5 Common Signs of Sciatica

5 Common Signs of Sciatica

Oct 02, 2023
Sciatica affects 10%-40% of adults, causing excruciating pain that can lead to disability if you don’t seek treatment. How do you know when you need to get medical care? Learn sciatica’s five signs and use them as an alert to get help.

The worst thing about sciatica (other than the excruciating pain), is that your leg pain often appears suddenly without an obvious cause or warning. You never know when a sciatica flare up will stop you in your tracks and disrupt your day.

Many patients with sciatica seek help from the experienced team at Alliance Spine and Pain Centers. Their customized treatments that are drawn from conventional, interventional, and regenerative medicine can relieve your symptoms and allow you to regain a life free from stress over your next sciatica flare-up.

Five common signs of sciatica

Chances are you’re familiar with the first two symptoms, but they’re not the only signs you’ll experience. The five most common sciatica signs include:

1. Lower back pain

Sciatica begins in your lower (lumbar) back, where multiple nerve roots leave the spine (on both sides of the spinal cord), and then come together to form the left and right sciatic nerves, the longest and thickest nerves in your body.

A herniated spinal disc causes 90% of all cases of sciatica. Other common causes include degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, and spinal stenosis.

No matter which spinal condition you have, they can all pinch or irritate one of the nerve roots, causing inflammation, nerve damage, and lower back pain

However, back pain alone isn’t a sure sign of sciatica. The key symptom is radiating leg pain.

2. Radiating leg pain

When any nerve is damaged, you may experience pain along the nerve. If you have sciatica, you will experience pain that suddenly shoots down one leg.

Though the pain’s severity may vary, most patients describe their radiating leg pain as sharp, searing, or excruciating. It’s often called an electric-shock pain to highlight the intense sensation you experience.

The pain may travel all the way down your leg to your foot. Or you might notice that the pain affects a certain part of your leg. The pain’s exact location depends on which of the many nerve roots forming the sciatic nerves are pinched.

3. Tingling (pins and needles) and burning sensations

Pinched, irritated, and inflamed nerves transmit signals differently than a healthy, functioning nerve. Sometimes they may send extra signals, causing unusual sensations like tingling and burning that travel down the affected leg.

4. Leg weakness or numbness

A severely pinched sciatic nerve may stop sending signals. If that happens, your leg muscles can weaken or you could lose sensation in the leg. Both weakness and numbness are red flags telling you of severe and possibly permanent sciatic nerve damage.

5. Muscle spasms or cramping

You may experience muscle cramps in your legs or lower back. Though leg cramps can be quite painful, they’re usually different from sciatica’s shooting leg pain. The muscles supporting your lower back could also cramp, adding to your overall pain.

Signs of a serious problem

Your sciatica could be the symptom of a condition called cauda equina syndrome. Cauda equina syndrome occurs when multiple nerve roots in your lower spine are pinched. The extensive nerve damage causes the following symptoms:

  • Urinary retention (your bladder fills but you don’t feel the urge to urinate)
  • Urinary and/or fecal incontinence
  • Saddle anesthesia (numbness in your buttock, genital, and anus region)
  • Weakness or paralysis of your leg
  • Sciatica (back and leg pain)
  • Loss of sexual function

Cauda equina requires emergency medical attention to prevent the symptoms listed above from turning into permanent problems.

Don’t hesitate to call Alliance Spine and Pain Centers or use online booking to request an appointment if you have any signs of sciatica.