Methods and Tools Used to Make a Sciatica Diagnosis
The first, and most important, tool used by a physician to make a sciatica diagnosis is the verbal descriptions given by a patient regarding the type, location, and severity of the symptoms. That's why it's so important for people who suspect they may suffer from sciatica to research the condition. Although an auto mechanic may be able to tell a car owner what's wrong with the engine after hearing a human approximation of the out-of-the-ordinary sound it makes, a doctor doesn't have that sort of luxury. A precise diagnosis depends largely on the accuracy of the information provided by the patient.
Questions, Questions, Questions
So, if possible, a patient experiencing suspected sciatica should be prepared to contribute to the diagnosis by giving detailed, precise answers to a doctor's questions. The information a patient can reasonably be expected to provide includes:
- Family and personal medical history, specifically pertaining to problems with degenerating discs and spinal arthritis
- Approximate timeline for the onset of symptoms
- Specific activities that trigger or exacerbate symptoms
- Severity of the symptoms, usually based on a 1-10 scale
- Frequency of the symptoms
- Body parts affected by the symptoms
Patients who might feel nervous or intimidated in an examination room might want to keep a journal of their symptoms. It can't hurt to have the answers right at your fingertips if they don't spring readily to mind.
Other Diagnostic Methods
In addition to a patient's verbal input, a physician will likely perform an examination that might include palpation of the lower back to check for physical abnormalities, and tests for range of motion and muscle strength. In addition, an X-ray may be ordered, along with other medical imaging such as an MRI or a CT scan. If sciatic nerve compression is confirmed, but the precise location remains in doubt, injection tests using contrast dye or a numbing agent might be used to pinpoint the compression site. It's all for the sake of an accurate, actionable sciatica diagnosis - without which, a patient can only wonder about the source of his or her pain.