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Symptoms. Sciatica

By Editorial Team (A)
February 14, 2022

Sciatica symptoms

Generally, the classic sciatica symptom is pain that starts in the lumbar or lower spine and radiates into the buttock. From there, the pain travels down the back of the legs, in some cases affecting just one leg. It can travel further on toward the feet or foot, depending on the severity. The pain and symptoms of sciatica may be felt in many different areas where the sciatic nerve runs. Still, it most commonly follows a path that leads from the lower back area to the buttocks and down the backs of the legs. Gentle sciatica exercises done to relieve the compression can sometimes be helpful. As mentioned in sciatica treatment, exercises, yoga stretches, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic sessions can all assist in managing this condition. Patients have reported improvement following these treatments. However, in more severe cases, surgeries can work even more effectively. 

Sciatica symptoms are often self-diagnosed

In many cases, the person suffering from this condition can self-diagnose the nerve dysfunction. However, there are a few ways to tell whether the pain is nerve-related or just muscular.

Weak knees

You may feel pain in your knees as the sciatic nerve is the body’s largest nerve that runs from the back down to the toes. If this nerve is pinched, it can result in all forms of pain and discomfort, including weakness in your legs.

The severity of the pain in the selected region

The amount of pain sciatica causes varies from mild to excruciating. It can feel like an ache, sharp burning pain, or an electric shock. Sometimes it is worse with coughing or sneezing. Prolonged periods of sitting can cause an increase in sciatica symptoms in the legs, hips, buttocks, and back. Doing stretches to relieve this compression can sometimes be beneficial.

In most cases, only one side of the body is involved. In addition to the pain, some people with sciatica have muscle weakness, tingling, or numbness in the lower extremity on the affected side. It’s also possible to have numbness and tingling in one part of your leg and pain in another. Sciatica exercises and stretches can sometimes help to relieve the numbness and tingling.

Sciatica symptoms can be misdiagnosed due to the piriformis muscle situated in the buttocks. Piriformis syndrome can have a painful effect similar to sciatica. The piriformis muscle causes pressure on the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lumbar area to the toes. This condition is common among athletes.

Sciatica diagnosis

Doctors typically diagnose sciatica through a thorough physical examination and taking a history of the patient’s symptoms. Usually, the diagnosis of this condition can be made if the patient is experiencing:

  •  radiating pain in one leg, which is typical of sciatica
  • at least one sign of nerve involvement

The diagnostic test most often used is a straight leg lift to assess for Lasègue’s sign. The sign is positive if the pain in the sciatic nerve occurs when the straight leg is lifted 30 to 70 degrees. Lasègue’s test is positive in approximately 90% of sciatica patients. However, about 3/4 of the patients with positive test results do not have the condition. Sciatica symptoms can also be confirmed by assessment of bowel and bladder control. In extremely severe conditions, the sciatica nerve pressure on the lower back region of the cauda equina will cause loss of bladder and bowel control leading to frequent trips to the toilet and worse. A surgical procedure would be necessary to alleviate the problem. Spinal surgery is used to reduce the pressure on the nerves and help restore normal function to the bowels and bladder. In some cases, sciatica symptoms can subside on their own after some time, but this may not be so for all individuals.

While imaging testing is not typically used to diagnose sciatica, sometimes tests like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans can help find an underlying cause, such as a herniation of a lumbar disc. If you’re experiencing sciatica symptoms, try some helpful stretches and exercises. However, be careful not to injure or cause further pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Pathological changes

Sciatica most often occurs due to compression of the last three lumbar nerves, the first three sacral nerves, or the sciatic nerve. Treatment for sciatica pain may include gentle sciatica exercises to help relieve the compression, which may sometimes be beneficial, depending on the severity of the pain and discomfort. In some cases, radiating pain is due to pressure on a dorsal nerve root rather than on a nerve. This condition is called lumbar radiculopathy. If inflammation also occurs, the condition is radiculitis. Chiropractors and other spine specialists can help determine the problem and the necessary treatment and care to resolve or alleviate the discomfort.

There are various treatment options for sciatica pain. When the condition is diagnosed early, the chances of living a normal life without the additional pain are better. If swelling occurs in the spinal canal, it can spread to the spine’s joints, resulting in lower back pain that radiates or refers to the back of the thighs. Radiating pain in a lower extremity, with numbness and tingling, can also result from nerve compression related to spasms or tension in the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve, usually the piriformis muscle in the buttocks. Gentle sciatic stretches can sometimes help relieve this pain.

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