One of the most common reasons for nerve pain that’s felt elsewhere is irritation of the sciatic nerve. The longest single nerve in the body, it runs from the lower back into the legs and branches off. However, not all radiating pain felt in the lower back, buttocks, thighs, hips, or legs can be blamed on the sciatic nerve. There are nearby muscles, joints, parts of the spine, and nerves that can produce similar symptoms when inflamed, damaged, or irritated. Before you start self-diagnosing, take a moment to consider how to tell with better certainty if you have sciatica.
Instability Affects One Leg or Knee More Than the Other
Leg pain is a common symptom of sciatica, but the way the resulting discomfort affects your legs can give you a clue as to whether or not the sciatic nerve is causing it. The resulting nerve irritation may extend to both legs and your knees to some degree. However, if pain or instability is more noticeable in one leg and knee, it’s likely linked to the sciatic nerve.
You Don’t Regularly Run or Jog But Still Experience Pain
Athletes who run a lot, regular joggers, and competitive runners are more likely to have radiating nerve pain related to the piriformis muscle located deep in the buttocks by the lower spine. If you don’t regularly run and you still have lingering hip and leg pain, it’s more likely to be related to the sciatic nerve. Piriformis syndrome, on the other hand, tends to affect range of motion in the hips more than sciatica does.
Stimulating Certain Back-Supporting Muscles Doesn’t Trigger Symptoms
Most back pain is due to muscle-related strain or overextension. This type of pain can usually be triggered by stimulating the affected muscle. For example, if you bend forward or arch your back, you might feel sudden pain if your flexor muscles are the source of your discomfort. If you can’t touch or move one specific muscle to trigger your symptoms, the sciatic nerve might be causing your pain.
You Couldn’t Pass the “Sciatica Test”
Doctors often have patients do a simple test as part of an initial examination if sciatica is suspected. You can also do the test at home. Simply lie on a flat surface like a bed. Straighten the leg that’s most affected by pain, numbness, or tingling sensations and try to lift it 30-70 degrees. If you suddenly experience pain, there’s a good chance you have sciatica because this action forces the sciatic nerve to straighten. If this nerve is irritated, doing so will trigger symptoms instantly.
The only way to know for sure you have sciatica is to get a proper diagnosis from a Beverly Hills spine surgeon. Sciatic nerve compression may be confirmed with:
- Image tests (X-rays, CT scans, MRIs)
- Electromyography to measure electrical impulses produced by nerves
- Selective nerve root blocks
- Nerve conduction studies and other specialized tests
If suspected sciatica isn’t actually sciatica, other possibilities include damage to lumbar spinal joints due to underlying conditions like osteoarthritis, issues with the sacroiliac joints in the hips, or irritation of the piriformis muscle that also affects the nearby sciatic nerve. If sciatica is positively diagnosed, you may experience relief from medications, hot and cold applications, epidural injections for therapeutic purposes, physical therapy exercises, foods that naturally ease inflammation, or chiropractic adjustments.
Get in touch with The Spine Institute today if you think you might have sciatica or another spine-related condition. We specialize in a wide array of fusion and non-fusion procedures, from artificial disc replacement to extreme lateral interbody fusion. Beverly Hills patients place their trust in Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.