how do you know if you have sciatica

Do You Actually Have Sciatica?

How do you know if you have sciatica?

How do you know if you have sciatica? The term “Sciatica” is often misunderstood. Some people use this term to describe any kind of radiating back pain. However, as the name suggests, it is actually more of a description of symptoms instead of an actual diagnosis term. Sciatica can be defined as pain radiating along the sciatic nerve, which runs down the back of one or both legs from the lower back.

Now that we have a better understanding of what the sciatica term really means, let’s dive a bit more into this very aggravating condition, or should we say painful condition.

Signs/Symptoms- How do you know if your have sciatica?

The most common symptoms and signs of Sciatica besides low back pain that may be achy, dull or sharp, includes:

  • Sharp shooting pain in leg or thigh
  • Cramping sensation in leg(s)
  • Prolonged sitting or standing make increase pain in low back and leg(s)
  • Increased pain with sneezing, coughing
  • Tingling and/or numbness in leg(s) (i.e. pins and needles) sensation that may or may not extend into the foot/toes


What are some common causes of sciatica? Well believe it or not, sometimes you can have sciatica without injury.  In this case, sciatica commonly appears due to wear and tear also known as degenerative disc disease that can cause narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) and results in compression of the sciatic nerve. These spinal changes subsequently lead to pain, tingling, numbness, inflammation and radiating pain down the back of the leg(s).

Sciatica can also be due to traumatic injury and/or repetitive overuse injuries, which include motor vehicle accident, sports injuries or even injuries “on-the-job”. Whether your sciatica is due to injury or wear and tear, the results are the same, Radiating low back pain along the sciatic nerve. In severe cases, bowel and/or bladder function could be impacted causing some individuals incontinence. 

Common Causes

  • Herniated disc (pressure from disc on the nerve root)
  • Bone spur
  • Tumor
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Spinal Stenosis (spinal canal narrowing)

Treatment of sciatica

After a thorough and comprehensive physical examination that includes musculoskeletal and neurological exam, the medical doctor can often confirm the diagnosis without radiographic images. However, radiographic images, such as MRIs or X-rays can often assist in confirming the cause and the diagnosis. Moreover, studies such as a Nerve Conduction Velocity and Electromyography study can help determine which nerves are involved and the severity. Although the symptoms are similar regardless of the cause of the sciatica, the treatment may vary depending on the cause.

It is important to note that more than 80% of patients will get better over time without surgical intervention.

There are many options available to patients experiencing sciatica. Many of the treatment options can be most effective when combined or used in adjunct with other therapeutic modalities. No matter what treatment option becomes effective, it is key that therapeutic exercises that include flexibility and strength become part of your lifestyle for long-term benefit.

Non-Surgical treatments of sciatica

Physiotherapy (stretching, strengthen core muscles, low back, and lower body)

OTC pain medication (i.e. NSAIDs)

Hot compress (relax muscle spasms)

Cold compress (decrease inflammation)


Biofeedback – help reduce stress and manage pain

Regenerative Injection Therapy (platelet rich plasm, prolotherapy) – regenerate and strengthen degenerative and disrupted connective tissue

Epidural Injections (Steroid) – decrease inflammation in low back and lower extremities


Lumbar laminectomy – removal of the lamina (portion of the vertebrae bone) to relieve the pressure off the sciatic nerve

Microdiscectomy- removal of disc fragments from the herniated disc to relieve pressure off the sciatic nerve.


Author: Dr. Zarinah Hud is a highly respected and trained Physical medicine and Integrative Medicine specialist. She has extensive experience with treating and managing various orthopedic-related conditions, that ranges from professional athletes of the NBA-D (New York Knicks-Bayhawks), Hockey (Erie Otters), and Olympians (Winter Olympics USA Luge Team). Dr. Zarinah has served as guest and keynote speaker for national medical conferences, businesses, educational institutions, and athletic clubs on Nutrition, Integrative Medicine, Injury prevention and Integrative pain management, & more.