Surgery for Sciatica: All You need to Know

Aug 05, 2022

The sciatic nerve is the longest in the human body. Starting from the base of the lower spine and going all the way down to your legs, one on each side. Pain in this nerve is commonly referred to as “Sciatica”. But how can you tell if the pain is sciatica or normal lower back pain? Well! Sciatic pain is different from regular pain as it has a sharp and burning sensation to it. When suffering from Sciatica, you will feel the pain radiating from the lower spine and buttocks into your legs.

Leading medical research has found that conservative treatments for sciatica such as using analgesic medication or physical therapies do not improve the natural course of the ailment but only help in managing pain. This is where performing surgery for sciatica becomes necessary.

You may also want to read: Surgical vs non-surgical treatments for back pain

The following sections explain the causes of Sciatica, its diagnosis & symptoms, and how you can go about treating it using surgery for sciatica. Reading through this article will clear your doubts and will help you explain your condition to your doctor in a better way.

What Causes Sciatic pain?

3D model of lower vertebra highlighting sciatic nerve

The reason for the occurrence of sciatic pain is mainly compression of spinal nerves (also known as pinched nerve) which can be a result of;

  • Herniated disc
  • Degenerative disc
  • Bulging disc
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal (Spinal stenosis)

Diagnosis and Symptoms of Sciatic Pain

Diagnosis for any kind of spinal cord injury normally starts with a physical exam in which the doctor tries to observe the apparent symptoms. It includes;

  • Making the patient walk to see how the spine is carrying the weight.
  • Have the patient do specific stretches to identify where it hurts.
  • Straight leg raise (SLR) is one of the most common physical tests for a sciatica diagnosis. In this test, the person lays down on the floor and lifts both legs one at a time while keeping the other one grounded. Pain during this activity is an indication of sciatica.

If the doctor finds indications of sciatic nerve pain in a physical exam, he/she will ask you for imaging tests. Following are some of the most commonly used imaging tests for diagnosing sciatica;

X-ray - X-ray scans are commonly conducted to identify fractures along the spine, locate tumors and infections, and find disc problems. These scans are helpful to see if any spinal injuries like the ones mentioned above are pinching a nerve. Pictures taken through X-ray scans are not detailed and thus it is hard to conclude the injury. For that, we use MRI or CT scans.

MRI/CT Scans - CT scans are useful to reveal disc herniation and deformities in the spinal canal. It can also be used to examine problems in blood vessels and point out vascular conditions that can be causing sciatica. MRI uses magnetic and radio fields to give a more detailed picture of internal organs. It is considered to be the safest and the most sophisticated technology to diagnose spinal injuries.

Surgery for Sciatica

Once the doctor has established that you suffer from sciatica, he/she will devise a treatment plan for you. Depending upon the condition's severity, you can be advised surgical or non-surgical treatment to relieve sciatic pain. The doctor first tries to treat the ailment with conservative methods. If such methods do not improve the condition, it leaves patients with no choice but to undergo surgery for sciatica. In the discussion to follow, you will learn how surgery for sciatica is carried out and how much time it takes to recover after surgery.

Procedure

Two surgical procedures are followed to treat sciatic nerve pain. Both relieve the pressure of the pinched nerves causing sciatic pain but targeting different parts of the spine.

  1. Laminectomy surgery for Sciatica
    Your spinal canal is protected by a layer of bones known as Lamina located at the back of your vertebrae. Laminectomy involves the removal of a part of the lamina or all of it to create space in the spinal canal. Creating space relieves the pressure from the pinched nerves causing sciatica. As explained, Laminectomy is performed if the problem is found in the back of vertebrae. For problems related to vertebral discs, discectomy is performed.
  2. Discectomy surgery for Sciatica
    In this surgical procedure, the surgeon only removes the part of herniated disc or bone spur that is pressing the nerve. It can be performed with minimally invasive techniques using endoscopic instruments.

Both procedures are proven to be effective in relieving pain in most sciatica cases. The success of surgery depends a lot on the experience and skills of the doctor performing it.

Recovery after Sciatica Surgery

The recovery period can be tough for some people as it requires a lot of patience and discipline. Depending upon the condition of the patient, the recovery period can take anywhere between 3 to 6 weeks. If it was a minimally invasive spine surgery, the rate of recovery is faster but in the case of open surgery involving multiple discs, more time goes into the recovery.

Most of the patients can walk the next day of surgery and are discharged within 3 days. It is recommended that you see a physiotherapist and follow a rehabilitation program to avoid any post-surgical complications.

Surgery for Sciatica: See a Spine Surgeon in Los Angeles

Consulting a doctor is very crucial before you jump to any conclusion about cases as sensitive as sciatica. If you feel that you are suffering from sciatic pain and you happen to be in Los Angeles, see Dr. Moksha Ranasinghe at Southern California Brain & Spine Surgery. You can read reviews about her on platforms like Yelp and Healthgrades. You can easily schedule an appointment by filling out the contact form or calling us at (213) 369-4583.