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Tests and Exams for Sciatica

When you go to your doctor with sciatica symptoms he or she will want to reach a firm and correct diagnosis of your condition. This is vital to ensure that you are prescribed the most effective and relevant treatment to give you relief from the symptoms and to help you recover from the problem. If sciatica is suspected, your doctor will need to do some tests and exams for sciatica, as well as ask you lots of questions regarding your condition.

What sciatica questions will my doctor ask me?

  • When did you first experience the pain?
  • What were you doing at the time?
  • What type of activities have you been doing recently?
  • Have you experienced this type of pain before?
  • Where do you feel the pain most?
  • Where else do you have pain?
  • Rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the worst.
  • What makes the pain worse?
  • What helps to reduce the pain level?
  • When walking uphill and downhill – is the pain worse or better?
  • Have you done anything to relieve the pain?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

Answer the doctor's questions honestly and frankly so that a clear picture of your condition is obtained. Keeping back any information is counter-productive and may hamper your recovery.

The next stage in the diagnosis depends, to a certain extent, on your answers to the doctor's questions. Some doctors like to take a conservative approach to sciatica treatment, especially if this is the first time you have had sciatica symptoms. You may be told to go home and rest for a day, taking over-the-counter pain medication as needed, and return in a few days if the pain doesn't go away.

Other doctors will prescribe NSAIDS, which are anti-inflammatory drugs, because sciatica is frequently accompanied by inflammation of the tissues surrounding the sciatic nerve. If the pain is severe and debilitating, stronger analgesics might be prescribed. Again, you will probably need to return to the doctor if these measures fail to relieve the pain.

However, before reaching a firm diagnosis, the doctor will probably want to perform some tests and exams for sciatica. These tests come under different headings – physical, neurological, imaging.

What physical exams will the doctor do?

The doctor will ask you to stand up straight and will then assess your posture, especially in relation to the spine. He will check the alignment and curvature of your spine and feel for any muscles that are in spasm. You may be asked to perform certain movements so the doctor can see if movement is restricted and which actions cause pain or the doctor may move your legs or feet in a particular way.

What neurological exams will be done?

The doctor will check on your muscle strength, your reflexes, the spread of the pain and changes to nerves and their function.

Will I need to have any imaging tests done?

Imaging tests are used to discover the cause of the pain and other symptoms. Some doctors treat the symptoms the first time you have them but if they recur, will want you to have imaging tests done to ascertain what is causing them. You might have an x-ray, a CT scan, an ultrasound or an MRI.

So tests and exams come under three main headings – physical, neurological and imaging. These, when combined with taking a thorough medical history, will give the doctor a diagnosis of sciatica.

Video: Demonstration of Sciatic Nerve Exam - Test



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