How is sciatica diagnosed?

A complete medical history, including a review of your symptoms and a physical exam, can help the healthcare provider diagnose sciatica and determine its cause. For example, he or she might perform a straight-leg-raise test, in which you lie on your back with your legs straight. The healthcare provider will slowly raise each leg and note the elevation at which your pain begins. This test can help pinpoint the affected nerves and determine if there is a problem with one of your discs.

Other diagnostic tests might be performed to look for other causes of sciatic pain. Depending on what your healthcare provider finds, he or she might recommend further testing. Such testing might include:

However, most patients with sciatica can be treated without the need for further diagnostic testing.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/11/2017.


  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sciatica. Accessed 8/8/2018.
  • Merck Manuals for Medical Professionals. Sciatica. Accessed 8/8/2018.
  • Woods RP, Seamon J. Chapter 21. Arthritis & Back Pain. In: Stone C, Humphries RL. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment Emergency Medicine, 7e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011 .

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