Bursitis Symptoms vs Sciatica

Bursitis is an inflammation of one or more of the bursae that cushion the joints and keep the bones from rubbing against each other. In contrast, sciatica is a symptom of a problem with the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lumbar spine to the buttocks and down each leg. While these conditions affect different parts of the body, some symptoms are similar. Talk with a doctor about bursitis symptoms and sciatica to learn what is causing pain and discomfort.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


Bursitis and sciatica both cause pain and discomfort, which can be severe. However, the causes of the pain are different and the pain occurs in different locations of the body. Bursitis can occur around any of the joints, such as the knee, hip and shoulder. Sciatica pain can occur in the lower back, buttocks and in either leg.

Limited Movement

Both conditions can be signaled by limited movement in the affected area of the body. Bursitis can limit movement of the hip, knee, elbow, ankle and shoulder joints 2. Sciatica may make it difficult to move the lower leg or bend at the lower back. Limited movement can lead to difficulty in performing daily activities.

Increased Pain with Movement

Bursitis and sciatica pain can get worse with movement of the affected areas 2. Movement puts pressure on the inflamed bursae, which causes increased pain. Sciatica pain can get worse if pressure is applied to the affected area or movement increases. Some people with sciatica find that they need to shift their weight to the unaffected leg to relieve pain and discomfort.

Muscle Weakness

In cases of chronic bursitis, the bursae may thicken and cause severe pain that limits movement. This lack of movement can make the muscles weaker. Sciatica can also lead to muscle weakness, because the sciatic nerve contributes to muscle function and movement. Anyone experiencing muscle weakness should see a doctor to determine its cause.

Differing Symptoms

While several symptoms of bursitis and sciatica are similar, there are also some symptoms that do not apply to both conditions. Bursitis can also be accompanied by redness or swelling of the skin above the infected bursae. Sciatica can cause numbness in the back, buttocks, calves or feet. It can also cause tingling or a feeling of pins and needles. These symptoms occur because the sciatic nerve is compromised. If anyone with sciatica symptoms experiences a sudden loss of bowel or bladder control, immediate medical attention should be sought. This can be a symptom of cauda equina syndrome, which is a loss of function of the nerve roots.