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Diagnosis begins with a complete history and physical examination. Your physician will ask questions about your symptoms, how your problem is affecting your activities, pain and if you have numbness or weakness in your legs. Your physician also will want to know whether your symptoms are worse when you are standing or walking, and if they go away when you sit.

The physician does a physical examination to see which back movements cause pain or other symptoms. Your skin sensation, muscle strength and reflexes also are tested. Other diagnostic tests may include:

  • Computed tomography scan – This scan is a detailed X-ray that lets your physician see slices of bone tissue. The image can show any bone spurs that may be sticking into the spinal column and taking space around the spinal nerves.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging – This test gives a clear picture of the spinal canal and nerves. This scan creates pictures that look like slices of the area your physician is interested in. The test does not require dye or a needle.
  • X-rays – These images can show if the problems are because of changes in the bones of the spine. The images can show if degeneration has caused the space between the vertebrae to collapse. X-rays also may show bone spurs sticking into the spinal canal.

When the diagnosis is still not clear, physicians may recommend tests of the nerves that go to the legs and feet. An electromyogram checks if the motor pathway of a nerve is working correctly. Motor impulses travel down the nerve and work to energize muscles. This test is done by a neurologist.

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