Sciatica is not a scientific medical condition, exactly. It actually is more of a catch-all term used to describe the set of symptoms that are experienced by patients who suffer from sciatic nerve compression. In general, signs of sciatic nerve compression include sharp pain or a dull ache experienced at the site of the nerve compression; intermittent or constant pain in the hamstring, front of the thigh, or buttocks; shooting or burning pain that radiates down the lower back, the buttocks, thighs, and calves; diminished sensation (tingling or numbness) in the lower back, buttocks, legs, feet, or toes; and/or unexplained muscle weakness in an area of the lower body innervated by the sciatic nerve.
Some people also experience a change in gait associated with a symptom known as foot drop, which is an inability to raise the ankles and toes in a normal upward position. Foot drop is characterized by dragging your toes, or by lifting the knee higher than usual to allow the foot to move forward. This is also a symptom of several less-common (if more serious) conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
In most instances of sciatic nerve compression, symptoms are experienced only on one side of the body. This is known as unilateral sciatica. Where a patient feels symptoms is an indication of which side of the spine the nerve compression is on. If symptoms are felt in both legs, it is known as bilateral sciatica. This can mean either that the underlying cause of sciatic nerve compression – a herniated disc, for example – is so large that the nerve roots on both sides are compressed; or that two separate conditions have developed on either side of the spine. Symptoms of bilateral sciatica might be experienced simultaneously or alternately on one side and the other.
When to Go to the Doctor
Symptoms might be mild or intermittent at first, and you initially might be inclined to treat it yourself. This is a natural response, especially if you’ve never had a serious back problem. In fact, many of the conditions that produce sciatic nerve compression remain asymptomatic, or only rarely cause pain and other discomfort. A sudden sharp twinge down your leg may be unpleasant, but it won’t necessarily raise an internal alarm, especially if that twinge only happens once. Repeated twinges, though, or an occasional, unexplained tingling in the toes of one foot, ought to make you consider seeking medical attention.
The onset of symptoms is often classified as acute, which means it came on suddenly and is only expected to endure only for a relatively short period of time. Should the shooting pain, numbness, or other symptoms last longer than three months, whether constant or intermittent, they are classified as chronic. You probably won’t want to wait that long to see a doctor if the symptoms are obviously becoming worse with time. The best rule of thumb is to see a physician if there is any question at all about the short-term or long-term health of your spine.
If you do decide to visit the doctor to have your symptoms diagnosed, come prepared to answer any and all questions. Once you realize that these symptoms could be a serious problem, start to keep a written journal. Record the time of day you feel the symptoms, as well as a description of your discomfort. Write down what you’re doing when it happens. Make note of all of the pain medication you use in an effort to manage your symptoms. Bring notes about your family’s medical history, especially as it pertains to the spine. Think back to your childhood and adolescence and try to recall any spinal injuries you may have suffered. The more detail you can provide your physician at the start, the better the chances of arriving at a correct diagnosis and of developing an appropriate treatment regimen.
Taylor Thomas is an experienced writer who has written for a number of notable publications. As a lifestyle expert, Mr. Thomas is able to offer advice and insight on a multitude of topics, including those pertaining to sciatica.
Taylor Thomas is an experienced writer who has written for a number of notable publications. Mr. Thomas is able to offer insight on a multitude of topics, including those pertaining to surgery centers. http://www.healthgrades.com/group-directory/arizona-az/scottsdale/laser-spine-institute-341f7180