What Does Sciatica Feel Like?

If you’re concerned you may have sciatica, you’re probably curious what the sensation associated with nerve damage feels like. 

The pain associated with sciatica is different for most people. Some people experience a pain that’s dull and achy, while others experience pain that feels burning or electric. What kind of pain you experience alongside your sciatica also depends on how far along it is. Is your nerve only slightly damaged, or are you nearing loss of function? 

There are many different factors that play into what sciatica feels like, which is why it’s so different for each individual person. To understand what sciatica feels like, let’s look at some of the basics of the nerve condition, such as how it occurs and how it can be treated. 

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is nerve pain that occurs because of injury or irritation to the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back, through your buttocks, all the way down to your knee. The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the body, so damage here can be incredibly painful if it progresses too far. 

The sciatic nerve is made up of five different nerve roots. Two make up the lumbar spine, and three make up the sacrum. You have both a right and left sciatic nerve, and you may experience pain, numbness, or tingling that only occurs on one side of the body. You may experience pain on both sides of the body; it just depends on where the damage to the nerve is located. 

Sciatic nerve pain is often described as feeling as if the nerve is burning, electric, or being stabbed over and over again. Pain can be either constant or recurring. It may also get worse when you sit or stand for too long. Coughing and sneezing may also make the pain worse, as they cause a sudden body movement. 

Causes of Sciatica?

There are a few reasons sciatica may occur. Sciatica is commonly caused by: 

  • A herniated disc in the lower back. A lumbar herniated disc causes approximately 90% of sciatica. When the disc herniates, it causes compression in the spinal nerve roots by either: 
    • Direct compression, meaning that the lumbar disc bulges out and presses against the sciatic nerve.  
    • Chemical inflammation, meaning that the chemical irritant located in the disc material leaks out and causes inflammation around the sciatic nerve. 
  • Degeneration. If the tissues in the lumbar spine degenerate, they may compress or irritate the sciatic nerve in the process. 
  • Spinal stenosis. When the spinal canal narrows because of spinal stenosis, this recess can cause sciatica. 
  • Spondylolisthesis occurs when a fracture causes one vertebra to slip forward on top of another. When this happens, the sciatic nerve may be compressed. 

Sciatica May Be a Symptom of Something Larger

In most cases, sciatica is a symptom of another problem that needs to be fixed before sciatica can heal. Most causes are generally other health conditions, such as spinal stenosis or a herniated disc. In those cases, you would want to have the root problem treated first in hopes that sciatica goes away once the initial problem is taken care of. 

In order to diagnose your sciatica, your doctor may run various tests, such as: 

  • X-ray of your spine in order to see if there’s any overgrowth, such as a bone spur that could be pressing on your nerve. 
  • MRI to produce detailed images of your bones and soft tissues. An MRI will be able to identify a herniated disc. 
  • CT scan may be used to get a better look at the sciatic nerve in order to see what’s causing the problem and where the inflammation is occurring. 
  • Electromyography (EMG) may be used to confirm nerve compression that’s occurring because of a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. 

Your doctor likely won’t perform all of these tests but will pick one or two to confirm your diagnosis. 

Sciatica Treatment Options

There are many different treatment options for sciatica. First and foremost, your doctor will figure out what exactly is causing your sciatica, as it almost never appears on its own. If your sciatica is occurring because of another issue, like a herniated disc, your doctor will focus on that issue before moving on to your sciatica. 

Usually, when the issue that’s causing your sciatica is taken care of, your sciatica will heal on its own. 

Home Remedies

To lessen the pain associated with your sciatica while you’re at home, you can use over-the-counter medications, hot and cold packs, and gentle stretching techniques. If the pain doesn’t go away or it continues to worsen, contact your doctor for advice.

Medical Treatment

If at-home treatment just isn’t working for your sciatica pain, you may need to receive treatment from your doctor or another medical professional. They may encourage you to take prescription medication such as muscle relaxants or pain relievers. 

You may also want to try seeing a physical therapist, as they can help you find exercise and movements that decrease your sciatica. They’ll put together a program for you to do while you’re at home, as well as help you with specific things while you’re working with them in the office. 

If your pain is excruciating and won’t go away no matter what your doctor tries, they may use spinal injections to help the pain go away. Corticosteroid is one anti-inflammatory medication that’s commonly used to reduce pain and swelling in the back for a short period of time. 

Your doctor may also suggest that you try alternative therapies such as yoga or acupuncture to manage the pain that you’re experiencing. 

How to Prevent Sciatica

You can prevent sciatica by:

  • Practicing good posture
  • Losing weight if necessary 
  • Stopping smoking
  • Avoiding prolonged sitting
  • Stretching out your lower back 
  • Lifting and moving heavy objects with extreme caution 
  • Having pain checked out immediately, as unchecked injuries can lead to sciatica 

Relieving Sciatica Pain with a Seat Cushion

As you can develop sciatica from sitting with poor posture, causing inflammation and irritation through your hips, lower back, and tailbone, it’s important that you’re sitting on something that’s comfortable and supportive. 

Unfortunately, most office chairs tend to be uncomfortable and unsupportive, causing damage to the back, tailbone, hips, and legs. In order to reduce this pain and provide yourself with an ergonomic work setup, you should consider the use of a seat cushion

At Everlasting Comfort, we make seat cushions that not only help to prevent sciatica but can help to reduce pain associated with sciatica when you absolutely have to sit at a desk. 

Our seat cushions are made with high-density memory foam, meaning they’ll contour to your back and buttocks to provide the perfect level of support. They also come with a gel insert that will help to keep you cool throughout the day. 

We care about your comfort and want to help make sure that you get the relief that you deserve from your sciatica pain. 


Sciatica - Diagnosis and treatment | Mayo Clinic

Sciatica: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention & Pain Relief | Cleveland Clinic

Sciatica Causes | Spine Health

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing