What are the Sciatica Symptoms?

If you have back pain and think you may have sciatica, think again!

There are some conditions like joint disorders, piriformis syndrome, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction that mimic sciatica symptoms. If you have one of these conditions, and you have tried treatments for sciatica, but no relief has been found, what a waste of time!

Symptoms of sciatica include a radiating pain sensation that affects the lower back, buttocks, knees, and legs. These sciatica signs flare up when the sciatic nerve roots are pinched or compressed.

Common Sciatica Symptoms

Below are a few common signs of lower back pain (sciatica):

1. Pain

Sciatica pain is constant or episodic (depending on the case).

Most often, the pain is described as shooting pain or burning sensation (anywhere near the sciatic nerve), it affects one leg, and the leg pain is more severe than the back pain.

Leg pain is more prevalent in the calf region below the knees. Other areas that can also experience sciatica pain include:

  • Low Back
  • Front of the thigh
  • The top side of the foot
  • Sole of foot

The other pain sensations that you may feel with sciatica are:

  • Throbbing/ pulsating pain
  • Electric shock-like pain
  • Consistent dull ache
  • Periodic Discomfort

In any case, the early diagnosis is crucial so you don’t mix it up with normal back pain.

2. Altered Sensation

In the back of your leg, you may experience numbness accompanied by a tingling sensation.

3. Weakness

It may feel heavy and difficult to move your affected leg. You may also feel weak in your leg or foot.

Symptoms of Sciatica Aggravated By Posture

While coughing or sneezing can increase the strain around the lower spine, certain postures can exert pressure on your spine that may aggravate sciatica symptoms.

You may feel sciatica symptoms worsen when:

  • Sitting for a prolonged time and then trying to stand up.
  • Stay in a standing position for a long time.
  • Bending the spine forward.
  • Twisting the spine

A simple task of sitting can become a hectic one when you have sciatica. You can read more about the recommended sitting tips with sciatica in my recent article.

Similarly, sleeping is another factor that triggers sciatica signs. Any sudden movement can pinch the nerve to aggravate pain leading to poor sleep quality.

Therefore, sciatic-specific pillows and mattresses are recommended to avoid such circumstances. Read more

Avoid exercises that can aggravate the sciatica symptoms. In some conditions, certain exercises can hurt the sciatica nerve.

Similarly, walking in an improper posture can also worsen the sciatica condition.

Nerve Root Specific Symptoms

The sciatica nerve has five roots: L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3.

The compression of L4, L5, and S1 nerve roots leads to sciatic disorder. The symptom’s intensity and location may vary between the affected individual nerve roots.

1. L4 Nerve Root Sciatica

  • Pain in the hip, thigh, and medial areas of the knee and calf
  • The inner calf may have a loss of sensation
  • There is a weakness in the thigh and hip muscles
  • You may feel a reduced knee-jerk reflex

2. L5 Nerve Root Sciatica

  • Pain in the buttock and lateral part of your thigh and leg
  • Loss of sensation in the foot, especially between the great toe and second toe
  • Weakness in your buttock and legs
  • Limited ankle movement

3. S1 Nerve Root Sciatica

  • Difficulty in movement: heel raise inflict pain
  • Loss of sensation in the third, fourth, and fifth toes
  • Buttock and foot muscles weakness

Sciatica Types

The duration of sciatica symptoms and the way it affects the legs, sciatica can be classified into these different types:

1. Acute Sciatica

Acute sciatica lasts for 4-6 or 8 weeks. It may be self-resolved, and the sciatica symptoms can subside without any medical intervention.

2. Chronic Sciatica

In some individuals, the pain lasts more than eight weeks—chronic sciatica. This type of sciatica needs medical treatment, and it may even require surgery depending on the underlying cause.

3. Alternating Sciatica

This type of sciatica affects one leg at a time. It may arise from degenerative complications in the sacroiliac joint.

4. Bilateral Sciatica

Bilateral sciatica affects both legs together. The degenerative changes in the vertebrae may contribute to giving rise to bilateral sciatica.

Sciatica Risk Factors

The most common factors that can contribute to sciatica development are:

  • Age: with age, the frequency of wear and tear of body parts increases.
  • Lifestyle: Prolonged or incorrect sitting.
  • Diabetes: With diabetes, the risk of sciatica increases due to overall health disturbance.

FAQs

Is bilateral sciatica a sign of a greater problem?

Bilateral sciatica is concerning as it is a red flag for a condition known as cauda equina syndrome—irreversible damage to the nerves.

How can you tell apart between sciatica and Piriformis Syndrome?

In Piriformis Syndrome, the pain severity is more intense in the buttock and hip. While in sciatica, symptom severity is more in the legs and toes.

Final Thought

Though sciatica is quite prevalent, the prognosis of sciatica is good. Most sciatica symptoms go away on their own within a few weeks. In rare cases, sciatica symptoms can take a more persistent form and requires medical involvement.

Get in touch with your doctor, and keep an eye on your sciatica symptoms.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279472/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sciatica/symptoms-causes/syc-20377435

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