Sciatica Symptoms

What's that Pain Going Down Your Leg?

The nerves of the lower back, including the sciatic nerve.
The nerves of the lower back, including the sciatic nerve. / Getty Images

Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica Symptoms - in a nutshell - generally consist of pain, numbness ,and/or weakness, and/or electrical type feelings such as pins and needles, shock, etc, down one leg.  Initially, sciatic pain may be mild, but over time, it grows in intensity, sometimes to unbearable levels.

Most forms of sciatica originate in the lumbar spine (i.e. the low back),  but the pain and/or symptoms are not typically noticed in this area.

  Generally, sciatica is felt as pain that radiates from the buttock area down the leg. Although it is possible to have sciatica on both sides of the body, the pain is usually felt on one side only.  

Despite its name, most cases of sciatica do not involve problems with the sciatic nerve. Rather, is thought that sciatica is frequently caused by pain from an irritated spinal nerve root in the lumbar spine that is referred to the buttock and leg on the same side of the body.  

What makes Sciatica Symptoms Worse?

Symptoms of sciatica may also become worse if you sit for long periods of time if you lie on the affected area for long periods of time and after long periods of walking.  Worsening of sciatica symptoms may also be brought about by coughing, sneezing, laughing or similar reflexive actions.

Numbness or weakness of the leg or foot is another symptom of sciatica. Should weakness of the leg or foot get progressively worse, and/or if there is a loss of control or feeling of the bowels or bladder, you may have a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome.

Seek medical attention immediately.

Related: Making the Decision to Have Emergency Cauda Equina Surgery

Sciatica Symptoms Due to Slipped Disc - Some Good News

According to National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMSD), if sciatica symptoms are caused by a slipped disc, i.e. a disc that is bulging past the normal boundaries of the spinal vertebra or vertebrae to which it is attached, symptoms will often go away on their own in about 6 weeks.

 NIAMDS says this is the case for about 90-100% of people whose sciatica symptoms are related to a slipped disc.  

After 6 weeks, the odds of symptoms dissipating on their own decreases, which may necessitate a course of physical therapy and/or surgery.

Related:  One Type of Sciatica:  Piriformis Syndrome


Fact Sheet: Slipped Disc and Low Back Pain. NIH. NIAMSD. Accessed Feb 28 2015.

Kendall, F., McCreary, E., & Provance, P. (1993). Muscles: Testing and Function with Posture and Pain. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

Wheeless' Book of Orthopaedics. Retrieved January 10, 2007, from Duke Orthopaedics Web site.

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