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Symptoms of Low Back Pain and Sciatica

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Main Page | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Screening | Reducing Your Risk | Talking to Your Doctor | Living With Low Back Pain and Sciatica | Living With Low Back Pain and Sciatica | Resource Guide

The pain can be achy or sharp in nature. It is usually localized in the low back and can be associated with difficulty doing everyday tasks. Stress on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine produce strain on tissues causing the back pain. There can be other, more serious causes.

If a nerve is irritated, the pain may extend into the buttock or leg on the affected side, and weakness or numbness may be present.

Other symptoms may include burning, tingling, or a shooting pain down the back of one leg. This is often called “sciatica.” However, the nerve involved is usually a spinal nerve, and only occasionally the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is known by many other medical terms, such as lumbosacral radicular pain or radiculopathy.

Sciatic Nerve Pain

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More serious symptoms associated with back pain that may require immediate medical attention include:

  • Pain that doesn't subside or worsens with rest
  • Pain that is worse when you are reclined
  • Pain that is sudden, severe, or that has gotten dramatically worse
  • Progressive weakness or numbness in a leg or foot
  • Difficulty walking, standing, or moving
  • Numbness in the genital or rectal area
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Burning or difficulty with urination
  • Fever, unexplained weight loss, or other signs of illness
  • If there has been any trauma, fall, or impact
  • If you have a history of cancer, back pain should be evaluated
 

References:

  • Conn's Current Therapy 2001. 53rd edition. W.B. Saunders Company; 2001.
  • Konstantinou K, Dunn KM. Sciatica: review of epidemiological studies and prevalence estimates. Spine. 33(22):2464-2472, 2008 Oct 15.
  • Pain. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/chronic_pain/detail_chronic_pain.htm#Spine. Accessed October 27, 2008.
  • Textbook of Primary Care Medicine. 3rd edition. Mosby, Inc.; 2001.
  • Winters ME, Kluetz P, Zilberstein J. Back Pain Emergencies. Medical Clinics of North America. Volume 90, Issue 3 (May 2006)

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