Specialists at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Spine Health, characterize sciatica as several symptoms rather than a diagnosis. Sure, sciatica can cause numbness, tingling, and shooting pain—usually centered in the areas of the buttocks and lower hips—that reverberates all the way through the toes. This is because the sciatic nerve itself extends from the lower back, near the spine, and branches out in roots from the lumbar spine, along the pelvis, deep into each buttock, and directly down each leg. Experts link sciatica to nerve pain, either due to a pinched nerve, slipped disk, or herniated disk. However, pain in the longest and widest single nerve in the body is just one symptom of sciatica.
Here are five telltale symptoms of sciatica…
1. Sciatic Pain
The most obvious and reported symptom of sciatica is a jolting pain (akin to an electric shock.) that begins when you cough, sneeze or sit for prolonged durations on one side of the body. This pain can be traced back to pressure from a pinched nerve on one or more lumbar nerves—again, likely due to a herniated or slipped disk, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or other pressure-causing issues in the vertebrae that come into contact with the sciatic nerve. However, patients can easily mistake nerve pain, like sciatica, for muscle-associated pain following an injury or strain to the muscles and ligaments supporting the back.
For instance, according to researchers from Harvard Medical School, an injury to a muscle located deep in the buttocks (i.e., the piriformis) can often cause muscles there to shorten and tighten. If this occurs, oftentimes the muscle swells and constricts because it’s unable to receive the proper nutrients via blood flow. To check for muscle shortening (as opposed to sciatica) in the lower back, apply strong pressure with the fingers for 10-seconds as you press into the tense or knotted area. When you press, you should feel pain reverberate throughout the entire body.