Accurately Diagnosing Leg Pain

It is likely that a more accurate diagnosis of the cause of the patient’s leg pain will be made if the patient is able to provide clear information about the nature of their pain and symptoms.

Clear, descriptive terms that will help inform an accurate diagnosis include the following:

  • Position or path of the pain as it radiates down the leg
  • Body position when pain occurs
  • Sensation (e.g. aching, tingling, shooting, lancinating, burning pain)
  • Frequency (e.g. occasional, getting more frequent, constant)
  • Description of what makes the pain feel better or worse

This information, as part of a comprehensive patient history, combined with a physical exam and diagnostic tests (such as MRI scan, CT myelography, etc.), allows a spine specialist to more accurately isolate the probable causes of spine-related leg and foot pain and outline potential treatment options.

See Introduction to Diagnostic Studies for Back Pain

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The purpose of this article is to emphasize that there are many spinal conditions that may cause leg pain, foot pain, and other lower extremity symptoms. Most successful treatments are based upon having an accurate anatomic diagnosis for the basis of a specific pain syndrome.

Spine care professionals—such as physiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors, and other appropriately trained health professions—are particularly well suited to oversee the diagnosis and treatment of these situations.

Written by Grant Cooper, MD