Signs and Symptoms of Sciatica

Symptoms of sciatica include pain that spreads (radiates) along the sciatic nerve from the lower back, through the hip, into the thigh, down the inside of the leg, and to the foot. Sciatic pain can range from severe, sharp, shooting pain to a dull ache. In some cases, it is more severe in certain areas along the nerve than in others. Sciatica can develop suddenly or come on gradually.

Sciatic pain often is accompanied by other symptoms, such as numbness and tingling (described as "pins and needles"), muscle weakness, and sensitivity to touch. Sciatica symptoms usually occur on one side of the body.

Certain activities can worsen sciatic pain, including the following:

  • Bending from the waist or twisting the back
  • Long periods of inactivity (e.g., during sleep)
  • Coughing, sneezing, laughing
  • Sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Walking

Sciatica Complications

In most cases, sciatica resolves when the underlying cause is successfully treated. However, without proper treatment, the condition can lead to complications and result in permanent nerve damage.

Complications of sciatica include the following:

  • Leg injuries that do not heal properly or recur
  • Immobility (inability to move the leg normally)
  • Partial or complete loss of feeling (sensation) in the leg

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 05 Nov 2008

Last Modified: 05 Oct 2015