Diagnostic Tools for Sciatica from a Herniated Disc

Question: Tests to determine the cause of sciatica?

I experience numbness and tingling in my leg. I have a lumbar herniated disc at L5, which is causing sciatica.

Besides an MRI, is there another test to determine if the sciatica is caused by nerve compression and to identify which nerves are being compressed?

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Doctor’s Response: The best option is an MRI scan

A CT scan can provide an image of the vertebral disc if it is sizable, but does not give quite as detailed an image as an MRI. Likewise, an EMG study (electromyography) of the leg can indicate if a muscle group is affected, but the test is non-specific and typically does not detect herniated discs.

The best test to evaluate nerve compression is an MRI scan. For patients who have claustrophobia, newer MRI scanning equipment is no longer designed like a tunnel and is less likely to cause claustrophobia.

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In Spine-health’s Doctor Advice section, physicians respond to frequently asked questions about back pain issues. These responses represent the opinion of one physician, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broader medical community. The advice presented has not been peer reviewed by Spine-health’s medical advisory board.

Written by Medical Reviewer