Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required
Feb 9, 2024, 11:14 AM
Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and at times the most disabling. It is pain that travels along the sciatic nerve radiating from the back, through the buttocks and frequently down the leg.
It can affect almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, and it happens when those nerves are stretched or more commonly, compressed. A disc herniation or stenosis — also known as narrowing — are the most common culprits of compression.
The vertebrae are separated by a shock absorbing tissue or intervertebral disc. When the disc protrudes or herniates it can place excessive pressure on the sciatic nerve. Disc herniations are more common than you might think. Even mild activity can bring it out. Sometimes it’s as simple as lifting an object, a sneeze or cough that can be the inciting event. Frequently disc herniations can be preceded by an episode of back pain.
Episodes of back pain can often be mistaken as a ‘pulled muscle.’ This sensation is usually caused from a strain to the disc. This should be a warning sign to a person to back off on the activity that may have caused the pain. If ignored, this can lead to further injury to the disc and potentially the disc herniating. It’s the disc pushing out that places pressure on the nerve.
Luckily, aside from avoiding the activity that caused the injury, treatment isn’t an urgent priority. Although nerve pain can feel quite disabling. Urgency for treatment is necessary if it causes the nerves to misfire effecting the strength of the leg or the bladder to malfunction.
“More often than not, a disc herniation will resolve itself. It can take anywhere from four to six weeks for the symptoms to greatly subside,” orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Joshua Abrams told KTAR News. “It’s usually after that point — after six weeks — is when we may intervene from a surgical standpoint. Prior to that, people may seek (other) treatment.”
Some of that earlier intervention can include anti-inflammatories, bed rest, stretching, ice, muscle relaxants and occasionally some oral steroids prescribed by a clinician. Physical therapy may come in further down the line to supplement.
After six weeks, if those treatments are not providing relief — or nerve function is still compromised — then doctors may consider surgical removal of the herniated disc.
That’s where a group Desert Institute of Spine Care (DISC) comes in. They offer an array of surgical treatments.
A microdiscectomy is one of the best surgeries according to Abrams because of the precise and noninvasive nature of going under a microscope for the surgery and avoiding as much tissue as possible.
Endoscopic surgeries are options in some circumstances depending on the location of the herniated disc. According to DISC’s website, it involves a quarter-inch incision in the lower back of the patient. They then use a camera, and with a series of small instruments remove the disc herniation with minimal disruption. All it takes is one stitch to close up the incision when the herniated disc is removed.
Recurrence of disc herniations, on average, is 5-11% with or without surgery. Abrams stressed the need for healthy habits, weight control and exercise to minimize this risk. Thankfully, if you or a loved one develops sciatica, DISC has your back!