Surgery May Be Considered for Sciatica, but Only as a Last Resort

Doctor examining x-ray for sciatica surgery

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  • Talk with your surgeon thoroughly about the risks involved. It’s better to have the complete picture and know the possible consequences before heading straight into surgery
  • To help facilitate a faster recovery, your doctor may also recommend you to consult a physical therapist to help build strength and flexibility in your back muscles. In time, you will be able to recover from sciatica and resume a normal life

Most people respond well to home remedies and nonsurgical treatments for sciatica. However, some people may not feel any relief at all, and the condition may even worsen as time goes by. If this is the case, surgery may be considered. However, make sure that at least one of the following conditions apply to you before you visit the hospital:1

Bowel and/or bladder problems: The manner in which your sciatic nerve is pinched is interfering with your ability to urinate and/or eliminate bowels properly.

Spinal stenosis: You have spinal stenosis and the only way to correct it is surgery.

Hampered movement: You have developed severe leg weakness, greatly affecting your ability to move around.

Lack of other options: You’ve tried all other noninvasive treatments.

If you experience any of the items mentioned above, you may opt for surgery to help your condition right away. Should your doctor clear you for surgery, you may undergo the following methods:

Discectomy

Discectomy is essentially a type of surgery done to remove a herniated disc that is currently pressing on a nerve in your spinal cord. In the case of sciatica, it can be done if the disc is affecting your sciatic nerve.2

One common method employed by surgeons to perform discectomy is microdiscectomy (or minidiscectomy). In this method, your doctor will make an incision in your lower back over the affected area,3 then a small microscope will be inserted to help the doctor see, along with the surgical tools needed. This helps minimize the incision and trauma to the tissue.

Once the tools are in place, the doctor will remove the herniated disc and the operation will be completed. You are required to be asleep or at least numb (if you prefer to be awake) during the surgery. An overnight stay will be also be needed to monitor your condition before you can go home.4

Laminectomy

If your surgeon determines that your lamina is what’s causing your sciatica, you will need to undergo laminectomy, or decompression surgery. Your lamina is basically the bone that forms the backside of the spinal canal.5 This creates a roof, providing support and protection for your spinal cord.6

The goal of laminectomy is to relieve pressure on your spinal cord, helping ease the symptoms of spine-related conditions, such as sciatica. The pressure usually stems from bony overgrowths caused by arthritis, resulting in pinched nerves.7

The procedure starts with putting you under general anesthesia, although it may also be performed while you’re awake with the use of a local anesthetic. The surgeon will make an incision on your back and remove a portion of the lamina that is currently causing the pain, and then stitch the opening once the procedure is done. The operation can last from one to three hours.8

Be Aware of the Risks of Spinal Surgery

As with other forms of surgery, discectomy and laminectomy come with their own risks, especially since it’s an operation on your spinal column. Specifically, you should be aware of the following dangers:9

Damage to the spinal nerve

A small chance the operation will be unsuccessful

Pain will return after a certain amount of time

An infection at the surgical site

Leaking of the cerebrospinal fluid

Talk with your surgeon thoroughly about the risks involved. It’s better to have the complete picture and know the possible consequences before heading straight into surgery.

What to Do After Your Operation

After the surgery, you still have some recovering to do. You may be asked to stay overnight in the hospital so that doctors can monitor your recovery and check for possible complications that might arise. Once you’re home, strictly follow your doctor’s instructions and expected recovery time.

Spinal surgeries require ample amounts of quality rest and certain activities should be avoided, such as lifting heavy weights and bending over too much. To help facilitate a faster recovery, your doctor may also recommend you to consult a physical therapist to help build strength and flexibility in your back muscles. In time, you will be able to recover from sciatica and resume a normal life.10

MORE ABOUT SCIATICA

Sciatica: An Introduction

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica Causes

Sciatica Treatment

Sciatica Pain Relief

Sciatica Exercises

Sciatica Surgery

Sciatica Prevention

Sciatica During Pregnancy

Sciatica Diet

Sciatica FAQ

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