What are the symptoms of sciatica?

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

The symptoms of sciatica are often misunderstood and misrepresented.  As an Edinburgh osteopath specialising in lower back pain and sciatica for 28 years, I can give you a very accurate answer. If you want more detail, check out my latest book on lower back pain.  But before we dive into the details, it’s worth clearing something up…

Sciatica is a description and not a diagnosis

This is a very important point.  If I were to tell you you have sciatica, I’d be telling you something you all ready knew.  I’d be telling you that you have pain and/or pins and needles in the distribution of your sciatic nerve.  It’s like telling someone who has a pain in their head that they have a headache.  It’s a description NOT a diagnosis.  A diagnosis implies what the cause of the symptom is.  “Sciatica” does not do that.  It still leaves you to work out what the cause of your sciatica is.  Just as “headache” leaves you to work out what the cause of your headache is.

What are the possible causes of sciatica?

Broadly we split sciatica into 2 types.  Nerve compression sciatica (NCS) and non-nerve compression sciatica (NNCS).

Nerve compression sciatica

This is caused by compression/significant irritation of the sciatic nerve itself or of one of its tributaries.  There are a number of possible causes of this, the most common one being a lumbar disc herniation/prolapse.

Non-nerve compression sciatica

This is caused by a mechanism called referred pain.  You can experience symptoms (I’m coming to those) in the distribution of your sciatic nerve if one of the tissues (bone, muscle, ligament, tendon etc.) has a spinal nerve supply the same as the sciatic nerve. I’ll try to put that more clearly… Your sciatic nerve has tributary “spinal nerves” called L4 L5 S1, S2 and S3.  If a tissue has a nerve supply originating from one of those spinal nerves it can cause referred pain into the sciatic distribution.  Still puzzled?  OK, just think of it like interference from one nerve to another.

Sciatica symptoms in hip?

Yes this is definitely possible.  The sciatic nerve gives off branches around your buttock.  This is one of the most common areas to experience sciatica – deep in the buttock.


Yup.  The sciatic nerve supplies tissues in the outside and back of the thigh.

Sciatica in the lower leg and foot?

Yes again.  The sciatic nerve supplies sensation to nearly the whole leg below the knee.  The only area not supplied is the inside of the leg down to the inside of the ankle.  The rest of it is the sciatic nerve distribution. Back and outside of knee, lower leg, ankle and foot.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

These include pain, pins and needles, running water feelings, numbness to the touch, weakness in some muscle groups, trembling of the muscles, increased sweating or dryness of the skin, and coldness.

Why so many possible symptoms?

The nerve supplies sensation to the skin and the deeper tissues of your leg.  It also controls the degree of muscle activity.  And it supplies the blood vessels in your leg, telling them how open or closed to be.  Hence the coldness. The sweat glands in this distribution also get their nerve supply from the sciatic nerve.

If you need help with sciatica, you can book an online consultation for a second opinion.  Or come into the clinic to see one of our Edinburgh osteopaths.

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