How doctors form a diagnosis for sciatica

The symptoms related to sciatica can be extremely difficult to live with because they are so painful and limit the movement needed for everyday activity. If you are dealing with symptoms like shooting pain in the lower body, weakness in the legs, or tingling and numbness that reaches down to the toes, it is important to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Whether you’re experiencing these symptoms for the first time or have dealt with sciatica in the past, the diagnostic process can be a source of anxiety. Learning more about this condition and the steps a doctor typically takes to form a sciatica diagnosis can relieve some of the stress and help you become more involved as you seek treatment.

Causes of sciatica

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve, the longest and widest nerve in the body, becomes compressed. This typically occurs as the result of a spine condition such as degenerative disc disease, a bulging or herniated disc, osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis. These conditions involve the inflammation or displacement of a spinal component, which can potentially cause nerve compression. If this occurs in the lumber (lower) region of the spine and causes compression of the sciatic nerve, sciatica symptoms can result.

Forming a diagnosis

A physician or spine specialist typically uses the following methods to form a sciatica diagnosis:

  • Medical review. Asking questions about the patient’s symptoms and their location, duration and severity can help the physician form a sciatica diagnosis.
  • Physical examination. Palpating the spine can help the physician determine the exact source of discomfort.
  • Diagnostic tests. A CT scan or MRI can provide an image of the internal structure of the spine, giving a more precise view of the location and source of sciatic nerve compression.

Treating sciatica

Once a sciatica diagnosis has been formed, your doctor will usually begin with a course of conservative treatment options. Common options include pain or anti-inflammatory medication, exercise, periods of rest and physical therapy. Healthy lifestyle choices like weight management, posture improvement and quitting smoking may also be recommended. If these options become exhausted after weeks or months without an improvement in symptoms, your doctor may recommend a specialist for a surgical consultation.

Before consenting to traditional open spine surgery and the large incision, overnight hospitalization and risk of complications that come with it, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery offers patients less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time compared to traditional open spine procedures.^

For a no-cost MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for one of our procedures, reach out to our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants today.

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