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Symptoms of Sciatica

January 5, 2014

Usually, sciatica affects only one side of the lower body and the pain often radiates from the lower back all the way through the back of the thigh and down through the leg.

Common Sciatica Symptoms

Leg pain and low back pain are often present in sciatica with the leg pain more severe than the lower back pain. There are certain combinations of symptoms that can also occur when sciatica strikes.

  • A searing or stabbing pain rather than dull pain can be experienced
  • Pain that subsides when the patient walks or lies down but increases when he sits or stands
  • Weakness, numbness or a “pins-and-needles” sensation felt down the leg
  • Pain that starts in the lower back, down the buttocks and felt along where the sciatic nerve traverses; this can include the back of the thigh all the way down the lower leg and foot
  • Continuous pain in just one side of the leg or buttock rarely occurring bilaterally (both left and right sides)
  • Stabbing or shooting pain that causes difficulties in walking or standing.
  • Numbness or weakness when the foot or leg is moved
  • Sometimes pain in the toes or in the foot

Sciatica Symptoms Nerve Root Symptoms of Sciatica

The L4 and L5 nerve roots are two of the nerves that go out the lumbar spine, the three other nerves termed S1, S2 and S3 go out of the sacral segment. These five nerves are bundled together to comprise the sciatic nerve. They branch out again inside the leg to bring sensory and motor functions to certain areas in the foot and leg.

The symptoms of sciatica differ depending on what nerve is compressed (pinched). Examples:

  • When the L4 nerve is pinched, the sciatica symptoms will be felt in the thigh. The symptoms may include lessened knee-jerk reflexes or poor ability to straighten the leg.
  • A pinched or compressed L5 nerve root affects the ankle and big toe (termed foot drop). Individuals with a compressed L5 nerve may feel numbness or pain on the top of the foot, specifically on the area between the second toe and big toe.
  • The outer part of the foot is affected when the S1 nerve is pinched. The symptoms may extend to the toes or little toe. Sometimes, the person may feel weakness when trying to stand on tiptoes or when attempting to raise his heel off the ground.

Sciatica Symptoms that Need Immediate Doctor’s Attention

Most of the time the symptoms of sciatica are not serious enough to demand immediate medical attention; however, there may be symptoms that may need urgent medical care and even surgery.

  • Bilateral sciatica symptoms (both legs are affected) accompanied by either bowel or bladder dysfunction or incontinence. These symptoms can indicate cauda equina syndrome. This is a syndrome wherein one or more sciatic nerves are compressed. Cauda equina syndromes are rare cases manifesting in only about 2% of patients of herniated lumbar disc.
  • Symptoms that do not improve and in fact even get worse – This may symbolize potential nerve damage, particularly if the ongoing symptoms are neurological (like weakness)