Sciatica Symptoms

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Sciatica


Sciatica Symptoms
Sciatica Symptoms

The symptoms will depend on the cause of your sciatica, as well as the structure that is pressing on your sciatic nerve.” Discs, nerves, joints, muscles and ligaments are the main structures responsible for trapping your sciatic nerve - resulting in sciatica.

Before you decide on the appropriate treatment for sciatica, it is very important to first have the correct diagnosis and cause determined.

What does it feel like to have sciatica?

Sciatic symptoms can vary from a mild buttocks pain, to a raging severe pain in your back and leg - often radiating as far as your little toe!

Put quite simply, sciatica is always associated with PAIN!

I have treated sciatica sciatica for over 20 years now and the following list is of the most common sciatic symptoms that I see on a daily basis in my physiotherapy practice. You may recognise your own symptoms in one of the following!

  1. Right or left sided back pain radiating into your buttock.
  2. Right or left sided back pain radiating into your buttock and down the back of your leg as far as your knee.
  3. Right or left sided back pain radiating into your buttock, and back of your leg as far as your ankle.
  4. Right or left sided back pain radiating into your buttock, and then a separate pain on the outside of your lower leg.
  5. Pain radiating from your buttock into your leg with no back pain.
  6. Pain in your lower leg without any symptoms in your back or upper leg.
  7. Pain in your back or leg associated with numbness and pins and needles in your leg or foot.

If one of these types of pain seem familiar, then lets look what might be the underlying cause of this pain.

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What is causing my Sciatic pain?

The most common causes of sciatica that I see are:-

  1. Disc prolapses. Where a disc in your spine moves away from its correct position, often pressing on the sciatic nerve. Although there are various degrees of disc prolapses they are generally quite painful and require physiotherapy attention.

  2. Spinal stenosis. Where the space in your spinal canal is compromised. It most commonly results from degeneration of your spinal joints, disc prolapses or it can be congenital in onset. In simple terms, it is where your spinal canal is compromised by abnormal movement of spinal structures, or by excess bony growth into your spinal canal. Seek immediate medical attention!

  3. Piriformis syndrome. Where your sciatic nerve is compressed by a tight piriformis muscle. It often presents like sciatica and is a common cause of sciatic pain in my physiotherapy practice.

  4. Spondylolisthesis. Is where one of your spinal vertebra slips forwards excessively relative to another. It usually occurs towards the base of your back. It may require both conservative and surgical intervention.

  5. Arthritis. Is inflammation of a joint and is usually accompanied by pain, swelling, and stiffness. It can result from infection, trauma, degenerative changes, metabolic disturbances, or other causes. It occurs in various forms, such as bacterial arthritis, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis. It responds excellently to manual physiotherapy.

Your symptoms give a clue to the cause of your Sciatica.

Understanding the symptoms of your sciatica will help you to resolve your sciatica quickly. Noting the symptoms that you experience and which positions and movements aggravate them, will greatly help your Physiotherapist in the treatment of your sciatica.

Also, it is important to note the type of symptoms that you experience with your sciatica. This knowledge will help your therapist to diagnose the cause of your sciatic pain. Diagnosis, after all, is the key to good treatment!

The symptoms of Sciatica can vary.

In some cases the symptoms can vary. You may experience a situation where painful symptoms can change from day to day or from hour to hour. This is generally due to the effect your bodys position has on sciatica. If you are sitting a lot you may have more leg pain than back pain. If you are lying down your buttock may hurt more than your leg.

If this happens to you, what I would suggest is that you take note of the different types of pain, and what you were doing at the time. Keep a record of it and then tell your Physio about them. It will help them in looking identifying the underlying cause of the pain and work toward an effective treatment program


In summary, the cause of sciatica comes from the sciatic nerve being impinged or trapped. It also can arise from inflammation of the sciatic nerve due to trauma or stiffness in the structures around it. The treatment of choice for your pain depends on which structure is compressing your sciatic nerve.

Early intervention and a correct diagnosis is the key to the management of your lower back pain and sciatica. No two people’’s sciatica is the same.


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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