sciatica, making proper lifting techniques very important.

Comfortable, Supportive Shoes

Wear comfortable, supportive shoes to reduce the impact on your lower back and knees. Avoid high heels and opt for shoes with good arch support and cushioning.

What Treatments are Available for Sciatica that Affects the Knee?

Accurate diagnosis through imaging tests and a comprehensive approach to treatment plans can provide significant relief for sciatica. If self-care measures aren’t enough to relieve your symptoms, there are several treatment options available:


Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help reduce pain and inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used for pain relief. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications.

Steroid Injections

Corticosteroid injections can reduce inflammation around the irritated nerve, providing relief from pain. These injections are typically used when other treatments haven’t been effective. They offer temporary relief but can be part of a comprehensive approach to managing sciatica-related pain.


Surgery is considered a last resort but may be necessary if you have severe pain that doesn’t improve with other treatments or if you have significant weakness or loss of bladder or bowel control. Surgical options may involve removing part of a herniated disc or widening the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the nerve roots.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic adjustments can help relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve by realigning the spine. This can reduce pain and improve mobility. Chiropractic care often involves manual adjustments to improve spinal alignment and function.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the sciatic nerve, improve flexibility, and reduce pain. A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to address your specific needs. Physical activity tailored to your condition can enhance your recovery and help prevent future episodes of sciatica.

Is it Better to Rest or Exercise with Knee Pain from Sciatica?

Is it Better to Rest or Exercise with Knee Pain from Sciatica?

While rest is important, prolonged inactivity can actually make sciatica symptoms worse. It’s better to balance rest with gentle, low-intensity exercise. Regular movement can help keep your muscles strong and flexible, reducing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Listen to your body and avoid activities that cause pain, but aim to stay as active as possible within your comfort limits. Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise can also help reduce the strain on your lower back and knees.

At Peak Endurance Performance & Physical Therapy, we specialize in providing comprehensive care for individuals suffering from a range of conditions, including knee pain and lower back pain. Our expert team is dedicated to identifying the root causes of your discomfort and developing personalized treatment plans that promote rapid recovery and long-term wellness. Whether you’re dealing with the debilitating effects of sciatica or other related issues, our state-of-the-art facility and evidence-based approaches ensure you receive the highest standard of care. Experience the difference at Peak Endurance Performance & Physical Therapy, where your health and performance are our top priorities.


Sciatica can indeed cause knee pain, but understanding the connection and how to manage it can significantly improve your quality of life. By recognizing the symptoms and causes of sciatica-related knee pain and implementing effective relief strategies, you can reduce your discomfort and get back to your daily activities. If self-care measures don’t provide enough relief, consult with a healthcare professional to explore further treatment options.


What does knee pain from sciatica feel like?

Knee pain from sciatica can vary, including sharp, stabbing pain, a dull ache, or a burning sensation. It may also be accompanied by tingling, numbness, or weakness.

How long does sciatica knee pain last?

The duration of sciatica knee pain varies. It can last for a few days to several weeks, depending on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of the treatment.

How can I tell if my pain is sciatica?

Sciatica pain typically starts in the lower back and radiates down the leg. If your knee pain is accompanied by lower back pain, tingling, or numbness in the leg, it’s likely related to sciatica. Consulting a healthcare professional can provide a definitive diagnosis through a physical examination and imaging tests.