An appointment with your doctor to discuss your sciatica symptoms and treatment options can often feel like a race against time.
With many consultations lasting 15 minutes or less, here are 6 insights and tips on how to make the most of your time with your doctor:
1. Find a sciatica specialist with extended appointments
- Certain spine specialists offer special extended appointment times, sometimes as long as 1 hour (this is sometimes referred to as “concierge” service). Other specialists offer extended times for all patients because that’s how they want to practice medicine.
- You are rarely limited to a single specialist, so feel free to shop around for someone who offers extended appointments. To find out if a specialist offers more time for appointments in your area, peruse the websites of various specialists or talk with your primary care doctor.
2. Write down your medical history to save time during your appointment
The list of medical history questions is pretty standard—and if you write out your answers beforehand you can answer them quickly and accurately. This has two possible benefits for you: (1) you’ll likely provide more precise and complete information, which in turn may lead to a more accurate diagnosis; (2) you’ll save time during the appointment, giving you and your doctor more time to discuss and evaluate your treatment options.
Here’s a list of common questions relating to sciatica to help you prepare:
- Do your symptoms extend below the knee?
- Do you have foot drop, or any other neurological symptoms?
- How would you describe your symptoms—is the pain throbbing, searing, or electric-like?
- Do you feel better in a reclining position? Does bending forward make your symptoms better (may be spinal stenosis) or worse (may be a herniated disc)?
3. Bring a friend to your sciatica appointment
- If your sciatic pain is severe, it may be difficult to concentrate. Bringing a friend to your appointment to take notes can free you up you to focus on the conversation with your doctor without having to worry about forgetting something later on.
- A friend can also help you prioritize your discussion topics and ensure you don’t forget to talk with your doctor about an important matter.
4. Consider an online consultation
- The first diagnosis or treatment plan you receive for your sciatica symptoms doesn’t have to be the final word. One option for a second opinion is an online consultation.
- Online consultations are conducted from the convenience of your home, and you can typically upload any relevant forms or images.
- There are obvious drawbacks to an online consultation, and many feel that a doctor needs to physically examine someone in order to offer the best advice.
5. Learn the vocab ahead of time
Sciatica is a lay term that describes the set of symptoms that originate with a sciatic nerve root problem in your lower back and travel down your sciatic nerve. There are many terms associated with sciatica, and learning the vocabulary ahead of time is something that will help you save time and avoid confusion during your consultation.
- Lumbar radiculopathy (also radicular pain): the medical term used to refer to sciatica.
- Underlying conditions: sciatica is not a medical diagnosis, but rather the symptom of an underlying medical disorder.
- Neuropathic pain: the abnormal transmissions or impulses a pinched nerve sends to your brain to alert it of injury.
See Sciatica Causes
6. Know when to seek immediate medical attention
Rarely, you can't wait to schedule an appointment; as your sciatica symptoms may require immediate surgery.
- As a general rule, if you have worsening neurological symptoms, if neurological symptoms occur in both legs, if you have bladder or bowel incontinence, or if symptoms occur after an accident or trauma, you should seek immediate medical attention.
- However, it is important to note that the vast majority of sciatica cases do not require surgery. Instead, symptoms can usually be treated conservatively with various exercises, heat and/or cold therapy, and over-the-counter medications.
I hope all of the above advice will help you have a more efficient and productive consultation with your doctor, which in turn will likely lead to a quicker path to healing.