Located in the lower back, the sciatic nerve is the longest single nerve in the human body, so it should come as no surprise that it’s also a common source of lower back pain and related symptoms. If this is what you’ve been dealing with, you may be wondering if surgery is the quickest way to relieve this type of discomfort. Here’s what you need to know.
There are no standard guidelines for when sciatica surgery should be performed. Even so, it’s common for nonsurgical efforts to be recommended first before surgery is discussed. Conservative care options for sciatica include:
• Oral medication
• Epidural steroid injections
• Various forms of physical therapy
It’s typical for patients to be advised to try nonsurgical treatments for a few months. If you’re still not experiencing meaningful relief at that point, surgery may become part of the discussion with a Santa Monica spine surgeon.
Another factor that typically determines if surgery is appropriate is whether or not you’re having severe neurological symptoms. Depending on where the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed, symptoms of this nature may include:
• Numbness and/or pain extending to one leg
• General weakness within the lower back area and lower extremities
• Pins-and-needles sensations and other nerve-based symptoms affecting quality of life
Spine surgery is unique in that there has to be a clear structural source of symptoms for it to be recommended. If your sciatica is clearly related to a treatable structural problem, then surgery could very well provide welcome relief. Common structural sources of sciatic nerve discomfort include:
• Herniated discs
• Spinal stenosis (spinal narrowing)
• Spondylolisthesis (vertebral slippage)
• Spinal cord compression
• Cysts or tumors
There are some clinical studies that suggest sciatica patients report greater symptom relief and improved function with surgery. But when long-term results for conservative care and surgery are compared, outcomes are very similar. The type of surgery performed also plays a role in results. Generally, minimally invasive procedures, including microdiscectomies to correct issues with herniated discs, tend to be associated with fewer complications and faster recovery times. On the other hand, after a surgical procedure such as total disc replacement, Santa Monica patients may have some lingering nerve damage that results in occasional periods of discomfort.
Sciatica surgery is generally considered safe. Still, it is surgery. Also, nearly 10 percent of people with sciatica might require a second procedure within a few years after the first surgery. Sciatica surgery could also fail. If this is the case, it’s usually due to:
• An initial diagnosis that was incorrect
• Psychological factors that weren’t taken into consideration
• Patient health issues other than sciatica
• Post-surgical complications
There’s no simple answer to the question “Is surgery the quickest way to find relief for sciatica?” It ultimately depends on your unique circumstances. Unless symptoms are severe and debilitating, it’s typically advised that sciatica patients explore nonsurgical options thoroughly before considering surgery. Regardless of what you decide, it’s important to gather as much information as possible so you can make a well-informed choice about what’s right for you.
If you’re looking for the best treatment options for sciatica, call on the spinal health specialists at The Spine Institute to treat the source of your back pain. Our pioneering physicians lead the industry in the use of innovative methods and cutting-edge technology to alleviate neck and back pain. To schedule a consultation, call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757.