Sciatica Root Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Sciatica is a common condition affecting millions of people worldwide. Board-certified neurosurgeon, Scott Raffa, MD, who treats patients in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm, and surrounding areas in South Florida explains that sciatica typically occurs when the sciatic nerve, the longest and widest nerve in the human body, becomes compressed or irritated. It is characterized by pain radiating along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from the lower back through the hips, buttocks, and down each leg. It can cause significant discomfort and impact daily activities.

Common Causes & Symptoms of Sciatica

A common cause of sciatica is a herniated or slipped disc in the lower back, which can pressure the nerve roots. Other causes may include spinal stenosis (spinal canal narrowing), spondylolisthesis (slippage of one vertebra over another), and, less commonly, tumors or infections.

Symptoms of sciatica include pain that radiates from the lower back to the buttocks and sometimes down the leg, numbness or tingling, and muscle weakness. The severity and duration of symptoms can vary, with some people experiencing only mild discomfort, while others endure debilitating pain.

Treatment Options for Sciatica

In most cases, sciatica can be managed conservatively with non-surgical treatments. These may include over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, physical therapy, injections, hot and cold therapy, and lifestyle modifications such as weight loss and improving posture. However, if these measures fail to provide relief or the patient’s condition worsens, surgical intervention may be necessary.

Surgical treatment options for sciatica aim to address the underlying cause of the compression and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. Some of the most common surgical procedures include:

  • Microdiscectomy: Most patients experience significant pain relief with this procedure, which has a high success rate. This minimally invasive procedure involves the removal of a small portion of the herniated disc that is compressing the nerve root. The surgeon makes a small incision in the lower back and uses specialized instruments to remove the offending disc material.
  • Lumbar Laminectomy: Also known as decompressive laminectomy, this procedure is performed to treat spinal stenosis. The surgeon removes the lamina, a part of the vertebra, to create more space within the spinal canal and relieve pressure on the nerves. This procedure may be combined with a spinal fusion.
  • Spinal Fusion: In cases of spondylolisthesis or severe spinal instability, spinal fusion may be recommended. This procedure involves joining two or more vertebrae with bone grafts and metal hardware to eliminate movement between the affected vertebrae and provide additional stability to the spine, thereby alleviating nerve compression.

As with any surgical procedure, there are potential risks and complications. These may include infection, bleeding, nerve damage, blood clots, and anesthesia-related complications. Patients should discuss these risks with their healthcare provider to ensure they have a comprehensive understanding of the potential outcomes and to determine which surgery plan would suit the symptoms they are currently experiencing.

Recovery & Postoperative Care

Recovery from sciatica surgery can vary depending on the specific procedure and the individual patient. Generally, patients can manage postoperative pain with medications and are encouraged to begin walking shortly after surgery to promote blood flow and reduce the risk of blood clots. Physical therapy may also be recommended to help patients regain strength, flexibility, and function in the affected area.

Patients may be able to return to light activities within a few weeks after minimally invasive procedures such as microdiscectomy. However, recovery may take a month or longer for more extensive surgeries such as lumbar laminectomy or spinal fusion. Patients must follow their healthcare provider’s postoperative instructions and attend regular follow-up appointments to monitor their progress.

Though sciatica can be challenging to live with, a combination of surgical and non-surgical treatments, along with preventative measures, can help patients manage their symptoms and maintain a better quality of life. Consulting with a qualified healthcare professional is essential to determine the most appropriate course of action based on individual needs and circumstances.

As a leading figure in spinal care in South Florida, Dr. Scott Raffa and his team at Cantor Spine Center at the Paley Orthopedic & Spine Institute are committed to delivering exceptional patient care and advanced treatment methods for those battling sciatica. If you’re seeking clarity on symptoms or exploring treatment avenues, trust the expertise that countless South Florida inhabitants turn to. Schedule your consultation with Dr. Scott Raffa today by calling 561-935-1188 or request an appointment online.