The doctor may also perform a leg raise test. For this test, you lie on your back with your legs straight. The doctor slowly raises each leg and finds the starting point of the pain. This test helps diagnose damaged nerves and determine if your discs are at fault. Also, in order to detect the location of the pain and check the flexibility and strength of the muscles, you will be asked to perform certain movements.

Diagnostic tests for sciatica

Depending on what the doctor finds during the physical exam, tests may be done, including:

X-ray of the spine (radiography of the spine): To check spine fractures, disc problems, tumors and bone spurs

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT scan): To see detailed images of the bones and soft tissues of the back. MRI can show pressure on the nerve, herniated disc and arthritis. MRI is usually prescribed to confirm the diagnosis of sciatica.

Investigation of nerve conduction velocity/electromyography: Examining nerve conduction velocity is usually used along with electromyography in order to examine how electrical impulses pass through the sciatic nerve and muscle response.

Myelography: Myelography is a type of medical imaging. This method is used to check whether a vertebra or disc is causing the pain.

What are the complications of sciatica?

Most people recover completely from sciatica. However, chronic pain (continuous and stable) can be one of the complications of sciatica. If the pinched nerve is seriously damaged, chronic muscle weakness such as leg drop may occur, where numbness in the leg makes normal walking impossible. Sciatica can potentially cause permanent nerve damage resulting in loss of sensation in the affected leg.

How is sciatica treated?

The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and increase the patient’s ability to move. Many cases of sciatica resolve with time and self-care.

Home remedies and self-care for sciatica include:

Apply hot and/or ice packs: First, use ice packs to reduce pain and swelling. Apply an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel to the affected area. Do this for 20 minutes and several times a day. After a few days, use a hot pack or heating pad. Use it for 20 minutes each time. If you still have pain, alternate using hot and cold packs in whatever way best relieves your pain.

Taking over-the-counter medications: Take medicine to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling. Common over-the-counter medications effective in relieving sciatica are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

Be careful with aspirin. Aspirin can cause ulcers and bleeding in some people. If you cannot take NSAIDs, acetaminophen may be a good alternative.

Doing gentle stretching exercises: Learn proper stretching movements from an experienced trainer in the field of back pain. Work on general strengthening, core strengthening, and cardio.

How long should we try self-care remedies for sciatica pain relief before seeing a healthcare professional?

Sciatica pain varies from person to person. The type of pain can be different, the intensity of pain is different and the cause of pain can also be different. In some patients, more aggressive treatment may be tried first. However, in general, if a six-week course of conservative treatments and self-care (such as ice, heat, stretching, over-the-counter medications) doesn’t provide relief, you should try other treatment options as recommended by your doctor.

Other treatment options include:

Prescription drugsA doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant such as cyclobenzaprine to relieve discomfort associated with muscle spasms. Other pain-relieving medications that may be tried include tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsants. Depending on the severity of the pain, prescription pain medications may be used early in the treatment program.

physical therapy: The goal of physical therapy is to find sports movements that reduce sciatica pain by reducing the pressure on the nerve. The exercise program should include stretching exercises to improve muscle flexibility and aerobic exercises (such as walking, swimming, and water aerobics).

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