Slump Test Used to Diagnose and Treat Low Back Pain

The Slump Test for Disc Herniation

Ever heard of the slump test for back pain? The slump test is an orthopaedic test commonly performed by a chiropractor, doctors and physical therapists when diagnosing the source of your low back pain. This diagnosis test for lower back and leg pain is mainly used to see if there is either a disc herniation causing a pinched sciatic nerve, or not, in the lumbar spine.

However, the slump test movement can be modified to be used to possible help low back pain as well. I know it is strange to hear the test that can irritate a pain can also fix a pain. That’s why today I want to show how to do the slump test then I will explain why this medical examination test can be used by you, at home or at your work desk, to also get some pain relief from symptoms of sciatica.

The Slump Test

Firstly below is a video showing you “how to perform the slump test maneuver”.

The Step by Step Procedure

As you can see from the video above that the way to perform a correct slump test procedure is:

  1. You must be seated,
  2. Hands behind your back,
  3. Slump forward from your chest as far as you can,
  4. Then bend (flex) your neck forward to your chest,
  5. Lift (extend) one leg up with your toes pointing towards you.

There you go, now you know how to perform the a slump test for back pain.

What Does It Mean?

It is loosely a “sciatica test” or, medically speaking, a “lumbar neural tension test”, which means a health test that stretches the lower back nerves.

A positive slump test is when you feel the same pain going down your leg or if the back pain is made worse.

A negative slump test is when you feel no low back pain or pain going into in the leg, just normal muscle tightness.

The way it works is that the leaning forward position when seated, and then moving the leg puts pressure on the lumbar discs in our spines and stretches the sciatic nerve in the leg.

Your doctor will test to see if you have any back pain with the movement. If it is possible to reproduce where your back pain is doing the move. If you get the pain going into your buttock, down the back of the thigh and into your calf doing this test.

That is why the slump test is used to put pressure on the sciatic nerve to test for sciatica coming from a lumbar disc herniation or bulge.

So it can be used to test for a pinched nerve coming from you lower back.

In medical research it has also been found that sensitivity and specificity for the slump test is very good.

Actually a recent study confirmed the slump test was possibly better than the straight leg raise test for diagnosing pain from a lumbar disc herniation.

This physical examination test can also be called a peripheral nerve entrapment test sensitive for a lumbar radiculopathy.

Now How To Help Yourself

It is possible to use the slump test movement to help relive your sore leg symptoms.

The nice thing about the slump test is that if it is sciatica symptoms that you are experiencing from a trapped nerve in the lower back then you can try release the nerve pain in you chair now. You might also feel you have tight hamstrings from sitting all day, then this can help ease the tightness.

Doing the slump manoeuvre could give you some much needed ache and pain relief.

Again, I know that if you do the test properly you will feel the pain, but doing it gently can also help release the leg pain via a mechanism called nerve mobilisation.

Nerve mobilisation is also called nerve flossing and is used to help lubricate a nerve along its pathway. In this case the sciatic nerve from the spine along its route all the way to the toes.

I’m talking about using this as a treatment tool in a case where the disc is not an overt herniation squeezing a nerve root as it tries to leave the tiny intervertebral hole on the side of the spine. There is some irritation to the nerves from poor low back posture and I have said already how backs don’t like to be bent forward too long.

Now to show you how to try help yourself.

  • Slowly follow the slump test procedure mentioned above,
  • However, I would do this without the neck flexion,
  • If you feel too much pain, don’t push so hard,
  • Try not bending your foot towards you which should let some pain go,
  • Sometimes gently straightening you leg out repeatedly, whilst sitting, can help mobilize the nerve,
  • Repeated motion can take some of the nerve entrapment pain feeling away and leave the back of the thigh feeling better.

I hope you have enjoyed learning what is a the slump test and hopefully you now understand why your doctor or chiropractor may have done this health examination on you to rule in or out a disc herniation causing your back or leg pain.

Further Reading:

  1. Majlesi J, Togay H, Unalan H, Toprak S. The sensitivity and specificity of the Slump and the Straight Leg Raising tests in patients with lumbar disc herniation. J Clin Rheumatol. 2008 Apr;14(2):87-91.