Sciatica refers to leg pain secondary to nerve root irritation in the lower back. Most cases of sciatica will settle within 6-12 weeks with conservative management. However some patients may need interventional treatments including injections and/ or surgery to treat the leg pain.
Sciatica is mainly diagnosed by history taking and physical examination. By definition patients mention radiating pain in the leg. Sciatica is characterised by radiating pain that follows a dermatomal pattern. Patients may also report sensory symptoms.
Diagnostic imaging is only useful if the results influence further management. In acute sciatica the diagnosis is based on history taking and physical examination and treatment is conservative (non-surgical). Imaging may be indicated at this stage if there are ‘red flags’. Diagnostic imaging may also be indicated in patients with severe symptoms who fail to respond to conservative care for 6-8 weeks. In general the clinical course of acute sciatica is favourable and most pain and related disability resolves within 4 to 6 weeks. However up to 30% patients may continue to have pain for one year or longer