How do doctors diagnose and treat sciatica?

If you think pain and other symptoms you’re experiencing are related to sciatica, it’s important to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Sciatica is actually more of a set of symptoms rather than a specific medical condition, and while everyone’s specific case is different, common areas where people experience sciatica pain include the lower back, buttocks, hips, backs of the legs and feet. Pain can be intermittent or constant and can range from a dull ache to burning, or even a mild sensation of numbness or tingling.

How do doctors reach a diagnosis for sciatica?

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve, a large nerve running from the lower spine down the back of the legs, is compressed. Sciatic nerve compression can happen in several ways and is often caused by neighboring parts of the spine such as vertebrae, spinal discs or ligaments. The condition is sometimes initiated by an event, such as a fall, auto accident or sports injury but is very commonly related to age-related degeneration of the spine.

As the symptoms of sciatica arise and pain increases in intensity or frequency, professional medical help is typically needed. When diagnosing sciatica, your physician should take the following steps:

  • Review your medical history and ask about your symptoms
  • Perform a physical exam, testing your range of motion and reflexes
  • Order diagnostic testing such as an MRI, X-ray, CT scan or EMG

What are the treatment options for my sciatica diagnosis?

Treatment options for sciatica are typically similar to those recommended by doctors for other back problems. Initial treatments include over-the-counter medication, hot and cold compression therapy, exercise and periods of rest. Narcotics or muscle relaxers may be prescribed if symptoms are more severe. Physical therapy and epidural steroid injections are other forms of sciatica treatment that may be used if symptoms are persistent. In some cases conservative treatment methods are not effective and surgery to relieve sciatic nerve compression may be considered.

Traditional open spine surgery to treat sciatica can be a difficult prospect to consider due to the large incision, hospitalization and long recovery period involved, but there are alternatives. Contact Laser Spine Institute today to learn more about the minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery we offer to treat sciatica.

One of our Spine Care Consultants can help you receive a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.

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