Often times people wonder why sciatic pain can be felt in not only the back but the legs as well. That is because the sciatic nerve travels down the back of each leg all the way into the foot and toes.
The symptoms of sciatica may or may not include lower back pain, pain on one side, pain in the left or right buttock, pain down the back of the leg and/or foot pain. These symptoms are often described as numbness, tingling, pins and needles or a burning, achy soreness.
Many sciatica sufferers report that the pain they feel originates on one side of the body only. To complicate matters, although sciatica pain is usually in the back of the legs or thighs, in some people it can be in the front or the side of the legs, or even in the hips and for some, the pain is in both legs .
Spin Health lists some possible causes of sciatica and their symptoms:
- Burning pain. Some leg pain sufferers experience a searing pain that at times radiates from the low back or buttocks down the leg, while others complain of intermittent pain that shoots from the lower back down the leg and occasionally into the foot. Words that patients use to describe this type of burning leg pain include radiating, electric or shooting pain that literally feels like a jolt. Unlike many forms of low back pain that can often be a dull ache, for many, leg pain can be excruciating and nearly intolerable. This type of burning pain is fairly typical when a nerve root in the lower spine is irritated, and it is often referred to as sciatica.
- Leg numbness or tingling. Anyone who has had a leg or foot ‘fall asleep’ and then gradually return to normal can imagine what numbness in a leg would feel like. Not being able to feel pressure, or hot or cold, is unnerving. Unlike the short-lived numbness of an asleep limb, numbness coming from a low back problem can be nearly continuous and can severely affect a person’s quality of life. For example, it can be difficult or almost impossible to walk or drive a car if one’s leg or foot is numb. Typical symptoms can range from a slight tingling sensation to complete numbness down the leg and into the foot.
- Weakness (foot drop) or heaviness. Here, the predominant complaint is that leg weakness or heaviness interferes significantly with movement. People have described a feeling of having to drag their lower leg and foot or being unable to move their leg as quickly and easily as needed while walking or climbing stairs, for example, because of perceived weakness or slow reaction. Patients with foot drop are unable to walk on their heels, flex their ankle, or walk with the usual heel-toe pattern.
- Constant pain. This type of pain is normally felt in the buttock area, so it is not technically leg pain but it may accompany some form of pain felt in the legs. It may also be pain that occasionally radiates past the buttock into the leg. This type of pain is usually described as “nerve pain ,” versus an aching or throbbing pain. It is typically present only on one side, and is commonly called sciatica. It may often be relieved by stretching, walking or other gentle movement.
- Positional leg pain. If leg pain dramatically worsens in intensity when sitting, standing or walking, this can indicate a problem with a specific part of the anatomy in the low back. Finding more comfortable positions is usually possible to alleviate the pain. For example, bending over may relieve pain from spinal stenosis, while twisting (as in a golf swing) can increase facet joint related groin, hip and leg ache.
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