There are countless ways you can injure your back and countless symptoms associated with each of them. Throw in pain that extends to other parts of the body, like arms, legs, buttocks, and hips, and it’s no wonder it can be difficult to diagnose a back problem. This is especially true when trying to figure out if you need sciatica treatment.
“Sciatica is not a diagnosis but a description of symptoms,” said the New York Times. “Anything that places pressure on one or more of the lumbar nerve roots can cause pain in parts or all of the sciatic nerve.” Sciatica pain can occur anywhere along the nerve and can be very different for different people, but there are some common symptoms to look for. If you’re not sure if you need sciatica treatment, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the signs.
Tingling in the leg
Depending on the location and severity of the nerve compression, you may feel tingling, a pins-and-needles-like sensation, or a prickly feeling in one or both legs, which can also travel down into the feet and toes. Or, you may feel a burning sensation in those same areas.
Sciatica pain can also present as numbness in one or more of the areas along the sciatic nerve. If you can’t feel part of the affected area or if it feels like your leg, foot, or toes are on ice, your doctor will want to see you quickly.
Leg pain that feels like a pulled muscle
If you’ve ever pulled a muscle, you know what that tightness and acute pain can feel like. For many people, that’s how sciatica first presents. Combine that with the fact that the hamstring is the most commonly pulled muscle, and it’s not surprising that sciatica can be misdiagnosed as a pulled hammy.
If you’ve been resting, icing, and elevating your leg, thinking that this protocol will heal your pulled muscle, but are not improving, you may need to see a back doctor. If you were diagnosed with sciatica and aren’t improving in a matter of days or weeks, it’s possible that you need a more aggressive sciatica treatment.
Radiating pain in the leg
“The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and begins from nerve roots in the lumbar spinal cord in the low back and extends through the buttock area to send nerve endings down the lower limb,” said eMedicineHealth. Many people suffering from sciatica experience low back pain “combined with a pain radiating through the buttock and down one leg. “The leg pain often goes past the knee and may go to the foot. Weakness in the leg muscles and limping can be a sign of sciatica.”
Pain that worsens at certain times
Sciatica is unique in that it may get worse at night, and also “After standing or sitting for long periods of time; when sneezing, coughing, or laughing; and after bending backwards or walking more than 50–100 yards, particularly if it is caused by spinal stenosis,” said the New York Times.
How sciatica is diagnosed
Because sciatica can masquerade as other injuries, your doctor will carefully examine you to ensure that you get the right treatment. This typically involves an oral history and a physical examination. During the exam, you can expect the doctor to do neurological tests including “the straight leg raising test or Lasègue’s sign” and the crossed straight leg raising test, according to the US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health (NCBI), both of which are used to check for underlying herniated discs; herniated discs are the No. 1 cause of sciatica. “In about 90% of cases sciatica is caused by a herniated disc with nerve root compression, but lumbar stenosis and (less often) tumors are possible causes,” they said.
With the right sciatica treatment, pain usually subsides within a few weeks. If within four to six weeks you are still suffering, your doctor may change your protocol to include epidural steroid injections, or recommend minimally invasive surgery. Today’s minimally invasive procedures mean treating chronic back pain and conditions like sciatica is easier than ever.
For more information, contact DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments for chronic back pain.