In the United States, meetings with doctors average roughly 20 minutes. While this certainly beats the 48-second average in Bangladesh, it still doesn’t give you a lot of time to fully explore your options with regard to sciatica treatments during an initial consultation. However, what you can do is be as prepared as possible so your visit with a doctor for this purpose is a productive one. Here are some tips.
It’s easy to forget such details, especially if you’re not currently having significant discomfort. Be better prepared by writing down your main symptoms before your visit. You may be asked questions related to your sciatica symptoms, including:
• How would you describe your symptoms? (Dull, local, throbbing, sharp, “electric-like,” and searing are common responses.)
• Do your symptoms extend below your knee or down to your foot?
• How long have you been experiencing your symptoms, and are they staying the same or getting worse?
• What activities seem to trigger your flare-ups (e.g., sitting for long periods, playing sports, etc.)?
You may also be asked about neurological symptoms such as numbness and tingling sensations that extend to your lower body. Some people with sciatica also have difficulty lifting a foot (“foot drop”) on the affected leg. Additionally, you could be asked about certain positions that either provide relief or make your discomfort worse.
Another option is to keep a journal or diary for a brief time, which will allow you to be more descriptive of your symptoms by noting things such as what you were doing at the time and how severe your discomfort was. This information can lead to a more accurate diagnosis and a more effective treatment plan.
You don’t have to know every medical term to benefit from a doctor’s visit about your sciatica, but it can be helpful to know some of the basic terms you might hear. Some of the common ones include:
• Radicular pain – This is pain that originates from a spinal nerve root. With sciatica, nerve roots around the L4 to S3 levels may be compressed or irritated and cause this type of pain.
• Nerve root – This is the part of the nerve that exits the spinal cord. It then goes through a narrow bony opening before leaving the spinal canal.
• Lumbar radiculopathy – Sometimes called lumbosacral radiculopathy, this term refers to nerve-based discomfort such as numbness or weakness that’s often accompanied by radicular pain in those with sciatica.
If your sciatica symptoms are severe, it may be difficult to concentrate during an initial consultation with a doctor or Santa Monica spine surgeon. For this reason, it can be helpful to have a friend or family member come with you. This way, the other person can take notes and help you stay focused during your visit.
In rare instances, sciatic nerve irritation can produce symptoms that indicate the need for immediate medical attention. Ask your doctor what urgent issues may be associated with sciatica so you’ll know what to look out for. Typically, symptoms of this nature include:
• Worsening nerve-based symptoms that extend to both legs
• Loss of bladder or bowel control
• Severe sciatica-like symptoms that developed after some type of trauma, such as a car accident
Don’t assume a doctor you’re seeing for the first time will automatically know what you’ve already tried and what medications you’re using. Instead, bring a list of all meds you’re currently taking for any reason. If you can’t access your medical records easily, discuss the results you’ve had from any previous treatments and the outcomes of tests other doctors may have ordered.
Also, if you would feel more comfortable with a longer initial consultation, look for a doctor or specialist in your area who offers extended appointments. This type of service is sometimes referred to as concierge service. Lastly, don’t limit yourself to just one opinion. A reputable doctor won’t mind if you get additional input before making a final decision about how you wish to treat your sciatica.
If sciatica is causing your back pain, treatments can vary widely, from applying ice and heat to transforaminal interbody fusion. Santa Monica patients should see a spine specialist for an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. The spinal health experts at The Spine Institute have years of experience with all aspects of back health. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.