Pain stemming from a sciatica episode can range from annoying to debilitating, as anyone who’s experienced the complex pain of sciatic nerve irritation already knows. The pain can affect your lower back as well as anywhere along the nerve’s path, from the spine to the foot, on either side — and in rare cases, both sides — of your body.
While sciatica usually resolves itself in a matter of weeks or months, there’s no way for you to tell whether your pain is temporary or chronic, and leaving it untreated may have serious long-range consequences.
Origins of sciatic nerve pain
Your sciatic nerves branch off from the spinal column at the lower back, running down to each leg through the buttocks and hips. An episode of pain involving the sciatic nerve is called sciatica, commonly caused by a herniated disc or other narrowing of the spaces in the spinal column, such as from arthritic bone spurs.
Compressing the sciatic nerve causes a range of symptoms that may occur anywhere along the nerve’s path. While typically only one nerve is affected, there are cases when the nerves on both sides get compressed.
Symptoms of sciatica
The classic symptom of sciatic nerve irritation is pain that begins in your lower back and continues through your buttock and down the hip.
The sensations along the way can change. That is, you may feel sharp, burning pain to one side in your lower back, tingling in your buttock and numbness in your thigh, or your own unique combination of sensations, possibly even extending to your feet.
Complications of untreated sciatica symptoms
If you have severe sciatica pain that lasts more than a week without diminishing, or if you find that pain is getting worse as time passes, you may need medical intervention to prevent more serious complications from developing. Three of the most serious potential developments are:
Permanent damage to the sciatic nerve
When nerve compression lingers, or if the cause of the compression in the sciatic nerve grows more severe, permanent damage may result, as branches of the nerve malfunction or die off. Pain may intensify, and pain relief methods may become less effective.
Loss of motor control and sensation
While you’re dealing with the pain from sciatic nerve irritation, you might also begin to lose function if you don’t get treatment. Tingling and numbness may become constant as the nerve is increasingly damaged, so legitimate pain signals from injuries to your feet and legs may be interrupted.
The sciatic nerve also carries signals controlling muscles along its length, so you may experience leg muscle weakness or problems moving your muscles, and this may be irreversible if nerve damage progresses sufficiently.
Bladder and bowel incontinence
Though rare, sciatic nerve compression may result in loss of control over bladder and bowel muscles. Typically, these are temporary effects, but again, without treatment, there is a possibility of these becoming constant if the nerves are permanently affected.
Dr. Nassiri is a sciatic nerve pain specialist, so if you’re experiencing a sciatica episode, call or click to make an appointment today at one of Westside Pain Specialists’ locations for a fast resolution of your lower back pain.