Sciatica, or Sciatic Nerve Pain, is a type of nerve pain or lower back pain characterized by discomfort and pain along a single long nerve.
The sciatic nerve stretches from your lower back just above your buttocks down either side of your body to your feet.
It reaches through your legs and, thus, can cause discomfort both in the limbs themselves and your lower back in general.
But what are the most common sciatica symptoms? In this article we look at what is typical for sciatica – so you know what to look for.
What Causes Sciatic Pain?
The sciatic nerve is very large and long, so it’s easy for it to be disturbed by other issues you might have in your lower back.
An example is a herniated disc, which is characterized by one of the inter-vertebrae discs protruding from your spine and pressing on surrounding nerves.
When the nerve is pushed on or squeezed, it often responds with pain or numbness.
Sciatica itself can be caused by lots of reasons, therefore it’s sometimes difficult to determine whether you actually have sciatica or if it’s something else.
So let’s go over the most common sciatica symptoms.
Common Sciatica Symptoms
First, pain in your leg or butt is a common symptom of sciatica.
This is distinct from regular lower back pain, which normally doesn’t extend to the lower limbs or below your waist.
This pain often worsens when you sit down, so you can easily test whether you likely have sciatica or just normal back pain by taking a seat.
Hip pain is also fairly common with sciatica due to the nerve’s central location and origin point.
Also, leg discomfort and pain, in particular, are very distinct signs of this condition and are common sciatica symptoms.
Specifically, you should feel for burning or tingling down the length of your leg. This won’t feel like burning or tingling on the surface of your skin but should feel more “inner” toward the core of your leg tissue if you suffer from sciatica.
Similarly, leg weakness or numbness are heavy signs of sciatica.
Your nerves control the feeling and motion of your limbs, so a loss of feeling or function in either of your legs or feet, or both, is often a sign that the nerve itself is being pinched or is affected by a condition.
You should definitely visit a doctor if you experience leg weakness even for a brief moment.
Don’t wait for when you can’t stand any longer and head there right away.
Much sharper leg pain is another bad sign.
It’s particularly likely to be sciatica if you have a shooting pain down your leg which makes it difficult for you to stand up fully.
This pain indicates sciatica because it’s triggered by your nerves activating as you move to a standing position.
Sciatica is normally characterized by affecting only a single side of your lower body.
It’s rare for sciatica to affect both legs at the same time, so it’s a good bet that you have the condition if only one of your legs or buttocks is feeling uncomfortable or pained.
If both legs are hurting, it might be something else; you should certainly contact your doctor as soon as possible to determine what’s wrong.
Bowel or Urination Problems
The sciatic nerve is one of the largest in the body and is the longest overall.
It takes up a lot of space in your lower body, so it’s not uncommon for those with sciatica to experience issues with bodily functions in that region.
If you have difficulty controlling bowels or urine, or if you feel numbness in the genital region or rectum, this may also be a sign of sciatica.
You should see a doctor right away, especially because these kinds of issues can be caused by several other problems altogether.
It’s usually “only” sciatica if you experience these symptoms in addition to general pain or discomfort around your lower back and down a single leg – but please see a doctor to be sure.
However, if it is sciatica, it’s a sign of a more serious variant of the condition.
Your sciatic nerve may be degraded to a point where surgery is necessary for treatment.
The Pain Path
Because sciatic affects the entire nerve and the actual pain you will feel can vary drastically from patient to patient, you have to consider the actual pathway your discomfort takes.
If you feel pain or discomfort down the back of your legs, specifically, it’s likely that sciatica is the problem.
This follows the root of the nerve almost exactly, so it’s unlikely that the problem is related to your muscles or smaller ancillary nerves.
Overall, sciatica is characterized by a myriad of symptoms. But they all have a few major things in common:
- Pain in the lower back
- Pain or discomfort down one leg
- Focused discomfort or numbness down one leg
If these issues are accurate relative to your condition, you may have a mild or major form of sciatica.
Again: contact your doctor and have them diagnose you before you jump to any conclusions, however.
Don’t worry if you do have sciatica. Treatment is usually very mild and symptoms are alleviated within a couple of weeks.
Only in the event of a serious issue, surgical treatments are needed.