The body’s largest nerve is the sciatic nerve. This nerve begins at the lower back, travels down the hips and buttocks, and then branches all the way down each leg. This nerve isn’t just large—it is also vital for how the body functions. The sciatic nerve assists the movement of the leg and foot muscles, as well as providing lower body sensation functions.
Due to the importance of the sciatic nerve, people want to avoid experiencing what is known as sciatica. This condition is often a painful one, and it can lead to people feeling debilitated as a result. Yet due to the size of the sciatic nerve, there is more potential for it to be impacted in some way.
For people that are unsure if they are dealing with sciatica or not, there are symptoms that can suggest their sciatic nerve is affected in some way. Here are the 5 most common symptoms of sciatica:
Symptom #1: Legs or buttocks pain which grows when sitting
It is easy to think sciatica affects only the back. But as the sciatic nerve travels all the way to the bottom of your legs, it means that it can cause pain across your lower body. This includes your buttocks and legs.
Do your legs or buttocks suffer from any kind of pain when you sit down? If so, this might be a suggestion that your sciatic nerve has been impacted in some way. The reason is because when you sit down, the sciatic nerve receives pressure naturally. Normally, this pressure won’t be enough to exert any pain. However, if the nerve has been inflamed, compressed, or irritated, there is the potential it will increase those pressure levels. As well as being painful upon sitting down, the pain can continue to increase through your legs or buttocks until you stand up.
Symptom #2: A burning or tingling sensation in your leg
Another symptom that could indicate sciatica is a burning or tingling sensation in one of your legs. You may think this is something that would be more commonly experienced in both legs, but sciatica will often only impact one side of the body. There are cases, however, where the person can suffer from a burning or tingling sensation across both legs simultaneously.
Along with your legs, the burning or tingling could be experienced in your buttocks—either separately or at the same time. This sensation can happen whether you are sat down, walking, or doing any other activity.
Symptom #3: Continual buttock or hip pain
Some sciatica can be relatively mild and will go away over time. In other cases, the pain in the sciatic nerve can stick around and be unrelenting. It might not necessarily be a sharp or unbearable pain—like a toothache, it can be a dull and aching discomfort which doesn’t go away. Not only can this pain be irritating, but there’s also chance it will have a negative impact on your mental health.
The pain could find its way centralized in your hip or buttock area. This is due to the sciatic nerve passing through these areas. The pain, if it is continual, might also stick around while you’re doing most movements, whether that is standing around or sitting.
Symptom #4: Weak or numb leg
As mentioned already, it is possible for your leg—or legs—to suffer from a burning or tingling sensation. Impact on the sciatic nerve can also manifest itself in a different way, where the leg is affected by weakness or numbness.
Lost sensation in your leg is not something that is difficult to identify. It could cause you to struggle with walking or just standing. This is certainly the case if both legs are affected at the same time, although again this is a rare situation.
It might not only be a leg that is weak or numb due to a compromised sciatic nerve. There is the possibility it will also result in your foot losing sensation, whether this is in combination with your leg or is a separate case.
Symptom #5: Lower back pain
It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic or specific. It could be something as simple as pain in the lower back that suggests you are dealing with sciatica. Of course, this shouldn’t necessarily be the first thought you turn to once lower back pain is experienced. The pain might go away after a couple of days for instance.
However, there are situations where back pain can suggest your sciatic nerve is compromised. One situation is if you have severe, acute lower back pain that happens occasionally. Another example is if the lower back pain is dull, aching, and not necessarily that painful in general, but it exists for long periods of time.
What causes sciatica?
When the sciatic nerve is impacted, this is when it is being pressed or rubbed in some way. There are numerous ways this can happen. Here are the common causes of sciatica:
- Slipped disk: Also known as a herniated disk, this is the most widespread cause of sciatica. This occurs when soft tissue, which is there to cushion the bones in the spine, slips out. The further this tissue protrudes, the more it can irritate nerves nearby.
- Bone spurs: Also known as bone overgrowth, bone spurs can form on the spine. When these spurs increase in size, they can place unwanted pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Spondylolisthesis: Rather than tissue being pushed out (like with a slipped disk), this condition sees one of the spine’s bones moving out of position.
- Spinal stenosis: This condition leads to the spine narrowing in the area nerves pass through. If it becomes too narrow, this can place pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Back trauma: A back injury that causes trauma could naturally lead to sciatica. This is the case if the spinal cord is damaged in some way.
Sciatica risk factors
There are various risk factors that increase the chances of someone developing sciatica. These factors for sciatica include:
- Occupation and hobbies: If someone’s work requires them to twist, bend, or place added pressure to their back, this could cause the development of sciatica. Occupations that can have an effect in that regard include everything from truck drivers to construction workers. Similarly, certain hobbies—such as playing golf and even watching TV—can contribute to pain on the sciatic nerve.
- Age: As people become older, this naturally causes detrimental changes to the body. Issues like bone spurs and slipped disks become more likely. As a result, it is more common for older individuals to deal with sciatica than those at a younger age.
- Obesity: Obesity is known to place extra pressure on vital organs. This extra weight is also capable of adding extra stress to the spine. Someone that is overweight increases their chances of dealing with sciatica and other back-related issues.
- Diabetes: Due to how changes blood sugar usage in the body, this condition enhances the possibility of never damage – such as sciatica.
- Minimal activity: Active people are less likely to suffer from sciatica. If people sit down for long periods of time and don’t move around much, this can ramp up the possibility of sciatica developing.
Dealing with sciatica
It is possible to fully recover from sciatica. There are also situations where sciatica cannot be fully prevented. Regardless of the situation, there are steps you can take to protect your back and minimize the pain caused by sciatica.
Regular exercise is always a strong recommendation in general. But it is also beneficial for the strength of your back and either reducing or eliminating the pain of sciatica. By improving those lower back and abdomen muscles, this helps with enhancing back alignment and good posture.
Speaking of posture, the way you sit will also play a role in either preventing sciatica or supporting its development. The right sitting style – along with the right seat – can go a long way to lowering the impact of sciatica. A seat that has strong lower back support will help, as can using a pillow in the small of your back, helping to keep a normal spinal curve. Sitting with your hips and knees level will also assist.
What if the sciatica won’t go away? What if the pain is so severe that is impacting both your physical ability and mental health? In this case, you might need to undergo surgery to try and correct the problem.
However, there is a less invasive and potentially more effective option than surgery: stem cell treatment. Stem cell research has shown this treatment can potentially reduce inflammation levels around the affected area. By reducing this inflammation, it could place significantly less pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Due to their noted regenerative capabilities, stem cell researchers are continuing to push forwards with new, exciting developments in the medical world. The hope is that they will be able to assist with fully repairing and restoring the function of the sciatic nerve.