Sciatica: what to do when you think you have it

When you’re experiencing low back pain and leg pain any number of well-meaning friends, acquaintances or even internet searches may tell you the problem sounds like sciatica. And since sciatica is a condition characterized by pain that originates in the lower back and travels over the sciatic nerve and down the buttocks into the legs, possibly also causing weakness, tingling or numbness, the problem may very well be sciatica.

However, there are a number of other conditions that could also cause these same issues. Here’s what you need to know if you think you have sciatica.

Sciatica warning signs

Here are some of the issues you may be experiencing if you are dealing with sciatica:

• Constant pain in one side of the lower body, spanning from the buttocks to the leg (sciatica rarely affects both sides of the body at once)
• Pain that is best described as searing or tingling and doesn’t feel like a dull ache
• Sharp pain that may impact walking
• Pain that is worsened by sitting
• Numbness, weakness or difficulty in moving the leg

Seeing a doctor for sciatica

If you think you are experiencing sciatica, you need to see a doctor. The most important reason for this is that sciatica isn’t a diagnosis, strictly speaking. It’s actually a symptom of another underlying condition, such as a herniated disc, lumbar stenosis or degenerative disc disease. In rare cases a patient may actually be suffering from a tumor of the spine, spinal infection or cauda equine syndrome. In all three of these rare cases, immediate medical intervention is necessary.

Furthermore, while on its own sciatica doesn’t cause permanent nerve or tissue damage, the underlying cause of the pain might. The pain caused by sciatica also has the potential to become debilitating. The causes of sciatica pain are treatable, and are often treated nonsurgically with things like lifestyle adjustments or physical therapy. This is not a pain anyone needs to live with. Please see your doctor if you suspect you may be dealing with sciatica.

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