Surgery for Sciatica

Types of Spine Surgery to Address Underlying Spinal Condition Causing Sciatica

Written by Jean-Jacques Abitbol, MD

Most patients with sciatica respond well to nonsurgical treatments (such as medication), so spine surgery is seldom needed to treat it. However, there are situations when you may want to go ahead with spine surgery:

There are several types of surgical procedures used in spine surgery, and your spine surgeon will recommend the best procedure to treat your sciatica. His or her recommendation will be based on the spinal condition causing your sciatica, and the entire procedure should be clearly explained to you. Don't be afraid to ask any questions you need to in order to better understand the surgeon's recommendation.

And remember, the final decision to have surgery is always up to you. You may find it useful to get a second opinion on the recommended spine surgery before deciding. 

Two common spinal surgeries for sciatica are:

Recovery from Surgery to Relieve Sciatic Nerve Pain
After your surgery, you aren't going to be instantly better. You will most likely be out of bed within 24 hours, and you'll be on pain medications for 2 to 4 weeks. After the surgery, you'll receive instructions on how to carefully sit, rise, and stand. It's important to give your body time to heal, so your doctor will probably recommend that you restrict your activities: in general, don't do anything that moves your spine too much. You should avoid contact sports, twisting, or heavy lifting while you recover.

After surgery, be vigilant. Report any problems—such as fever, increased pain, or infection—to your doctor right away.

Will Spine Surgery Relieve Sciatica?
The best answer here is: that is the goal of spine surgery. The surgeon will work to provide you with, in general, pain relief and better mobility (although the specific goals can vary based on your symptoms and needs).  By removing whatever is pressing on your sciatic nerve (a herniated disc, for example, or a bone spur), the end goal is to decompress that nerve, which should relieve your sciatic pain.

As mentioned above, spine surgery is rarely the first treatment tried for sciatica.  Before that, you may want to consider:

The majority of patients experiencing sciatica don't need spine surgery, but if you do, know that many other patients have found pain relief through surgery. 

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