Bilateral sciatica is a rare and painful condition that should be reported to a physician immediately. Diagnosis of the condition can be done during a physical exam and the results of an imaging test such as an MRI, CT scan or X-ray. The that the condition goes untreated, the more there is a chance that the sciatic nerve may not regain normal use again.
The sciatic nerve is the single largest nerve in the body. It starts in the lower back and branches off to move down each leg. Sciatica is a condition where the sciatic nerve experiences pressure, which causes pain. This pressure can be a muscle that the sciatic nerve runs through that contracts, but it will not expand to release the nerve, or the nerve could be pinched in joint at the hip or pelvic area. The most common form of sciatica is called unilateral sciatica where pain is experienced in one leg. Bilateral sciatica is a rare form of sciatica resulting in pain in both legs.
Bilateral sciatica does not mean that the pain in both legs occurs the same way at the same time. The pain could alternate back and forth between the legs. It may occur primarily in one leg and occasionally occur in the other, or it may occur in both legs at the same time. Any one of the scenarios is possible at any time. The pain is similar to unilateral sciatica. It can be a shooting pain that goes down one or both legs, or it can be a chronic and burning pain in one or both legs.
Bilateral sciatica can become dangerous if the condition is allowed to advance. As pressure continues to be put on the nerve, the damage could become permanent. The burning or sharp pain evolves into a constant tingling pain similar to that of a leg that is asleep. Over time, the tingling becomes a numb feeling, and there will be no more sensation in either leg. There also will be complete loss of control of both legs.
Bilateral sciatica can be the result of herniated discs in the spine that put pressure on the nerve, or it could be the result of a slipped vertebrae. A condition known as piriformis syndrome is when the small muscles in the buttocks are constantly contracted on the sciatic nerve, or the muscles experience frequent spasms that continually put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
The first focus of treatment for bilateral sciatica is the pain. Pain medication may be prescribed, and alternate forms of pain management such as massage therapy or chiropractor care may be used. In some cases, the pressure on the nerve stops with the use of physical therapy or simply after a period of rest. In other cases, surgery may be needed to relieve the pain and save the nerve.