Sciatica surgery typically is a last-resort method for managing the symptoms of sciatic nerve compression. These symptoms might include lower back pain, pain that radiates into the buttocks, legs or feet and tingling or numbness in the lower extremities. The symptoms generally are manageable through conservative treatment, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), exercise and stretching. If chronic symptoms remain debilitating after several weeks or months of conservative treatment for sciatic nerve compression, surgery might become an option.
How sciatica surgery relieves symptoms
Sciatica is caused by sciatic nerve compression, which can arise because of a number of anatomical abnormalities within the lower (lumbar or sacral) region of the spine. These abnormalities often are related to wear and tear, although traumatic injury might also produce a similar effect. Age-related degenerative spine conditions that could cause sciatic nerve compression include:
- Bone spurs (osteophytes)
- Herniated discs
- Bulging discs
- Spondylolisthesis (vertebral slippage)
- Ligament calcification
Sciatica surgery is designed to remove the source of nerve compression. This can be accomplished either through radical removal of anatomical components during open back surgery, or through the use of a minimally invasive procedure.
Open back versus minimally invasive
The type of sciatica surgery a patient will undergo depends on several factors, including overall health and the cause of the sciatic nerve compression. No matter what form the surgery takes, patients should go into the experience with as much information as possible. It starts with knowing the difference between open back surgery and minimally invasive procedures.
Open back surgery for sciatica usually takes a highly invasive form, requiring a large incision, removal of a significant portion of the spinal anatomy and insertion of metal implants and bone graft material to permanently fuse the affected vertebral segment. Minimally invasive procedures, like those performed at Laser Spine Institute, require only a small (approximately 1 inch) incision and the removal of only the portion of anatomy necessary to relieve nerve compression. In addition, recovery from open back surgery typically takes several months, while patients who undergo minimally invasive procedures usually experience significantly shorter recovery periods.§