How Does a Physician Diagnose Sciatica?


What is Sciatica?

Sciatica occurs when pain is felt from the buttocks down the length of the leg. The pain may vary in severity and be accompanied by numbness and tingling. The most common cause of sciatica is a pinched sciatic nerve from a herniated disc. Injuries and accidents associated with the lower back may also cause sciatica pain. Not all pain associated with the buttocks and back of the legs is sciatica. How do you know when you have sciatica? Visiting your physician is paramount so you can receive a proper diagnosis.

The Physician’s Examination: What to Expect

On the day of your appointment, your doctor will first run through your medical history. This will include illness, medication, and, most importantly, to see if any injuries or accidents have occurred.

A typical physical and neurologic examination will also be given including an evaluation of your range of motion. You’ll also be asked to evaluate your perceived pain on a standard pain chart. Depending on your responses, your doctor may request one or all of the following:

  • X-rays
  • CT Scan
  • MRI

Common Questions by the Physician

The most common questions that you can expect from your physician are as follows:

  • Please rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10
  • When did the pain begin?
  • How do you think the pain started?
  • What limitations have you noticed on your daily activities?
  • Do you notice a difference in pain level when walking uphill? How about downhill?
  • Have you tried any treatments? If so, which? Were they effective?

Tests that Will Be Performed

As mentioned above, your doctor will perform a number of tests. Here are the tests in the order they are typically given:

  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Neurologic examination
  • Evaluation of range of motion
  • Perceived pain test
  • X-rays
  • CT Scan
  • MRI
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