Article Reviewed & Updated on 8/23/2022
Sciatica or sigh-AT-is-ka (common pronunciation) refers to the debilitating pain in the back that feels like radiating through the buttocks to one leg. If you develop the condition, the pain in one leg passes through the knees and causes weakness, limping, and numbness in the buttock muscles and leg.
Typically, sciatica is the nerve pain that can be excruciating and can affect routine tasks. . In some cases, it immobilizes people and affects their quality of life. There are many causes of sciatica pain including injuries and spinal stenosis (ruptured disc).
While sciatica pain mostly feels in the lower back, lower leg, and hips, it may affect other parts of the body. You must know the signs and symptoms of this condition to get it diagnosed and treated before it worsens.
Continue reading if you want to find out “what are sciatica symptoms”.
What Are Sciatica Symptoms?
The sciatica symptoms and signs are felt along the large sciatica nerve’s path. You can characterize sciatica symptoms with the following features.
Sciatica feels like a shooting pain or constant burning sensation in the buttock or lower back. It radiates down the back, front leg, thigh, or feet.
Sciatica pain typically feels in one leg. You may develop a feeling of heaviness and numbness in the affected leg. However, it may affect both legs if the sciatica nerve pinches or squeezes along the spinal column. It happens in rare cases.
Sciatica pain is often accompanied by loss of sensation in the back of the thigh or leg. You may feel changes in sensation, tingling, or weakness in the leg.
Posture Induced Symptoms
The symptoms of Sciatica may worsen when you try to stand up, sit, twist the spine, bend the spine forward, cough, or lie down. Applying a heat pack to the pelvic region or walking can help you reduce the pain.
You must keep in mind that not every type of back pain or shooting pain in the leg is sciatica. Sciatica pain is specific to burning or soreness that originates from your Sciatic nerve.
Sciatica symptoms can also appear in the form of;
• Hip pain
• tingling down the leg
• Weakness in leg
• Difficulty in moving the foot
• A constant feeling of burning on one side of your rear
• Shooting pain in the leg that makes standing up hard
As said above, Sciatica affects only one side of your lower body. The pain extends or radiates from the lower back, affecting the back of the thigh and down through the leg. Also, keep in mind that at the point where your sciatic nerve is pinched, the pain will extend from there to the toes.
While for some people the sciatic pain is disabling and severe, it is irritating and infrequent for others. Even if the pain is mild in the beginning, it has the potential to debilitate or get worse. Some serious symptoms of Sciatica include;
• Swelling in your spine
• Burning when urinating or blood in the urine
• Numbness in the upper thighs, pelvis, legs, or bottom
• Loss of bowel control or bladder
• Serious pain
• Pain and fever
Common Causes of Sciatica
A herniated disc, also called a bone spur can cause pressure on your largest nerve root. A large percentage of people in the USA experience slipped discs. Disc herniation increases pressure on the sciatic nerve leading to sciatica symptoms. The doctor may prescribe physical therapy to a patient experiencing disc herniation.
Degenerative Disk Disorder
Degenerative disk disease is another major cause of Sciatica symptoms. It refers to the natural wear down of small discs between the spine’s vertebrae. Though it is a slow process, it can shorten the height of the discs, narrowing the spinal stenosis. The condition pinches the sciatic nerve roots and causes pain.
Trauma injury of any type can affect your lumbar spine, resulting in sciatic pain.
Piriformis syndrome develops when your Piriformis muscle becomes spasms. The small muscle lies in your buttocks and can irritate or put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause you lower back pain or leg pain. You need to see a physical therapist to reduce the effects on your spinal cord.
How Is Sciatica Diagnosed?
If you have irritation of the sciatic nerve, your doctors may ask you for your medical history and symptoms. They examine your physical condition to check how your spinal cord carries your body weight.
You can also undergo a leg raise test in which you need to move the leg upwards slowly and feel the point where the pain is shooting. The test is effective to determine muscle strength or muscle weakness.
After physical examination, your doctor may need to conduct imaging and some more tests for an accurate diagnosis of Sciatica or the reason causing you severe pain in the back of each leg. This includes;
• CT scans
• Nerve conduction velocity
Possible Treatments for Sciatica
It is a common treatment for patients with lower back pain in the buttocks and legs due to stressed sciatic nerves. The goal of therapy is to find suitable movements or exercises that can lower the pressure on the sciatic nerve. These may include stretching exercises to enhance muscle strength and flexibility.
Steroid injections are typically anti-inflammatory medicines your doctor gives you into the path of the sciatic nerve to reduce swelling and pain in the affected nerve.
Heating Pads and Ice Packs
Your doctor may prescribe you muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories to relieve lower back pain.
When initial treatments for Sciatic nerve fail to reduce the pain, you may need surgical intervention. It is especially true if your condition turns into a Cauda equine syndrome. You can lose control over your bladder and bowels. It requires surgical treatment such as Diskectomy or Laminectomy.
Read Related Article: 7 Activities To Avoid with Sciatica
Let's Define Where the Sciatic Nerve Is Located
The sciatica nerve is one of the largest nerves in the body and has the size of two small fingers. The nerves contain two sacral nerves and lumbar nerves that join in the lower part of your spinal cord. The nerve typically extends from the spinal column, passes behind the hip joint, and goes down to the leg and d ankle.
How Many Sciatica Nerves Are There?
Though there are two sciatic nerves (on both sides of the body), the symptoms occur on only one side. If the radiating pain goes down both of the legs, it is not necessarily caused by the pinched sciatic nerve.
Where Is Sciatica Pain Felt?
As said above, sciatic pain radiates from the lumbar (lower spine) to the buttocks. It goes down the back of the leg. You may feel discomfort and numbness along the pathway of the nerve; especially on the back of your calf, buttocks, and thighs.
What Does Sciatica Pain Feel Like?
People report sciatica pain in various ways as it largely depends on the factors that cause it. While it is jolts of pain for some people, it may be shooting, sharp, stabbing and burning for others. Sciatica pain may be infrequent or constant in many cases.
It worsens when you move, stand, or sit for a long time. For instance, a sudden, forced movement such as sneezing or coughing can make the sciatic pain even worse.
What are Symptoms of Sciatica in the Leg
Sciatica pain feels like a shooting ache or constant burning in the buttock or lower back. The pain shoots from the lower back and radiates down the thigh (front and back) and leg. You may also feel numbness in the back of your leg.
Can You Have Sciatica without Pain
It is possible to develop sciatica without pain in the back. However, one may feel pain in the leg that ranges from a mild ache to excruciating pain.
What Happens When Sciatica Gets Worse?
If your sciatica nerve is damaged severely, it may lead to progressive neurological symptoms. The condition requires immediate medical treatment. Some common symptoms of severe sciatica nerve damage include;
• Abnormal sensations, like crawling
• Hyperalgesia- increased sensitivity to sensation or pain
Will Sciatica Ever Go Away?
Typically, sciatica goes away without any medical treatment. If sciatic is in the early stage, it isn’t a medical emergency. You may wait to see whether the symptoms go away without seeing the doctor. However, if the condition remains the same, a doctor diagnoses the cause and prescribes medicine or treatment to reduce the symptoms.
Read Related Article: What Causes Sciatica Flare-Ups
All in all, sciatica comes with different symptoms but usually appears in the form of shooting or throbbing pain that flows from the lower back via the buttocks and lower limbs. The pain can be the result of a damaged/ pinched sciatic nerve or injury. You may also experience other symptoms associated with the damaged nerve.