Thursday, August 11, 2022

How To Test For Sciatic Nerve Pain

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Sciatic Nerve Pain : How to Test the Sciatic Nerve

While all these conditions affect either the spinal cord, nerves, muscles, ligaments or joints and all can cause pain, none are directly related to sciatica. The main causes of these conditions are different. Sciatica only involves the sciatic nerve. That being said, the most similar condition would be carpal tunnel syndrome, which also involves a compression of a nerve.

A final word about sciatica. . . .

Most cases of sciatica do not require surgery. Time and self-care treatment are usually all thats needed. However, if simple self-care treatments do not relieve your pain, see your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can confirm the cause of your pain, suggest other treatment options and/or refer you to other spine health specialists if needed.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/25/2020.


Treating Sciatica Pain And Managing Expectations

Many people think that the worse the pain, the more likely something bad is going on. However, this isnt true for sciatica. The body can reabsorb the disc material that is causing symptoms, even for those with severe pain. So, treatment focuses on controlling pain and keeping people as active as possible. If the pain is excruciating, lying down for short periods can help, but prolonged bed rest does not. So, once the pain diminishes, I tell patients to get up and start walking short distances. Since sitting increases pressure on the discs in the lower back, I recommend avoiding prolonged sitting or driving. Many people try treatments like physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic manipulation, but evidence suggests that while these approaches may help typical low back pain, they are less helpful for sciatica. Over-the-counter pain medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen can help. When they dont, I may recommend short-term use of stronger, prescription pain medicines.

Patients often ask about spinal injections where steroid medicine is injected into the affected area. It is worth considering for those with uncontrolled pain or for those with persistent, bothersome symptoms who want to avoid surgery. Injections can provide short-term relief. Like any procedure, it has uncommon risks including more pain, and it doesnt seem to decrease the need for future surgery.

How To Interpret The Straight Leg Raise Test

A positive result happens when pain radiates down the leg to at least below the knee when your afflicted leg is raised between 30 degrees to 70 degrees. Many times, patients feel pain all the way down to the big toe. The sensitivity might improve when you extend your foot upward between 10 and 30 degrees toward your shin. This movement uses muscles in the front part of your lower leg. Relevant history and decreased range of motion are also taken into consideration.A negative straight leg raise test , may indicate that your pain is not due to a significant herniation, however it is only one of several potentially useful pieces of information. Depending on the results of your physical exam, your physician may feel the need to order more diagnostic tests.A negative or non-positive test result is when the lower back is the only place you experience pain and you do not have the radiated pain below the knee.

“If this test is positive it is recommended you seek care from a doctor of chiropractic or a physical therapist as soon as possible. Therapeutic intervention will shorten your recovery time and allow you to get back to your normal daily activities faster and decrease the chances of a relapse in your condition,” says Buncke.

Most people with sciatica don’t require surgery and 70-80 percent of patients improve within 4 to 6 weeks.

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What Complications Are Associated With Sciatica

Most people recover fully from sciatica. However, chronic pain can be a complication of sciatica. If the pinched nerve is seriously injured, chronic muscle weakness, such as a drop foot, might occur, when numbness in the foot makes normal walking impossible. Sciatica can potentially cause permanent nerve damage, resulting in a loss of feeling in the affected legs. Call your provider right away if you lose feeling in your legs or feet, or have any concerns during your recovery time.

When Should I Contact My Healthcare Provider

Tests For Examination Of The Lower Back

Get immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • Severe leg pain lasting more than a few hours that is unbearable.
  • Numbness or muscle weakness in the same leg.
  • Bowel or bladder control loss. This could be due to a condition called cauda equina syndrome, which affects bundles of nerves at the end of the spinal cord.
  • Sudden and severe pain from a traffic accident or some other trauma.

Even if your visit doesnt turn out to be an emergency situation, its best to get it checked out.

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How Does A Doctor Diagnose Sciatica

Sciatica is the name for painful syndrome caused due to the compression, at one point or another, of our bodys largest nerve. This giant nerve is formed by the combining of nerves leaving the spinal cord between L4 to S3 segments of the spinal cord or in simple words it is created by combining of several nerves in the lower back. Lower back is one of the most prone areas to strains and sprains due to immense pressure, and high level of movements.

Sciatic nerve provides sensation to most of the leg and is also responsible for the movement of several muscles in the leg. The most common reason for sciatica is the compression of the nerve at the point where it leaves spine either due to herniation of disk or changes in the vertebral bone.

If I Dont Have Sciatica What Do I Have

One of the reasons that it can be difficult to tell if a person is truly experiencing sciatica is that many other types of pain can mimic sciatica. As someone trying to self-diagnose, you may find it difficult to tell if your pain is truly sciatic in nature or if its simply lower back pain.

Here are some of the most common problems that can cause sciatica-like symptoms.

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Special Tests For Sciatica

Have you ever experienced lower back pain that led to one side of your body tingling or feeling numb? If so, you may have experienced a type of pain known as sciatica. Sciatica refers to pain that occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched, which leads to pain radiating out from the lower back and down one side of the body. Sciatica can result from a car accident or other injury to the lower back which causes significant swelling to press on the sciatic nerve, or a herniated disc that may also compress the nerve. In order to determine how the sciatica pain is occurring, your doctor will need to use state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging tools to view the area.

Secret #: Mindful Meditation

How to perform the SLUMP Test for Sciatic nerve pain

You might be rolling your eyes at this one, but that simply means that you have never tried mindful meditation to control chronic pain. We understand if youre skeptical, everyone is before they try it.

While this practice wont heal an underlying problem, it is a way to help control pain, especially chronic pain, and it is scientifically proven. Even those who only dabbled in this type of meditation found substantial pain relief, so you dont even have to be a guru to reap the benefits.

Mindful meditation is shown to reduce pain levels by as much as 57%. Those who really master the art can reduce their pain by 90%. This works by soothing the brain patterns that are altered by pain, so that you no longer feel pain with the same level of intensity as before.

If you want a more complete explanation of how mindful meditation can help to change the way your brain observes pain and how to practice this ancient method, you can find more information here.

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Should I Be Worried About My Sciatica

If youve gone through these steps and determined you probably have sciatica, what then? Is it something to be worried about?

Not necessarily. While sciatica can cause horrible pain and can be an extremely frustrating condition to experience, there is some good news. It usually goes away on its own. In most cases, theres no need for extensive treatments.

In most cases, symptoms last for roughly 90 days, or about 3 months, before gradually dissipating. If your symptoms persist much longer than this 3-month mark, it might be time to consider calling your doctor and seeing what other options are available to you.

The one exception to this is if you experience trouble with your bladder and bowel in addition to your sciatic pain. This is something that your doctor needs to be notified of as soon as you notice the pattern emerging.

How Does A Doctor Check For Sciatica Pain

Sciatica is rather common as its a result of different diseases or conditions pinching the sciatic nerve. With the correct diagnosis, the condition can be treated and the pain will eventually subside. To diagnose sciatica, doctors complete two physical exams to measure the pressure on your sciatic nerve.

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What Should I Avoid With Sciatica

Activities placing excessive pressure on your lower back will further compress the irritated nerve roots and intensify your sciatica symptoms. To prevent this, avoid prolonged sitting, heavy lifting, intense physical activity, and bad static postures. Although coughing and sneezing are sometimes out of our control, it can also strain the lower spine and cause a quick eruption in pain.

Is Massage Good For Sciatica

Nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV) Test

Sciatica symptoms arise from nerve-related injuries, and massage is used to treat muscle trauma. While massage therapy will not cure your sciatica, it may help. Oftentimes, sciatica causes the lower back muscles to tighten and spasm. Therefore, a massage therapist may be able to loosen them and alleviate some pain.

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Immediate Action Required: Go To A& e Or Call 999 If You:

  • have sciatica on both sides
  • have weakness or numbness in both legs that’s severe or getting worse
  • have numbness around or under your genitals, or around your bottom
  • find it hard to start peeing, cannot pee or cannot control when you pee and this is not normal for you
  • do not notice when you need to poo or cannot control when you poo and this is not normal for you

These could be symptoms of a serious back problem that needs to be treated in hospital as soon as possible.

Common Causes Of Sciatica

As mentioned earlier, sciatica is the result of one or more compressed nerve roots in the lumbar or sacral region, but what causes these nerve roots to compress?

Lumbar spinal stenosis, or narrowing of space in your lumbar spine, causes structures in your low back to touch, sometimes placing pressure on the spinal nerves. Although some people are born with spinal stenosis, it is typically the result of aging. Mattresses for spinal stenosis should offer a balance of support and pressure relief.

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Box : Clinical Guideline For Diagnosis And Treatment Of Sciatica From Dutch College Of General Practicew4


  • Check for red flag conditions, such as malignancies, osteoporotic fractures, radiculitis, and cauda equina syndrome

  • Take a history to determine localisation severity loss of strength sensibility disorders duration course influence of coughing, rest, or movement and consequences for daily activities

  • Carry out a physical examination, including neurological testingfor example, straight leg raising test

  • Carry out the following tests in cases with a dermatomal pattern, or positive result on straight leg raising test, or loss of strength or sensibility disorders: reflexes , sensibility of lateral and medial sides of feet and toes, strength of big toe during extension, walking on toes and heel , crossed Lasègue’s sign

  • Imaging or laboratory diagnostic tests are only indicated in red flag conditions but are not useful in cases of suspected disc herniation


Find Out In This Simple 30

How to test for Piriformis syndrome and Sciatic nerve

Have you or someone you know and care about ever missed work due to sciatica or back pain?

Missed out on a family vacation or activity because you were afraid to aggravate your sciatica?

Found yourself worrying more about your pain, numbness, and tingling rather than living your life?

Dear Fellow NW Indiana Resident,

Lower back pain and sciatica can really be a pain in the butt.

You know what I mean

you get frustrated because you cant get through the store aisles without leaning on the cart.

you feel helpless and embarrassed because you have to sit down after every few minutes of standing or walking, asking people to wait for you

you just cant get a good nights rest, almost finding it impossible to get a comfortable position

And whats worse is, it can play with your mind

you start worrying that something else might be horribly wrong

you get concerned with all the dangerous side effects from the pain pills youre taking just to get by

you get depressed, feeling like youre disappointing your friends, loved ones, and family

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Symptoms To Look Out For

The sciatic nerve starts at the lower back, through the buttocks, and down each leg, and if its pinched, pain occurs in those areas. If you believe you have sciatica, some common symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Pain radiating down one or both legs and feet
  • Your legs or feet feel weak or numb
  • A burning or tingling sensation in your legs and feet
  • Pain when standing up or sitting down
  • Inability to rest your weight on one leg
  • Wobbly knees

Indications Of Sciatica In A Physical Exam

Sciatica is a descriptive term that refers to radiation of pain from the lower back down the back of the thigh and leg in the distribution of the sciatic nerve. A true sciatica describes irritation of the six nerve roots that comprise the sciatic nerve. When sciatica originates from these roots, there may be key findings indicative of radiculopathy on a physical exam.

For an L5 or S1 radiculopathy, there may be a positive straight leg raise or crossed straight leg raise in a supine position. In a seated position, there may be a positive Bechterew or slump test. Cervical flexion may also reproduce the pain, as it causes traction of the dura, lumbosacral nerve roots and sciatic nerve.

In the presence of an S1 radiculopathy, motor testing may discover weakness in the ankle plantar flexors and hip extensors, along with a decreased or absent Achilles reflex. In the case of an L5 radiculopathy, there also may be weakness in the ankle dorsiflexors, inverters and everters, hip abductors or extensor hallucis longus, as well as a decreased or absent patellar reflex.

Although facet arthropathy generally does not extend past the knee, it can refer pain down the posterior thigh and even into the leg. More often, the patient will experience worsening pain with extension and facet loading, as opposed to a patient with discogenic pain who will frequently complain of increased pain with lumbar flexion.

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How Is Sciatica Diagnosed

First, your healthcare provider will review your medical history. Next, theyll ask about your symptoms.

During your physical exam, you will be asked to walk so your healthcare provider can see how your spine carries your weight. You may be asked to walk on your toes and heels to check the strength of your calf muscles. Your provider may also do a straight leg raise test. For this test, youll lie on your back with your legs straight. Your provider will slowly raise each leg and note the point at which your pain begins. This test helps pinpoint the affected nerves and determines if there is a problem with one of your disks. You will also be asked to do other stretches and motions to pinpoint pain and check muscle flexibility and strength.

Depending on what your healthcare provider discovers during your physical exam, imaging and other tests might be done. These may include:

  • Spinal X-rays to look for spinal fractures, disk problems, infections, tumors and bone spurs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scans to see detailed images of bone and soft tissues of the back. An MRI can show pressure on a nerve, disk herniation and any arthritic condition that might be pressing on a nerve. MRIs are usually ordered to confirm the diagnosis of sciatica.
  • Nerve conduction velocity studies/electromyography to examine how well electrical impulses travel through the sciatic nerve and the response of muscles.
  • Myelogram to determine if a vertebrae or disk is causing the pain.

Randomised Controlled Trials Not Yet Included In Systematic Reviews

What is Piriformis Syndrome?

Two additional randomised controlled trials have been published comparing disc surgery with conservative treatment. One trial compared microdiscectomy with conservative treatment in patients who had had sciatica for six to 12 weeks. Overall, no significant differences were found for leg pain, back pain, and subjective disability over two years of follow-up. Leg pain, however, seemed to initially improve more rapidly in patients in the discectomy group. The large spine patient outcomes research trial and related observational cohort study was carried out in the United States. Patients with sciatica for at least six weeks and confirmed disc herniation were invited to participate in either a randomised trial or an observational cohort study. Patients in the trial were randomised to disc surgery or to conservative care. Patients in the cohort study received disc surgery or conservative care based on their preference. In the randomised trial both treatment groups improved substantially over two years for all primary and secondary outcome measures. Small differences were found in favour of the surgery group, but these were not statistically significant for the primary outcome measures. Only 50% of the patients randomised to surgery received surgery within three months of inclusion compared with 30% randomised to conservative care. After two years of follow-up 45% of patients in the conservative care group underwent surgery compared with 60% in the surgery group.

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