How to Test the Sciatic Nerve

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The sciatic nerve is a collection of nerve roots that exit the spine in the lower back and form the large nerve that supplies the back of the leg. Irritation of the sciatic nerve can lead to symptoms of leg pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the affected leg. This type of condition typically affects people between the ages of 30 and 50, and is generally caused by wear and tear on the body, not a specific injury or accident. There are several tests that can be performed to determine the cause of sciatica, and some of them can be performed at home by a friend or family member.

How to Test the Sciatic Nerve
(Daniel Noval/Demand Media)

Things You'll Need

  • Large flat surface
  • Second person (examiner)
Step 1

Place the patient on her back on a large flat surface.

Daniel Noval/Demand Media
Step 2

Keep the patient's asymptomatic (non-painful) leg straight, and slowly raise it off the table.

Daniel Noval/Demand Media
Step 3

Note the angle of hip flexion (the angle between the flat surface and the raised straight leg) at which the leg will not move any further or pain occurs down the back of the symptomatic leg.

Step 4

Perform the same test on the opposite (symptomatic) leg.

Daniel Noval/Demand Media
Step 5

Compare the results of both tests. Positive findings are pain down the back of the symptomatic leg at a lesser angle than in the asymptomatic leg.

Step 1

Perform the straight leg raise test as described above.

Daniel Noval/Demand Media
Step 2

Lower the symptomatic leg approximately 5 degrees from the point at which pain occurs down the back of the leg.

Daniel Noval/Demand Media
Step 3

Dorsiflex the foot of the symptomatic leg (point the toes up toward the patient's head).

Daniel Noval/Demand Media
Step 4

Note any symptoms of pain down the back of the symptomatic leg. Pain with dorsiflexion of the foot indicates sciatic nerve irritation.

Tips & Warnings

  • Large flat tables are ideal for testing the sciatic nerve. If no large tables are available, the floor will work as well.
  • Pain in the back of the leg may be an indication of a more severe problem, such as nerve damage or spinal disc damage. These tests are not intended to accurately diagnose a condition without the consultation of a licensed medical professional.

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