Sciatica, which is the condition caused by sciatic nerve damage, is characterized mainly by a sharp, shooting pain from the hip or buttocks area down to the toes. This pain is usually worsened by moving the leg, bending over at the waist or sitting down. The pain is similar to a pinched nerve.
If the sciatica is caused by pressure on the nerve, such as from a slipped disc, numbness in the leg may occur. While this numbness isn’t necessarily a problem, it can cause other problems. These include imbalance, which can lead to falls. Numbness in the leg can also cause that leg to be weaker than the other leg, which makes lifting even light objects difficult.
A dull lower backache is a less common symptom of sciatic nerve damage. This pain is either a result of the sciatic nerve being compressed or by other conditions, such as a herniated disc, that is often found in conjunction with sciatica. This backache may come and go; however, it is more common at night after a full day of activity. This is usually because the sciatic nerve is swollen. Many doctors prescribe an NSAID or recommend taking ibuprofen or aspirin to reduce the swelling.
Because the sciatic nerve affects the foot and toes, foot drop and toe drop are common symptoms. Toe drop occurs when the big toe on the affected side becomes so weak that it is difficult to extend or contract it. Foot drop occurs when the ankle is weak and the foot ‘flops’ sometimes. This symptom is serious, as falls can occur as a result.
All of the symptoms of sciatica are unilateral, meaning they only occur on one side of the body. However, in some instances, such as pregnancy, symptoms can occur on both sides. In that case, one side usually experiences more pronounced symptoms than the other side.