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Sciatica Symptoms: Methods Of Diagnosis

Jan 16, 2008
Sciatica symptoms may be in the form of sharp pain, electrical shock sensations, or burning that begins in the buttock area and may extend down the back part of the leg, often going all the way to the foot. Not all such symptoms are true sciatica though, and they may be caused by different factors in different people.

True sciatica is due to irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is formed by nerves that arise in the low back and join together and then run down the back of each leg. Most cases of true sciatica are due to disc herniations in the lumbar spine.

Sciatica symptoms may also result from a condition known as piriformis syndrome. The piriformis is a muscle that extends from the sacrum at the lower end of the spine to the hip, and it can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve. The piriformis can also develop knots of contraction known as trigger points which can cause referred pain that closely mimics true sciatica (sciatic nerve irritation).

Sciatica symptoms can be diagnosed through various means. A doctor can often get a pretty good idea about the cause of sciatica symptoms through physical examination, but usually an MRI or CT scan is ordered to more fully evaluate the discs and other possible causes of sciatica. Imaging studies may also be done using special dyes to get better quality images of the discs, nerves, and other tissues for a more thorough evaluation.

Another test that may be used is an EMG (electromyography)with a nerve conduction study. Nerve tests can conclusively determine if there is an alteration in sciatic nerve function and can confirm or rule out the nerve as the cause of symptoms.

If examination and testing rules out the sciatic nerve itself as the source of symptoms, the most likely suspect becomes the piriformis muscle.

Once diagnostic testing has determined the cause of sciatica symptoms, then the most appropriate plan of treatment can be implemented and there is a much better chance of recovery.
About the Author
Dr. George Best has been practicing in San Antonio, Texas for 15 years.. To get more information about sciatica diagnosis and treatment, see Dr. Best's article on Sciatica Symptom Relief or visit his Sciatica website.
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