The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It starts in the lower back and branches off down both legs. Sciatic nerve damage is most commonly caused when the sciatic nerve is pinched either between two bones, or as a result of a muscle spasm that puts pressure on the nerve. The condition is normally diagnosed by a doctor with a physical examination and an imaging test, such as an X-ray. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy for treatment, or in extreme cases, surgery may be needed to relieve the pain.
Sciatic pain usually will travel down your legs. It can be a dull, aching pain or a burning pain that persists for weeks or days. It also could be a combination of the two sensations, which also may be mixed in with the occasional sharp and shooting pain down one leg or the other. The pain may be made worse by sitting, or it also could be aggravated by standing for long periods of time. As the pain progresses, it may turn in to a tingling sensation like your leg is falling asleep, and that could lead to a numbness and decreased use of the leg. The pain normally will extend all the way down the leg to the feet.
A very common symptom of sciatic nerve damage is when the pain is intensified by sudden movements. Attempts to stand quickly from a seated position can cause severe pain, and even a cough or sneeze may send pain shooting down your legs.
Sciatic pain can begin to cause the muscles in your legs to become weak. It may reach the point where you are no longer able to completely control or use your legs and feet. Many times the symptoms of these advanced stages of sciatic nerve damage are an inability to lift the legs very high when walking, which results in you dragging your feet. In more advanced cases, you may not be able to bend your knee when you walk.
You may notice after long periods of inactivity, such as relaxing on the couch or even after sleeping, that the pain in your leg may become worse. This increase in pain after inactivity is a common symptom of sciatic nerve damage.
Although it isn't a common symptom, it is possible that you may experience pain during bowel movements as a result of the condition. The pain would still radiate in the legs, and it also could occur as you are standing up afterward.