As already noted briefly, sciatica can be experienced in a number of ways. Most typically it manifests itself as one or more of the following sensations, with some sufferers having more than one kind of sciatic pain or discomfort:
A pain that sufferers describe as ‘aching’, ’stinging’, or even ‘burning’, this either following a specific course, such as along
the back of the leg, or restricted to one specific area, such as the upper part of the thigh.
A cramping pain, as though the muscles in the affected leg are contracting involuntarily. ‘Cramping’ sciatica is also often marked by spasms.
Less specific – and also usually less severe – pains, including feelings of numbness, or experiencing ‘pins and needles’, these once again being experienced either over a fairly large area or concentrated within a much smaller one.
Because it’s only too easy to mistake some of the pains or feelings of discomfort that arise from ‘mild’ sciatica for something else – for example, pins and needles or cramp may happen because you’ve been sitting too long in the same position, especially if your legs were crossed – it often takes some time before a sufferer comes to the conclusion that his symptoms are due to something specific and are more than merely the kind of odd sensations most of us experience now and then, dismissing them from our mind once they disappear seemingly of their own accord.
For many, however, the onset of sciatica is only too obvious as its pain is so intense that it is virtually crippling during its worst moments. A bad attack of sciatica can be so disabling that even the smallest movement, such as getting in or out of a chair, or even sneezing or coughing, brings on agonising distress. Acute sciatica can usually, but not always, be linked to some recent incident or event that provoked it.
The specific underlying causes of sciatica are examined in the next chapter in which we also look at the ‘greater picture’ of back pain in general.