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

Watch Video: What Is Your Sciatic Nerve and Why Does It Hurt So Much?

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

The most serious condition that produces sciatica symptoms and requires immediate medical care is cauda equina syndrome.


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 perineum (genital area) and/or 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.

See When to Seek Medical Care for Low Back Pain

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


While cauda equina syndrome and nerve damage are potentially serious conditions, the majority of sciatica symptoms are caused by a simple irritation to the nerve. Sciatica symptoms typically get better with time and nonsurgical care, such as exercise, ice and/or heat, or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.

See Sciatica Treatment

See Sciatica Surgery

Further Reading: Sciatica Causes