First Time User? Sign Up Now
First Time User? Enroll now.
Home > Health Library > Nerve Function Tests for Evaluating Low Back Problems
The nerves that carry messages to and from your legs come from your low back. By checking your muscle strength, your reflexes, and your sensation (feeling), your doctor can tell whether there is pressure on a nerve root coming from your spinal column. He or she can often also tell which nerve root is involved.
Muscle strength tests can detect true muscle weakness, which is one sign of pressure on a nerve root. (Sometimes leg weakness is actually due to pain, not pressure on a nerve.) Most people who have herniated discs that cause symptoms also have some nerve root compression. Nerve root compression usually originates in the lumbosacral region.
Specific muscles receive impulses from specific nerves, so finding out which muscles are weak shows your doctor where nerve roots are being compressed.
Muscle strength tests include:
Just as your muscles receive signals through certain nerves, other nerves carry signals back to your spinal cord from specific sections of your skin and other tissues. Testing your sense of feeling helps your doctor find out what nerve root may be compressed.
Your sense of feeling may be tested in several ways. Your doctor will probably ask you to close your eyes during this testing, because it's easy to imagine the feeling if you can see the test being done. Testing may include touching your skin lightly with a cotton ball or pricking your skin lightly with a pin.
Area of skin
The front of your thigh
L1, L2, L3, L4
The inside of your lower leg, from the knee to the inner ankle and arch
The top of your foot and toes
The outside of your ankle and foot
Tendons attach the muscles to the bones. Reflexes are little movements of the muscle when the tendon is tapped. A reflex can be decreased or absent if there is a problem with the nerve supply. To test your reflexes, your doctor will use a rubber hammer to tap firmly on the tendon. If certain reflexes are decreased or absent, it will show what nerve might be compressed. Not all nerve roots have a reflex associated with them.
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of:
June 26, 2019
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
910 W. Williams St.
Apex, NC 27502
100 Perkins Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
2076 NC Highway 42 W.
Johnston Professional Plaza, Suite 300
Clayton, NC 27520
UNC REX Healthcare4420 Lake Boone TrailRaleigh, NC 27607, USA919-784-3100
Chosen for Excellence
Co-Worker & Physician Login
UNC Health Talk
Copyright 2020 UNC Health Care. All rights reserved.