Can Sciatica Cause Permanent Disability?

To understand the potential lifelong causes of sciatica, it is important to first understand what sciatica is, how it is caused, how it can be treated, and the risk factors that it presents. Sciatica’s risk factors are essentially what will determine whether or not your sciatic pain will or will not lead to a permanent disability.

Sciatica: What Is it?

When the nerve roots that comprise the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body, are pinched or become unnaturally compressed, it can cause pain that shoots out from the lower back, down the hips and buttocks, all the way through to the legs. This pain is called sciatica. It is one of many common VA disability claims and it often affects only one side of the body.

Acute and Chronic Sciatica

Acute sciatica often lasts between one and two weeks and results in numbness and mild pain. Such episodes are common in sciatic patients a few times a year.

Acute sciatica, however, may eventually become full-blown chronic sciatica, resulting in regular pain. Chronic sciatica of this type is essentially is a permanent condition and it does not generally respond well to different forms of treatment.

Causes and Risk Factors

Because sciatica is caused by pinching of the sciatic nerve, a herniated disk or bone spurs on the spine can cause sciatic pain. The sciatic nerve can also become compressed by tumors or become damaged as a result of diabetes, which is known to cause nerve damage. As such, age-related changes to the spine are a leading cause of sciatica.

Obesity can also cause sciatica by increasing the level of stress that is placed on the spine.

Occupational hazards, such as jobs that require frequent twisting of the back, carrying heavy loads, or driving motor vehicles for long periods of time may lead to sciatica.

Finally, prolonged sitting can also cause sciatic pain, and people who work desk jobs or lead sedentary lifestyles are more likely to develop sciatica than those with active lifestyles.


Sciatica often responds well to self-care at home.

Adequate rest, gentle exercises, applying hot or cold packs to the lower back, over-the-counter painkillers to reduce inflammation, muscle relaxants in case of muscle spasms, and prescription narcotics for severe cases can all be used to successfully treat sciatica with minimal invasiveness and downtime in the hospital. 

Lifestyle changes can also help. Exercises to strengthen the back, especially the lower back, maintaining good posture while sitting, wearing comfortable and supportive shoes, maintaining a healthy diet, and watching your weight can all help reduce the risks of developing or experiencing sciatica.


Most people fully recover from sciatica, many times without any special treatment, but it can cause permanent nerve damage, depending on the cause of the pain. Such damage is rare, but signs that sciatica that may be on its way to becoming a permanent disability include a lack of control over bowel or bladder functions (incontinence), or increased weakness or a loss of sensation in the leg.

While sciatica often affects people with relatively sedentary lifestyles, even those with active lifestyles can develop sciatica, especially if they suffer damage to their back while participating in strenuous activities. A residual functional capacity assessment, or RFC, is often used to gauge the extent of sciatic nerve damage and its effect on an individual’s ability to work and earn by the Social Security Administration.

If you suffer from sciatica, are worried that your sciatica may be worsening, or if you already have a permanent injury that resulted from sciatic nerve damage, seek legal help. A legal professional can help you understand what you should do to remedy your situation and will provide useful guidance with respect to pain management and best practices for patients with your specific type of pain.