Recognizing Sciatica Symptoms
Sciatica is the set of symptoms that arises when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed by an anatomical abnormality within the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine. This can be caused by traumatic injury, but is more often associated with an age-related degenerative spine condition. Conditions that can lead to sciatica include bulging discs, herniated discs, spondylolisthesis, spinal arthritis, spinal stenosis, and spinal ligament calcification.
What Do Sciatica Symptoms Feel Like?
Because lower back pain is relatively common - 80 percent of Americans can expect to experience it at some point - only a thorough examination by a physician or trained spine specialist can reveal its underlying cause. However, because the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and is located in the flexible, weight-bearing lower back, it is extremely vulnerable to compression. For that reason, one of the first things a doctor will check for during an examination is potential sciatic nerve compression.
The symptoms you are experiencing can be a clue, as well. The sciatic nerve begins in the lumbar region of the back and branches downward through the buttocks, the legs, and the feet. Symptoms that occur on only one side of the lower body - for example, in the right hamstring or the left foot - are an indication that the sciatic nerve may be involved.
Sciatica symptoms can include:
- Focal pain at the site of the compression
- Pain or a burning sensation that radiates, or shoots, along the length of the nerve
- Tingling in a body part innervated by the affected nerve
- Numbness in a body part innervated by the affected nerve
- Weakness in a muscle group innervated by the affected nerve
How Do I Know it's Sciatica?
Again, the only way to know for sure whether the lower back pain and other symptoms you may be experiencing are sciatica is to undergo a thorough examination, which may include tests for range of motion and muscle strength. Your doctor may also want and medical imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. If you experience what appear to be sciatica symptoms for several weeks, make an appointment with your physician for diagnosis.