No matter how long you’ve dealt with chronic sciatica, it can still be challenging to find the right words to adequately describe your experience to friends and family.

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Sciatic pain can radiate along your large sciatic nerve into your leg, buttock, and foot.
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Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica

Here are some tips to help you talk about your experience in a way that sparks a positive connection with those who care about you.

Read Chronic Pain As a Disease: Why Does It Still Hurt?

Use common experiences to describe sciatica symptoms

When describing chronic pain, we often use terms like “terrible” or “awful.” Other times we might pick a number on a scale from 1 to 10. Both approaches have their place, but it’s often helpful to describe how you’re feeling in relation to common experiences.

This is because most people have never struggled with the physical and emotional effects of chronic sciatica, and so they have no frame of reference for a number scale or general adjectives. In contrast, when you relate how you are feeling to something a loved one has personally experienced, you provide them with an opportunity to better empathize.

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Here are some examples:

  • "My leg feels like I am standing in freezing water."
  • "The pain in my calf feels like a throbbing toothache."
  • "The sensation in my foot feels like it is asleep, combined with a sharp muscle cramp."
  • "The discomfort in my buttock feels like pins and needles or an electric shock."
  • "The weakness in my leg feels like I was in a boat for several hours and just stepped on dry land."
  • "My loneliness or isolation feels like it’s the first day of school and I don’t know anybody."

See Leg Pain and Numbness: What Might These Symptoms Mean?

Not all cases of chronic sciatica are the same, so if these examples aren’t relevant to you take a minute to brainstorm other common experiences that mimic how you’re feeling.

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Bring a loved one to your next medical appointment

The shared experience of a medical appointment can help friends and family better understand and sympathize with your chronic sciatica for several reasons:

  • With years of experience, your doctor can likely relay your symptoms to a loved one in easy-to-understand terms.
  • A description of your symptoms from an authoritative source can validate what you’re going through. In other words, your loved one will see that you are not exaggerating, and that the pain is not "all in your head."
  • Loved ones will see how hard you’re working to get back to your old self. You are not a passive victim, but instead you are working hard to find relief from your chronic sciatica.

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If a loved one is not available to accompany you to an appointment, you can share with them our informative sciatica animated video.

Explain there is no easy fix

Friends and family members who care about you want you to get better. This means they sometimes might do their own research relating to chronic sciatica, and in turn suggest a “miracle” cure for your sciatica symptoms.

To help loved ones better understand the emotional impact of chronic sciatica, it is important to explain there is no easy fix to your problem. You have seen specialists, tried physical therapy, and are fighting to get better; but the reality is you may have to live with your symptoms for a very long time.

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Assume friends and family mean well

The lack of visible chronic sciatica symptoms can lead to a variety of frustrating experiences. These may include:

  • A family member declaring you've made a full recovery following a high-functioning day
  • Offending a friend when you cannot attend a social gathering at their house
  • A loved one mistaking your happy demeanor for a lack of pain or discomfort

See Chronic Pain Coping Techniques - Pain Management

When you go through any of the above experiences, the temptation is to either ignore or admonish your friend or family member. This may feel good at the time, but in the long run you may risk alienating people who genuinely care about you.

A good rule of thumb is to assume that, however annoying they might be at the time, friends and family mean well. Of course, this is not always true; but over the long run practicing patience will in turn encourage loved ones to take the time to better understand how you are truly feeling.

Watch: Types of Sciatic Nerve Pain

Describing your chronic sciatica to friends and family can sometimes be emotionally exhausting, but it is worth the effort if you can find even one sympathetic traveling companion on your chronic pain journey.

Learn more:

Sciatica Causes

When Sciatica Pain Is a Medical Emergency