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Should You Have Surgery For Sciatica?

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This Health Alert is intended for readers interested in learning about the prevention, diagnosis, and management of back pain.

If you have sciatica and find that rest and pain medication are not working to relieve your pain, should you consider surgery? Recent research provides the answer.

Sciatica refers to leg pain caused by a herniated disk in the spine that presses on the sciatic nerve. People with sciatica often experience intense pain that radiates into the buttocks, down the thighs, into the calves, and often into the feet.

Surgery can provide fast pain relief for sciatica, but you might do just as well without an operation, a study finds.

In this study, researchers randomly assigned 281 people with sciatica for at least six weeks to have surgery to decompress the nerve or to receive conservative treatments such as pain medication and exercise. On average, people who had sciatica surgery felt their leg pain was better after four weeks while it took about 12 weeks for those who did not have surgery to note improvement. But within one year, 95% of the study participants said they felt significantly better, no matter what sciatica treatment they had.

Bottom line advice: If you are experiencing searing pain or numbness in your leg from sciatica and conservative treatment is not working, then surgery may be right for you. On the other hand, if you feel you can handle the leg pain and are willing to postpone sciatica surgery, you just might find that you don’t need it.

[This study was reported in The New England Journal of Medicine (Volume 356, page 2245).]

Posted in Back Pain on August 29, 2008


Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer


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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Scientific American Health After 50 or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


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