Sciatica is a pain that is caused due to irritation of the Sciatic nerve. When the pain affects your lower back and radiates down to your legs it is referred to as Sciatica or Lumbar (lower back) Radiculopathy. One way of treating this condition is surgery. However, surgery should always be a last resort option. If you or a loved one is considering Sciatica surgery, ask yourself these questions first.
1. Is The Cause Clear? The Sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the human body. An irritation to this nerve in any part could show symptoms in other seemingly unrelated parts of the body. The treatment for this pain depends on where the actual inflammation has taken place. Pain in the lower back can sometimes be associated with a herniated disc while slipped vertebrae (Spondylolisthesis) could be the cause of pain in the upper back. In some instances the sciatic nerve may be pressured by another nerve or muscle such as the piriformis muscle. Until the exact cause of Sciatica has not been identified, surgery is not recommended.
2. Does it affect Your Quality of Life? For some people, Sciatica is a mild discomfort. The pain is intermittent. However for others it could make daily activities such as sitting extremely painful. The pain may even linger for weeks on end. Left untreated, this could lead to permanent nerve damage. If you are in constant pain that affects your daily life, work and social life, it may be time to consider surgery.
3. Have You Attempted Other Methods of Treatment? If your General Physician has diagnosed you with Sciatica, it is advisable to also seek the opinion of a rehabilitation specialist or a pain medicine specialist.
The first line of treatment is usually pain-relief medication. Once the pain is slightly under control there are a number of non-surgical treatments available. These include physical therapy, steroid injections and nerve blocks amongst others. Usually, treatment of Sciatica involves a combination of these methods. What that combination is depends on every individual case. Only if these methods have been tried, should you be considering surgery (except in extreme cases)
4. What Will The Surgery Achieve? Yes. You will not be in as much pain anymore. However, you need to discuss your post-surgery goals with your surgeon. What are the kinds of activities you look forward to doing post recovery? Do you want to be playing sport, going on long drives or getting back to office? How much do you expect to be walking or sitting? Only when you clearly explain these goals to your surgeon, will s/he be able to tell you exactly how much of what you are expecting is possible.
Remember, surgery does not necessarily eradicate all the pain. It also does not prevent Sciatica from occurring again.
5. Are the Benefits Greater Than the Risk? Any surgery comes with a certain amount of risk. The moment you are put under general anesthesia you open yourself up to common risks such as blood clots or infection. A Sciatica surgery does run the risk of causing some amount of nerve damage. In addition to this, your individual medical history may create other risk factors. It is important to understand from your surgeon in detail the risks you may face while doing a Sciatica surgery.
6. Do You Need to Seek a Second Opinion? If you trust your doctor and are completely at ease with him/her, then you probably don’t need to get a second opinion. However, if there are any doubts in your mind, you should clear them. If your doctor is unable to clarify your queries or put your mind at peace, you should seek another opinion. If you do decide to do this, remember to be as critical with the new opinion. It is easier to accept a second opinion, though it may not always be right.
At Spinalogy, we try and avoid sending people under the knife. Only if every other line of defense has failed, do we suggest surgery. If you are having doubts about a Sciatica surgery ask us for a consultation.
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