The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the body and is made up of individual nerve roots that start by branching out from the spine in the lower back and then combine to form the “sciatic nerve.” Sciatica symptoms occur when the large sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed at or near its point of origin. The discs between the spinal bones of the lower back are often involved. Trauma can cause one or more discs to bulge. This crowds nearby nerves, causing irritation and inflammation. Coughing, sneezing or other kinds of movement can be painful. If neglected, the nerve irritation extends down one or both legs along the sciatic nerves. The pain appears in the leg, but the culprit is often the lower back! Although the main symptom is often leg pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness can also be present. Common lower back problems that can cause sciatica symptoms include a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or spinal stenosis.
Sciatica is often characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Constant pain in only one side of the buttock or leg (rarely in both legs)
- Pain that is worse when sitting
- Leg pain that is often described as burning, tingling, or searing (versus a dull ache)
- Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg, foot, and/or toes
- A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or walk
- Pain that radiates down the leg and possibly into the foot and toes (it rarely occurs only in the foot)
- Sciatic pain can vary from infrequent and irritating to constant and incapacitating.
- Symptoms are usually based on the location of the pinched nerve.