Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica Symptoms

What are the symptoms of sciatic nerve pain, or “sciatica?”

Sciatic nerve pain may manifest itself in the low back, buttocks, leg, or any combination of the above.  Pain may be described as a dull ache, or a very sharp shooting pain that shoots from the low back or buttocks down the leg, and in some cases all the way down to the foot.  The pain most commonly originates either in the low back or in the buttocks, depending on the underlying cause of the problem.  If the problem was caused by a disc herniation, or misalignment of the lumbar spine, then the pain will most likely originate in the low back, and radiate down the buttocks through to the leg from there.  However, if there is compression or pressure on the nerve further down (ie. piriformis syndrome), then you will find that the pain likely originates in the buttocks area.   Pain associated with the sciatic nerve will usually be felt as radiating, moving, or shooting.  This pattern is characteristic of sciatica.

In addition to pain in the low back and leg, there will often be numbness and tingling, or pins and needles that can extend anywhere from the buttocks or low back to the toes.   This may be constant or intermittent.   Again, the severity of these symptoms will depend on the degree to which the sciatic nerve is irritated, compressed, or inflammed.  A feeling of weakness or fatigue in the leg is also common.  You may also feel cramping in the leg or burning in the thigh.

The reason that sciatica symptoms are felt in both the muscles via pain, cramping, burning, fatigue, as well as in the skin via numbess, tingling, or pins and needles is simply due to the fact that the sciatic nerve is responsible for supplying both the muscles and skin of the lower leg.  The nerve continues to branch off as it descends into smaller and smaller branches all they way to the sole of the foot.

Symptoms usually get worse with prolonged sitting, bending forward, heavy lifting, or increased pressure on the affected leg.   It is usually worse in the morning or at night.

Alleviating factors that may give you some relief include stretching, ice or heat (depending on your acuity or stage of your condition), rest, gentle exercise such as swimming, hot showers, core exercises, back support, and analgesic gels such as Voltaren or Biofreeze.  Your physiotherapist can guide you through exercises, stretches, positioning, and other tips that can help.  Your doctor may also prescribe anti inflammatories.  Advil or ibuprofen may help alleviate the symptoms as well.  Tylenol may help with the pain, but is not an anti inflammatory.  Please speak to your doctor before starting any medication.