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Is it Sciatica Back Pain? How to Recognize the Symptoms

July 29, 2019

This post looks at how to tell if the excruciating back pain you have is due to Sciatica – and when to be thinking of something else.

Sciatica is a problem that affects the lower back and legs.

What is Sciatica

Sciatica refers to a condition caused mostly by compression of the Sciatic nerve.

The Sciatic nerve runs from the lower back to behind each knee and down the foot on both sides.

Compression (or pressure) to the Sciatic nerve results in pain and abnormal sensations such as tingling, or burning and numbness along the distribution of the Sciatic nerve.

Compression to the Sciatic nerve can be caused by conditions leading to pressure on the nerve such as:

  • a slipped disk,
  • narrowing of the spinal canal through which it passes,
  • or breakdown of the spinal disc.

Symptoms of Sciatica can range from mild to severe and can really be a scary experience for people affected with this condition.

It can also affect men and women of varying ages.

What Sciatica Looks Like

Although Sciatica often presents as lower back pain, not every back pain is Sciatica.

Other more dangerous conditions can present as back pain.

Examples of these are:

  • Cord compression,
  • Fracture of the spinal bones,
  • Cancer of the bones, blood cells, metastasis etc.

Ten Ways to Tell if it’s Sciatica

  1. You have lower back pain starting from the waistline/trouser band.
  2. The back pain is mostly on just one side of your lower back.
  3. Pain spreads from your back and down the leg of the affected side – well below the knee.
  4. It’s a type of neuropathic (nerve) pain – it gives a piercing and/or burning sensation.
  5. You may feel pain deep within the cheek of your buttocks, accompanied by feelings of abnormal sensation on the affected side.
  6. Mostly you may feel the pain after prolonged sitting.
  7. When trying to stand, there may be shooting pain from the affected leg and buttock.
  8. The pain may be worsened by bending forward from your waist
  9. It may also get worse after twisting the body at the waist.
  10. The sharp pain comes and goes, although there may be a constant dull ache.

Sciatica may sometimes resolve or settle on its own.

However, it is important to visit your doctor to rule out other more serious conditions and receive treatment for troublesome symptoms.

These include:

  • The pain is getting worse and affecting your ability to move around.
  • If, in addition to altered sensation, there is also weakness – inability to use the foot or leg.
  • Where there are problems controlling the bladder or bowels.

Treating Your Sciatica

Usually pain medications are required to control the pain from Sciatica.

On some occassions when the problem is caused by a damaged disc, you may require surgery.

Other things you can do to improve your symptoms include:

  • Losing weight if you are overweight,
  • Doing gentle stretching exercises, and
  • Sleeping on a firm bed.

7 Tips for Good Posture

posture and back pain

More Reading


  1. Spine-health. (2019). Sciatica. [Accessed 9 Jul. 2019].
  2. Davis, D. and Vasudevan, A. (2019). Sciatica. [Accessed 9 Jul. 2019].
  3. (2019). Mechanical Low Back Pain: Practice Essentials, Background, Pathophysiology. [Accessed 9 Jul. 2019].

Editing by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care.

The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly

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