When you feel a pain that radiates down your leg and makes walking, standing or even sitting down painful, it is possible that you have sciatica. But this is not a foregone conclusion – there are other problems you can develop that mimic the symptoms of sciatica pain. If you experience pain, muscle weakness and/or numbness in the hip, leg or ankle, don’t immediately assume you have sciatica – here are 3 other problems that could be causing your symptoms:
1. Peripheral neuropathy
If you experience a burning, jabbing pain accompanied by tingling or numbness in the lower leg and foot, it could be peripheral neuropathy. This condition is most common in alcoholics, people with diabetes, and several other medical conditions that do damage to small nerves in the extremities. It is usually treated by addressing the underlying cause, but the symptoms must not be ignored.
2. Peroneal neuropathy
The common peroneal nerve runs from below the knee down the outside of the lower leg, and if it is injured you may experience symptoms like weakness and foot drop. These are also common symptoms of sciatica, and can lead to misdiagnosis.
3. Peripheral vascular disease
PVD is a blood circulation disorder which causes a narrowing, block or spasm of the blood vessels closest to your heart and brain. It can affect both arteries and veins, and typically causes undue pain and fatigue during activity, particularly in the legs. The pain will usually improve with rest. But the danger of this compromised blood flow is that organs can become damaged and extremities like fingers, toes or even limbs can die. A diagnosis of PVD requires specialist treatment.
If you have any doubts about whether your symptoms are definitely caused by sciatica, you should consult your doctor for a definitive diagnosis. Tests can include a review of your medical history, a physical exam, imaging studies and even electromyography to help pinpoint the cause of your pain. Sciatica pain can be extremely debilitating, as can the symptoms of the above conditions, but with the right treatment you can experience relief and be on your way to making a full recovery.