Tests for sciatica can include several procedures such as physical reflex trials and examinations using medical imagery like MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays. All of the tests serve to rule out other causes for the pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet that sciatica sufferers may experience. Generally, the tests help identify sciatica by determining whether sciatic nerve root compression is the cause of the pain. For instance, reflex and neurological tests may indicate limited range of motion or feeling in one leg of a sciatica patient. That’s because a herniated disc or another type of tissue is pressing on the sciatic nerve, disrupting signals from the brain to the leg. Similarly, an MRI or other medical image may show the nerve compression somewhere around lumbar vertebrae 4 or 5 where the sciatic nerve exits the spinal canal.
A sciatica test also may sometimes include a spinal nerve block. This procedure involves singling out specific nerves and desensitizing them with a chemical injection. If pain disappears when nerves associated with sciatica are desensitized, then sciatic nerve compression is likely the cause of the pain.
In addition to these procedures, your doctor will also ask you a series of questions regarding your sciatica symptoms, including how long you’ve experienced them, what type of pain you’re feeling, where and when it occurs, and if anything offers you relief. These questions can help your physician narrow down the possible causes for your pain.
If the sciatica tests indicate that you do suffer from the condition, then your doctor can move forward with a treatment plan that could include anything from stretching and physical therapy to steroidal spine injections or surgery. Some of these treatments aim to manage symptoms while your doctor waits to see if the cause for your sciatica resolves on its own. Others treatments, like surgery, are used when the sciatica pain is too great to live with and it’s unlikely that it will improve with time or other treatments.
If you’ve reached the treatment stage and your doctor has mentioned surgery, you may want to consider the gentle, endoscopic, outpatient surgery we offer at Laser Spine Institute. It’s safer and more effective than many traditional back surgeries. Contact us today and we’ll review your MRI or CT scan free of charge.