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What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

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Updated September 30, 2009

Question: What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
Answer:

Pain, numbness and/or weakness down the leg are the main symptoms of sciatica.

Sciatic pain is generally most noticeable as pain that radiates from the buttock area down the leg. Pain is usually on one side of the body, not both. Initially, sciatic pain is mild and grows in intensity - sometimes to unbearable levels - over time. There is usually little or no pain in the low back (although sciatica originates in the low back).

Nerve pain, such as a mild ache, and/or sharp, burning, tingling or electrical sensations, is caused by irritation to the sciatic nerve.

Worsening of symptoms may be brought about by coughing, sneezing, laughing and similar reflexive actions. Sciatica symptoms also tend to become worse if you sit for long periods of time. This is due to the pressure sitting puts on the nerve, which irritates it. Symptoms of sciatica also may worsen after long periods of lying on the irritated area, and after long periods of walking.

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.

Sources:
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: http://www.wheelessonline.com/ortho/sciatic_nerve

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