Can Sciatica Affect Both Legs?

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Tingling, burning, excruciating pain. That is how some people describe sciatica.

This type of pain is characterized as being caused by a spine-related issue which then spreads pain throughout the lower part of the body.

Individuals may experience sciatica anywhere from their lower back all the way down to their ankles.

The pain is derived from one of several pinched nerve situations including a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

As the spine of the human body is also the source of numerous nerves that control different movements in all parts of the body, it is easy to understand why sciatica is a result of the pinched nerve.

Individuals have many different questions about sciatica including:

  • What are the symptoms of sciatica?
  • What causes sciatica?
  • Can sciatica affect both legs?
  • What can I do to stop the pain?

Sciatica Symptoms

The symptoms of sciatica can vary from person to person. It typically starts with a sharp pain in the lower back.

A continued movement may further pinch the nerve and cause additional pain in the body. This pain can be intermittent or continuous, feel dull or excruciating, lead to numbness or lead to a burning sensation.

The way that an individual perceives the pain will have a lot to do with the medical condition which is causing sciatica as well as their own personal pain tolerance.

It is recommended that individuals seek medical attention as soon as they realize that pain in the lower region of their body is stemming from their lumbar region.

This is large because, if gone untreated, the cause of your sciatica can also lead to an inability to move your legs, feet, or extreme numbness.

Sciatica Causes

The cause of sciatica is traditionally an underlying spinal condition. The causes of these conditions are what is important.

Herniated discs and pinched nerves commonly happen in individuals who do not get enough exercise. Their bodies become stiff and struggle to move.

When they make fast movements such as twisting their back quickly or abruptly standing up, it is possible that they will pinch a nerve.

These medical conditions are also more common in individuals who are overweight. However, there is not true biased in who these conditions will affect.

Physically fit people are equivalently prone to developing spinal related injuries that lead to sciatica.

The most unfortunate part about sciatica is that it can be worsened or triggered by the most insignificant activities.

For example, if someone tie-ins their back too much during a sneeze or a cough then it might trigger a pinched nerve which leads to sciatica.

Just the same, as we continue to grow older and our bodies are less agile, a movement as simple as getting up from a chair might trigger sciatica.

can sciatica affect both legs


Sciatica is more than just back pain. We use the term back pain as a general category for a variety of things that we might feel including a pulled or strained muscle.

Sciatica is specifically assigned to the type of pain that has a severe underlying cause.

Many people will try basic options for handling the pain such as taking painkillers or using muscle relaxing cream.

However, these cannot resolve the issue of sciatica. In extreme cases, the pinched nerve can prevent proper blood flow to certain parts of the lower body.

As a result, this part of the body may go numb or experience a tingling sensation. It is entirely possible for sciatica to affect both legs.

Once again, this will depend on which nerve is pinched in the spinal area and to what extent.

Individuals have stated that they experience everything from partial numbness to complete numbness of their lower limbs during severe bouts of sciatica.

Sciatica Treatment

The first step in treating sciatica is to see a physician. Your primary care physician will likely refer you to a chiropractor who can best assess your lumbar region and determine what is causing the pain.

Depending on the severity of the problem, you may need to undergo surgery for sciatica relief. Addressing the underlying issue is crucial.

If you fail to tackle the cause of your sciatica, it will be impossible to overcome. In most cases, however, sciatica is the cause of a pinched nerve.

This can be relieved through a spinal adjustment or through basic exercises competed at home. With the help of your physician, it is possible to create the right treatment plan for your sciatica and your lifestyle.

Treatments for sciatica range from conservative remedies that can be done at home to alternative therapies and surgical procedures.

All treatment types have value, but each modality must be matched to cause and severity of the sciatica symptoms so that the treatment can be as effective as possible. Following are the different treatment possibilities grouped by type.

Conservative Home Care

Conservative treatments, or home remedies, can be useful for mild symptoms of sciatica. Rest is a great first approach, but prolonged rest of more than 24 to 48 hours can actually make symptoms worse.

Other helpful home care options include cold compresses to the affected area for 20-minutes at a time several times per day. Make sure to keep a cloth barrier between the compress and the skin.

If pain continues beyond three days, low-level heat applied to the affected area can provide relief. Alternating hot and cold can also be effective.

Occasionally, yoga and Pilates, as well as exercises and stretches specifically designed for the lower back and hips, can be helpful in relieving pain caused by pressure on the nerves.

It’s important to consult a physician before doing any exercise or stretch to avoid aggravating the symptoms further or causing injury.

Over-the-counter medication such as Advil or Aleve can sometimes be useful in alleviating swelling and pain but can cause gastrointestinal upset if taken continuously over long periods of time.

Topical creams with anti-inflammatories and pain relievers in them, as well as patches that offer heat or cold directly to the skin over the affected area, can be beneficial for mild sciatica pain.

Back braces that offer support and allow the lower back muscles to relax have also been shown to offer relief. Also, You should know how to sleep with sciatica?

Non-surgical Medical Care

Medical treatments that can be administered by a healthcare provider include physical therapy, steroid injections, and prescription medications.

Physical therapy is beneficial when the severity of pain requires specifically targeted stretches or exercises that require some training and guidance for maximum benefit and to avoid further injury.

This is usually done over a series of weeks and multiple visits. In some instances, massage therapy for tight muscles will allow for the spine to naturally decompress and provide relief.

Steroid injections involve medication known as a corticosteroid being injected into the areas surrounding the affected nerve root. This can help to reduce the inflammation pressing onto the nerve.

These injections typically offer relief for a few months; however, according to the Mayo Clinic, “the number of injections you can receive is limited due to the risk of serious side effects” as the steroid component builds up over time.

Depending on the cause of the sciatic pain, prescription medication may be given to help alleviate symptoms. Medication used to treat this condition as stated by the Mayo Clinic can include prescription-strength anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and narcotic pain medication.

The addictive properties of some muscle relaxants and all narcotics should also be taken into consideration when being prescribed for chronic pain.

Sometimes, anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications have been found to be helpful in the treatment of sciatic pain.

Alternative Treatments

Depending on the diagnosis behind the sciatica pain, alternative therapies such as acupuncture or osteopathic manipulation, to include chiropractic adjustments, may be an option.

Chiropractic manipulation can provide additional mobility and increased function but may worsen pain that radiates down the leg. There are differing opinions on the benefits of acupuncture. Some say it can be helpful while others say it is of no benefit.

Whichever option is chosen, acupuncture or chiropractic, the Mayo Clinic suggests that you always make sure the practitioner is licensed and highly trained.


Surgery is not indicated for symptoms that are mild or respond to other forms of treatment, but for severe or chronic sciatic pain, surgery may become the best option.

According to Johns Hopkins, patients diagnosed with herniated disks causing pain that radiates down the leg, or if the patient has loss of bladder and/or bowel control, surgery may be the best choice. Patients should be prepared for the recovery period and post-surgical physical therapy required as these can last anywhere between six months and a year.

Per the WebMD website, lumbar discectomy, or decompression, is used to treat herniated vertebral disks between L1 and S1.

These are the spinal disks that put pressure onto the nerve root causing inflammation, pain, and other conditions such as incontinence and leg weakness. This surgery can be done via a small incision along the spine of the lower back.

By removing the disk or disk fragment that is creating the compression, the symptoms can be relieved. Some evidence shows that this surgery is best done at one year after symptom onset for maximum benefit.

These benefits lessen if symptoms have continued for several years. A minimally invasive procedure called microdiscectomy has not been proven to be more or less effective.

Spinal fusion is a surgical option for those who suffer from spinal stenosis. Instrumentation and sometimes bone grafts are used to surgically fuse the problematic vertebrae into one solid mass of bone.

This limits the mobility of the lumbar spine and therefore can relieve sciatica pain; however, certain activities and movements will be impacted due to the solidifying of the lumbar disks. Lifestyle and activity level should be taken into consideration.

As with all surgeries, there is a period of recovery and physical therapy required to regain as much mobility as medically possible.

There are several causes of sciatica pain and it is important that before any type of treatment is pursued the patient receive proper testing (x-ray, CT, EMG) and a diagnosis (disk herniation, nerve compression, spinal stenosis) is obtained so the correct form of treatment can be administered.

All treatment options have some level of risk so the more informed the patient is of their particular condition, the better they can navigate the treatment options available to them.

Frequently, several of the treatments listed above will be used concurrently for maximum effect.

Sciatica Prevention

There are several different factors in the prevention of sciatica. The first is to increase exercise to help boost the flexibility of your body.

Low impact activities such as swimming, walking, and yoga have the ability to provide just enough movement and liberation of the spinal region to minimize the risk of sciatica.

A change in your lifestyle is also important. If you happen to have a job that has you sitting for long periods of time such as working at an office or driving a vehicle, that it is important you start to take small breaks to stretch your body.

The more limber you keep your spinal region, the less likely you are to develop sciatica.

Some natural solutions to handling sciatica also involved adding supplements and making changes to your diet.

Keep in mind that one of the most vital parts of a well-functioning human body is the nutrients which it receives.

Antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin are all an essential part of keeping your joints limber, lubricated, and functioning well.

These can be derived from a daily multivitamin, adding supplements to your diet, or changing the foods you eat to include more dark leafy greens and berries.

Lastly, individuals who have often asked – can sciatica affect both legs – have found themselves turning to the age-old practice of yoga for relief and prevention.

A gentle yoga practice will help any individual, regardless of weight or age, experience the right kind of stretching to alleviate pinched nerves and keep the spine limber and free from future incidents.


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