Screenings You May Undergo to Diagnose and Treat Sciatica

sciatica,  Dr. David Newell MD

Sciatica causes back pain that radiates down the leg, and it’s estimated that up to 10% of people with low back pain have sciatica. A herniated disc with root compression causes most cases of sciatica, although lumbar stenosis and tumors can trigger it as well.

With the proper diagnosis so important in getting your sciatica effectively treated, Dr. Newell wants you to understand the screenings that will allow you both to make the best decisions about your treatment. Here’s what you can expect when undergoing testing for sciatica.

Dr. Newell is an experienced neurosurgeon offering patients in and around the Bellevue, Washington, area the latest treatments for sciatica and other neuropathic conditions. A complete medical history, a physical exam, imaging tests and related screenings can help him diagnose your sciatica, determine its cause and customize a treatment plan.

Dr. Newell may use the following screenings to diagnose your condition.

Straight leg raise test

The straight leg raise is a simple test that Dr. Newell has you take right in the office to check for sciatica. While you’re sitting or lying down, with one leg straight or flexed at the knee, Dr. Newell has you raise the other leg. The test is considered positive for sciatica if, when you raise the leg between 30 and 70 degrees, you feel pain that radiates down the leg to at least below the knee.

Dr. Newell will note the elevation at which pain begins in helping to pinpoint the affected nerves. The test is considered negative for sciatica if pain is only in your back, or it does not move down below your knee.

Imaging Tests

Dr. Newell has several imaging options to help in his diagnosis:


An X-ray screening provides an image of your spine. Dr. Newell uses this screening to look for problems such as overgrowth of bone pressing on the nerves or bone fractures.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) produces images of the structures of your back and is very sensitive at picking up the health of your discs. Dr. Newell will use this screening to detect problems like herniated discs and spinal tumors.

CT scan

Because an MRI isn’t the best imaging study to visualize fractures, Dr. Newell may order a computed tomography (CT) scan. This imaging uses a special X-ray along with sophisticated computer technology to provided horizontally and vertically sliced images that are more detailed than general X-ray imaging. This imaging will help Dr. Newell determine the cause of your sciatic nerve pain and guide the course of treatment.


An electromyography (EMG) test measures the electrical impulses your nerves produce and the response of your muscles. Dr. Newell may use this study to assess how your sciatic nerve is working. This test can help detect problems like spinal stenosis — narrowing of the spinal canal — and nerves that are compressed by a herniated disc.

Getting the answers you deserve

Together these exams and tests give Dr. Newell a complete picture of your sciatic nerve pain, allowing him to recommend the treatment most likely to help you. In cases where a herniated disc is causing your symptoms, he may urge you to have a discectomy or microdiscectomy. These procedures involve removing the herniated disc that is pushing on your sciatic nerve and causing the pain.

Don’t wait to do something about sciatic nerve pain. Without treatment, you may experience worsening pain and complications like extreme leg weakness and problems controlling your bladder.

Call Dr. Newell or book online to schedule a consultation if you think you may have sciatica or are experiencing low back pain that radiates down one or both legs. Effective treatment can relieve your pain and improve your quality of life.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Treat Your Sciatica With These Lifestyle Changes

An irritated sciatic nerve can make life miserable. The immense, burning pain that shoots down your leg can put a damper on your quality of life and increase your risk of anxiety and depression. Treatment can provide relief.

Why Are Women at Greater Risk for Meningiomas?

A meningioma, a form of brain tumor, often lurks undetected for years and might not require immediate treatment. As they grow, however, meningiomas can cause significant problems, sometimes making intervention necessary.

What are the Most Common Types of Brain Tumors?

Being diagnosed with a brain tumor may be shocking, but it’s not necessarily a serious threat to your health. There are over 100 types of brain tumors, ranging from aggressive and malignant to slow-growing and benign.