One of the most common misconceptions about sciatica is that it is, in and of itself, a medical condition. Instead, sciatica is the name used for a collection of symptoms that indicate an underlying medical condition that affects the sciatic nerve. Here’s ten of the most common sciatica symptoms you should watch out for.

What causes sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve on the body, attaching to the lumbar spine, traveling deep through the buttocks and down the leg all the way to the feet. Any conditions that cause damage, trauma, or prolonged compression of this nerve can lead to pain.

Many different conditions can cause sciatic pain, including:

The following video goes over sciatica in more detail.

Who suffers from sciatica? 

Risk factors such as obesity, a highly physical occupation, pregnancy, and genetics can influence whether or not someone develops sciatic nerve pain as a result of one of the above conditions.

Dr. Axe explains that:

“It’s estimated that 1 percent to 2 percent of all adults experience a herniated disc at some point that leads to sciatic nerve pain. Much more common in men than in women, and more likely to develop in people over the age of 30, sciatic nerve pain can affect both athletes/those are who are very active or people who are more sedentary… In most adults, herniated or slipped discs are the result of years of aging and putting stress on the body, from things like exercise, poor posture, high levels of inflammation and sometimes injuries. As we age, naturally the spinal discs lose their elasticity as spinal fluid decreases, causing the likelihood of experiencing cracks or tears to increase.”

What are the most common sciatica symptoms?

Regardless of the cause of your sciatic pain, there are characteristic symptoms to be on the lookout for. The most common symptoms of sciatica include:

  1. Pain down the back, buttocks, and one leg
  2. Pain on one side of the body
  3. Burning, pins and needles, or sharp sensations
  4. Numbness
  5. Hip pain
  6. Pain that intensifies when sitting, standing, or sneezing
  7. Weakness
  8. Numbness in upper thigh
  9. Tightness in calf or back of thigh
  10. Loss of bladder or bowel control

Since sciatica shares symptoms with other conditions, like arthritis, it can be difficult to diagnose it. Because of that, it’s always important that you keep detailed notes about the symptoms you’re experiencing to talk to your doctor about them later. Also, people experience sciatica differently. For some, it will be debilitating–affecting every aspect of their lives. Others may only experience pain and other symptoms occasionally.

1. Pain down the back, buttocks, and one leg

A hallmark of sciatica is radiating pain. That is shooting pain that radiates out from the low back and shoots down the leg. The pain may even be more intense as it moves down the leg, where it may become sharper. A doctor will typically think of sciatica if your leg pain is mostly present down one leg, but also felt throughout the lower back.

This pain follows the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs deep through both buttocks, and a constant pain, whether dull and achy or sharp and stabbing, is a definite sign that the sciatic nerve may be involved. Mayo Clinic explains:

“Pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg is the hallmark of sciatica. You might feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it’s especially likely to follow a path from your low back to your buttock and the back of your thigh and calf.”

2. Pain on one side of the body

Another tell-tale symptom of sciatica is that it typically only affects one side of the body. Typically, damage or trauma is confined to one of the nerve roots, so you’ll experience it primarily down one leg, hip, knee, or buttock.

Do I Have Sciatica? 10 Of The Most Common Sciatica Symptoms | PainDoctor.com

3. Burning, pins and needles, or sharp sensations

One of the first signs of sciatic nerve pain is a low-grade burning feeling in the back, hip, or anywhere down the back of the leg. It may be just a minor annoyance, and it may disappear and then return. If symptoms are not addressed, this burning may spread, worsen, and lead to other symptoms.

Sharp pain of any kind in the body is generally not a good sign, but stabbing or sharp pain in the low back, hip, or radiating down the leg is also a tell-tale indication of sciatica.

Finally, you may also experience pins-and-needles sensations. This feeling resembles the feeling after an extremity “falls asleep” and begins to “wake up.” It is often also described as tingling or like being stung by tiny bees. Pins and needles can occur anywhere along the path of the sciatic nerve.

4. Numbness

As sciatic pain progresses, patients may feel numbness anywhere along their back, side of the hip, and down the back of the leg. Extreme numbness can result in a decreased ability to utilize the leg properly.

5. Hip pain

Hip pain is common not only on the side where the sciatica is present but also on the other side of the body. When one side of the body is in pain, it is natural to compensate by shifting weight to the other side. This can result in hip pain on both sides, one related to sciatic pain and the other related to overcompensation for that pain.

6. Pain that intensifies when sitting, standing, or sneezing

There is pain that may occur normally when sitting or standing for a long time. This is creakiness or a slight ache that goes away when you shift your weight or move around. Sciatic pain is different from this in that the pain tends to get stronger the longer you are seated or standing. Shifting position may offer some relief, but it is usually short-lived.

Likewise, some people experience more pain when they cough or sneeze.

7. Weakness

Feeling weak in the knees? This is a common sign of sciatica, but weakness associated with sciatic pain can happen anywhere along the leg.

Weakness may be one of the common sciatica symptoms, but progressive weakness that gets worse as time and treatment goes on is another sign of a potentially serious underlying condition. Weakness may be progressive if sciatic nerve pain and its underlying issues are not addressed.

8. Tightness in calf or back of thigh

Tightness can be a muscle reaction to sciatic nerve pain, or it may be a psychological response to anticipated pain. This tightness can also result from misuse, especially if sciatica makes it difficult to stretch or complete daily activity.

9. Numbness in upper thigh

Numbness in your upper thigh can indicate more serious nerve or spinal cord involvement that may eventually leave a patient unable to move their legs. While the condition may not be permanent, immediate medical attention is require to prevent permanent damage to nerves and the spinal cord.

10. Loss of bladder or bowel control

If sciatica patients experience a loss of bladder or bowel control, doctors will treat this as a surgical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Sciatic pain paired with loss of bladder or bowel control may indicate permanent nerve damage but can be potentially treated with urgent medical attention.

How does a doctor diagnose sciatica? 

If you believe you have sciatica, it’s time to talk to a doctor. At eMedicineHealth, they explain that a: