Every year, many people head to the doctor’s office because of pain in their back, specifically lower back pain. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases estimates that nearly 80% of people have some sort of back pain. Sciatica is one of the most painful lower back issues for which people seek help. Sciatica symptoms are very noticeable, but can be confused with other backaches, pulled muscles and can even be the result of hip and knee issues.
It’s important to understand that sciatica is not a diagnosis, but rather a description of the type of pain and symptoms associated with the lower back. It’s even more difficult to diagnose the cause of sciatic pain, which can be so painful that it’s debilitating.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to the pain and symptoms associated with the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body. A large nerve begins in the lower back and travels through the pelvis, buttocks, and down each leg. Because it’s the longest single nerve in the body, traveling through almost the entire lower half, any pain associated can affect the lower back and down through the legs.
While sciatica is not a diagnosis, determining the symptoms and the cause of those symptoms is essential to relieving pain. Sciatic pain is most often caused by pressure placed on the nerve. That pressure can be caused by acute injuries like herniated disks, chronic conditions and diseases, and even pregnancy and weight gain.
One of the reasons why it’s so hard to diagnose the root cause of sciatica is that the symptoms can vary widely and even in degree of severity for each individual.
Basic Sciatica Symptoms
When it comes to sciatic pain, many people complain about the same symptoms associated with the nerve:
- Pain occurring one side of the lower back
- Makes it difficult to move
- Often worse at or during the night
- Worsens from standing or sitting for too long
- Lying on the back or bending backward
Types Of Sciatica Pain
Sciatic pain can vary from person to person.
- Mild tingling
- Dull ache
- Burning sensation
- Pain radiates down one or both legs
- Sharp pain on one side, in the hip, or down the leg
Other Symptoms Of Sciatica
These symptoms are not as noticeable as the other sciatica symptoms. However, being mindful of them can help you and your doctor or physical therapist determine the cause of your sciatic pain.
- You have pain or weakness in one knee, especially if it radiates through the entire leg. You may even have muscle instability in one knee, meaning your knee may buckle.
- Pain occurs whether you put pressure on the affected area or not. Conversely, if you press on the area and you’re in pain, you most likely have a tightened muscle as opposed to sciatica.
- You’re in pain when you stretch your legs out. If you can’t lie on your back and have someone lift your straight leg up towards you without being in pain, you probably have sciatica.
When Should You Get Help?
Sciatica can often times resolve itself within six weeks. However, if the pain becomes progressively worse or begins to affect your day-to-day living, you should seek care. Physical therapy is one of the best ways to ease the pain of sciatica and even prevent it from coming back in the future.