When Sciatica Pain Is a Medical Emergency

While quite rare, there are times when sciatica symptoms may indicate a potentially serious injury to the sciatic nerve.

Cauda Equina SyndromeSciatica pain with bladder or bowel incontinence could indicate cauda equina syndrome.
Cauda Equina Syndrome Video

Two types of symptoms that may indicate a need for immediate medical care include:

  • Cauda Equina Syndrome
    If there is bowel or bladder incontinence (inability to control the bowel or bladder) and/or progressive weakness or loss of sensation in the legs, the patient may potentially have a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome. This condition is typically caused by significant compression of the nerve sac in the lower spine. The condition may be serious and immediate medical attention should be sought.
  • Nerve Damage
    If any type of leg weakness or numbness is present, the nerve may be damaged and it is important to seek attention from a health care professional. If the nerve is compressed and the pain and symptoms are severe, surgery may be warranted.
  • See When Back Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

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While the above represent potentially serious conditions, the majority of times sciatica symptoms are caused by a simple irritation to the nerve and will get better with time and nonsurgical care, such as exercise, ice and/or heat, or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.

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