Typically, sciatica symptoms are not a cause for alarm, as they can often be treated with conservative measures like hot and/or cold therapy and exercise.

See Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

However, there are rare sciatica-related symptoms that may indicate you have severely injured your sciatic nerve. Our list is not exhaustive, but read on to learn about two such symptoms that require immediate medical attention:

See When Sciatica Pain Is a Medical Emergency

Your sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in your body.
Sciatic Nerve Anatomy

1. Bowel and/or bladder incontinence

Common sciatica symptoms include pain, tingling, and numbness felt along your sciatic nerve. But if your common sciatica symptoms are accompanied by bowel and/or bladder incontinence (the inability to control your bowel and/or bladder), it may be a sign of something more serious; cauda equina syndrome.

Symptoms of cauda equina syndrome can strike suddenly (acute onset), or in other cases take weeks and/or months to develop (gradual onset). In the case of acute onset, symptoms can include, in addition to incontinence, intense lower back pain and sensory and/or motor deficits in your lower body.

See Cauda Equina Syndrome Symptoms

In the case of gradual onset, symptoms may also include recurring lower back pain in combination with muscle weakness and/or numbness.

If patients with cauda equina syndrome do not receive prompt treatment, it can result in paralysis, difficulty walking, and/or other neurological and physical problems.

See Treatments for Cauda Equina Syndrome


2. Worsening neurological symptoms

If you experience neurological symptoms (symptoms relating to your nervous system) in your legs that continue to get worse, it may be a sign that serious damage has occurred to your sciatic nerve. These worsening symptoms can include weakness, tingling, and numbness.

If, upon examination, it is discovered that your sciatic nerve is compressed, surgery may sometimes be necessary. Common forms of sciatica surgery include a lumbar microdisectomy and a lumbar laminectomy.

See Microdiscectomy (Microdecompression) Spine Surgery

As mentioned previously, worsening neurological symptoms in your legs may also be another indication of cauda equina syndrome.

In addition to the two symptoms discussed above, sciatica symptoms that occur following an accident or trauma, or that are accompanied by fever and/or loss of appetite, also require immediate medical attention.

See Diagnosing the Cause of Sciatica

Learn more:

Sciatica Treatment

Types of Sciatic Nerve Pain