6 Little-known Facts About Sciatica

The burning, stinging, electric-like shock runs from your low back all the way down your leg—this pain is undeniably sciatica. But there’s more to know about this spinal disorder than its hallmark pain. Below are 6 little-known sciatica facts to help broaden your knowledge of sciatic nerve pain.

Fact #1: Men and middle-aged adults are most susceptible to sciatica.

Who develops sciatica? Turns out, men experience sciatica up to 3 times more than women.1 And while people as young as their 20s can suffer from sciatic nerve pain, it’s most common in adults in their 40s and 50s.
man with low back pain, bent forward Men experience sciatica up to three times more than women. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

Fact #2: Diabetes can create sciatica-like pain.

If you have diabetes and experience shooting leg pain, you may wonder if sciatica is to blame. Diabetic nerve pain can mirror sciatic nerve pain, but they’re quite different. While sciatica involves compression of the sciatic nerve, diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy that leads to burning, numbness, and shooting pain in one or both of your legs.2 If you have diabetes and leg pain, don’t assume it’s sciatica. Talk to your doctor about identifying the root cause of your pain, which will help guide your treatment plan.

Fact #3: Sciatica can change the way you walk.

Some people cope with their sciatic leg pain by adjusting the way they walk, which can lead to an antalgic gait. Antalgic gait develops when you adjust your stride length on the leg affected by sciatica as a response to your pain, resulting in a limp.

If you develop different walking patterns as a means of reducing sciatica pain, it’s important to recognize that there are better ways to manage your pain that can provide long-lasting relief. Talk to your doctor about addressing the true underlying reason—your sciatic low back and leg pain.

Fact #4: Sciatica is notorious, but it’s not common.

The pain of sciatica is well known, but relatively few people have suffered it. Lumbar bulging or herniated discs are the top cause of sciatica. While lumbar herniated discs are among the most common spinal disorders, they only produce sciatica symptoms 5% of the time1.

Fact #5: Sciatica can be treated at home.

Because sciatica can be extremely painful, many people assume that it requires an equally extreme treatment approach. When you see your doctor about your low back and leg pain for the first time, you may be surprised to learn that your doctor may recommend simple at-home therapies. Exercise, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, and hot and cold therapies are often surprisingly successful at managing sciatica. Mild sciatica cases typically resolve on their own within 3 months with conservative treatment.

Fact #6: But sometimes, sciatica warrants immediate medical care

Like most spinal disorders, sciatica rarely requires surgery. However, sciatica can cause major problems when severe symptoms aren’t treated. What are severe symptoms? Look out for neurological symptoms like weakness, numbness, and tingling. On the most serious end of the spectrum are loss of bowel and bladder control, which require urgent medical attention. These symptoms signal serious nerve compression, which may warrant surgery. Ignoring these symptoms could lead to permanent nerve damage, so call your doctor immediately if you experience them.

Managing Sciatica

If you’ve been diagnosed with sciatica, you likely have lots of questions, such as:

  • How can I alleviate my pain as quickly as possible?
  • Why is my doctor recommending imaging scans?
  • What red flags indicate that my sciatic nerve pain may need surgery?

Educating yourself about your spinal disorder will help you find answers to some of these questions. Even more importantly, being an informed patient can help facilitate conversations with your doctor and encourage you to be an active participant in your sciatica care.

Updated on: 02/26/19
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Spinal Nerve Disorders
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Spinal Nerve Disorders

While aging, general health, and lifestyle may influence the development of some conditions, most spinal disorders are known to result from soft tissue injury, structural injury, and degenerative or congenital conditions.
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