How is sciatica diagnosed?

You may have heard the term sciatica used to describe painful symptoms in the hips, buttocks and legs but still aren’t exactly sure what this condition is. Sciatica is symptoms resulting from the compression of the sciatic nerve, which originates in the lower spine before branching off into both legs and running all the way down to the feet. This compression is often caused by a degenerative spine condition or injury to the spine, such as a bulging or herniated disc.

If your life is being affected by pain and limited mobility in your lower body, it may be related to sciatica. Learning how sciatica is diagnosed is an important first step in getting the treatment you need to regain a better quality of life.

What symptoms do physicians look for?

One of the very first steps in potentially diagnosing sciatica is for physicians to look at some of the risk factors for developing this condition. Sciatica affects people in middle age, and taller people seem to have an increased risk of feeling the resulting pain, weakness and numbness of sciatic nerve compression. Other risk factors include smoking and mental stress, which can negatively impact systems throughout the body and lead to spinal degeneration. There are also occupational risk factors that can be related to the type of job you have, particularly if it involves heavy lifting and frequent bending or twisting.

When your physician examines you for sciatica, he or she may be able to diagnose the problem with a simple range of motion exam, which may include asking you to raise your legs and testing your reflexes, among other tests. Additionally, he or she will ask you to provide a detailed history of the issue, so be prepared to explain any pain, weakness or discomfort you feel and provide any addition information that you can about activities that seem to aggravate your symptoms further, such as squatting or sitting for long periods of time.

To confirm diagnosis a physician will often use testing and imagery which can include:

  • X-rays
  • MRIs
  • CT scans
  • Selective nerve root blocks

What are the next steps?

Upon diagnosis of sciatica and the related underlying condition physicians will typically prescribe a course of conservative treatment options including physical therapy, rest and the use of heat and ice packs. Other options include pain medication, corticosteroid injections and lifestyle changes like quitting smoking or losing weight. The goal of treatment is to manage the symptoms of sciatica and take steps to regain lost mobility.

In cases where symptoms do not improve after weeks or months, surgery may be recommended. If you’d like to learn about the outpatient surgical procedures that Laser Spine Institute performs for sciatica patients, contact us today. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is an alternative to traditional open spine procedures and many of the risks and difficulties that are associated with them.

We’re happy to offer a no-cost MRI review* to help you find out if you may be a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.

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