Sciatica symptoms, or what is more commonly referred to as simply sciatica, is more than just pain. Sciatica is a set or collection of symptoms of which pain is only a part of. Pain is often the primary symptom and usually the complaint that causes the sufferer to seek professional help.
The sciatic nerve may be compressed or irritated in such a manner that there may exist only one sciatica symptom. It may be just numbness, or tingling, or pain alone.
There may exist one or more symptoms associated with sciatica, either alone or in combination. They are:
The following requires immediate medical attention:
The sciatica back pain and/or the sciatica leg pain can have a sudden onset or may develop over time. It can first start as mild pins and needles sensation or numbness in the foot or toes. It can then progressively become more obvious with foot or leg weakness, a mild lower back ache and eventually full blown severe sciatic pain along its entire course.
The symptoms of sciatica are typically one sided. That is, it usually causes right or left lower back pain, along with extremity symptoms on the same side.
Rarely, sciatica symptoms can be felt on both sides. Although this is uncommon it usually represents a very large disc herniation or disc bulge that protrudes more centrally.
The sciatic symptoms will most likely be specific in their distribution or location. Sciatica from nerve root pressure at the spinal level will cause pain, tingling, pins and needle, numbness and/or muscle weakness at the area that the specific nerve root innervates.
For example, pressure on the L3 and L4 nerve roots can cause pain in the front thigh, inability to extend the leg and perhaps foot drop.
Whereas, pressure on the L5 and S1 nerve root may cause pain in the back of the thigh, pain and/or numbness on the outside of the leg, weakness with toe walking or even the loss of bladder control.
The more common symptoms are back and leg pain sciatica or even primarily sciatica leg pain with no back pain present.
One may have multiple disc bulging at several levels and on both sides. In this case the pain and other sciatica symptoms will be more widespread. However, it is highly unlikely that they all are causing the sufferer symptoms.
I have never encountered a case of sciatica knee pain by itself. It is possible that the knee may experience some ache or pain with sciatic nerve pain.
However, if your complaint is one of front knee pain, knee joint pain, pain on the medial side of the knee or just pain behind the knee most likely the sciatic nerve is not to blame and you should look for another cause.
It is important to keep in mind that just because one may have bulging or herniated discs does not necessarily mean that your sciatica is due to pressure on the nerves from a disc(s).
There are some doctors who believe that if the pain or other symptoms do not travel below the knee the term sciatica should not be used. The belief is the symptoms are not due to sciatic nerve irritation; otherwise, the pain would be felt along its entire course. After seeing thousands of patients, I tend to believe this to be true as well.
Along the same line of thinking, if there is not a positive straight leg raise test for pain or others symptoms than sciatica should not be used to describe the symptoms. In this case irritation to the sciatic nerve is most likely not the cause.
Back pain, buttocks pain or thigh pain without pain or other symptoms below the knee is probably not sciatic and may have their cause associated with some other condition such as trigger points, stenosis, osteoarthritis, infection or other bone, muscle or nervous system disease.
The pain and symptoms may be constant or intermittent throughout the day. Sciatica may also have an off and on occurrence with symptoms presenting days, weeks, months or years apart and lasting just as variably with variable degrees of severity.
If you suffer with sciatic pain or what you believe to be sciatica, as with any pain, always have a complete and thorough examination from a healthcare provider of your choice.