Sciatica FAQ’s

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is the layman’s term for lumbar radiculopathy. It means affection or involvement of the sciatic nerve. It means the sciatic nerve is irritated or inflamed, which leads to pain along one or more components of the sciatic nerve depending on the level and number of nerve roots involved. It presents with pain radiating down the one or sometimes both lower extremities along with tingling or numbness and rarely weakness or involvement of bowel or bladder imbalance.

How do I get my sciatic nerve to stop hurting?

Once the sciatic nerve is irritated and inflamed, the treatment essentially involves a short period of rest along with antiinflammatory medications and may be steroids. Physical therapy can also help in decreasing the inflammation. Occasionally when none of these things worked, corticosteroid injection or even surgery may be needed to decrease the inflammation and treat sciatica.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica is caused by irritation and inflammation of the nerve root. This nerve root can be inflamed due to compression possibly due to disk herniation or a synovial cyst or an osteophyte. The injury is essentially a chemical injury due to decreased blood supply to the nerve root leading to inflammation.

How to relieve sciatica pain?

Sciatica pain can be relieved by short-term rest, physical therapy, antiinflammatory medications and steroid medications. If these things do not work then epidural or a nerve root block using corticosteroid injection or maybe surgery is needed to get total relief from the pain.

Where is the sciatic nerve?

Sciatic nerve is formed by the fusion of multiple nerve roots in the lower back. These nerve roots come out at different levels and immediately after coming out merged to make a big nerve, which is called the sciatic nerve. This sciatic nerve travels along the back of the hip and the thigh up to the knee where it is divided into two main nerves, the common peroneal nerve and the tibial nerve. The sciatic nerve essentially supplies the muscles below the knee and controls the movement of the foot and toes.

How long does sciatica last?

In most of the patients, sciatica usually last less than four to six weeks and can be treated without invasive means. Patients usually get relives with short-term rest, antiinflammatory medications, corticosteroid medications and even possibly injections. Patients whose sciatica has not resolved in four to six weeks or those patients who have worsening pain or neurological deficits in the form of involvement of bowel or bladder or balance may need surgical intervention.

How to sleep with sciatica?

Patients with sciatica may have difficulty sleeping, especially lying supine. They can put pillows under the knee to bend the knee and the hip and therefore, relax the sciatic nerve. Sleeping by the side with the knee and hip bent can also help.

What do you do for sciatica pain?

Sciatica pain is usually treated with the short-term rest, antiinflammatory medications in the form of Aleve or Advil, corticosteroid medications like Medrol Dosepak and physical therapy or chiropractic care. Patients who do not get relief may also need cortisone injection in the form of epidural or selective nerve root block.

Patients who do not get relief with all the above-mentioned treatments may need surgical intervention. Patients who also have worsening pain or neurological deficit in the form of weakness or involvement of bowel or bladder imbalance may also need surgical treatment as an emergency to stop the progression and optimized recovery.

Can a chiropractor help with sciatica?

Chiropractic treatment and manipulation causing stretch of the muscles and nerves can help relieve sciatica pain. This can be adjunct to physical therapy by stretching and strengthening the core muscles as well as the muscles of the hip and knee joints.

How to cure sciatica permanently?

It is difficult to say that the sciatica can be cured permanently because it can happen at multiple levels and can have recurrence at the same level and on either side. Sciatica is essentially treated symptomatically initially, but may need surgical treatment to remove the compression on the nerve root. Even after the surgery, there are chances of recurrence at the same level as well as on the other side or at other levels, which may or may not be related to the initial sciatica.

What causes sciatica to flare up?

Though wear and tear of the disk is contributory to the cause of disk prolapse or disk herniation as well as osteophytes and synovial cyst, it is difficult to predict a flare up of sciatica in any patients. Patients who have had an episode of sciatica in the past are at higher risk of having it again.

What does sciatica feel like?

Sciatica causes shock-like pain along the back of the hip, thigh and legs into the sole or along the outer part of the thigh and leg into the top of the foot. It can also feel like a sharp sensation along the front of the thigh or the knee or the inner part of the leg. The pattern of pain depends on the nerve root involved. This pain can also be associated with tingling and numbness in the same area. Rarely, this pain can be associated with the weakness of the leg or foot and involvement of bowel or bladder control.

Why is my sciatica not going away?

Sciatica pain usually takes four to six weeks to resolve with or without the help of medications and physical therapy or chiropractic care. Occasionally, the pain may not get better even despite all treatments. The patient may need epidural injection or selective nerve root block for resolution of the pain.

Rarely, the patient may have recurrence of pain once the effect of the steroid injection weans away. Such patients may be amenable for surgical treatment in the form of microdiscectomy or tubular discectomy to remove the herniated disk and thereby remove the pressure over the nerve root.

Can sciatica cause knee pain?

Sciatica pain is usually radiated along the back or the side of the thigh and knee into the leg. Occasionally, patients may present with a confusing picture of knee problem, but maybe having sciatica. A thorough history and examination by the physician as well as diagnostic tests in the form of x-rays and MRI may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Is walking good for sciatica?

Walking does not cause deterioration of sciatica, though excessive walking may cause pain and patients may need to rest. Despite that, walking is a good exercise, which helps in mobilization of the muscles, stretching and strengthening of the muscles as well as increasing the vascularity and thereby helping in long-term resolution of the back pain and sciatica.

Obviously, the low back pain and sciatica may sometimes be difficult for patients who have low back pain and sciatica to sleep. Such patients may have to try different postures. A foam mattress may help in good sleep. Also using a thick pillow under the knee or sleeping by the side in a curled up position can help in relieving the pain of sciatica as well as low back pain and allowing sleep.

Where does the sciatic nerve run?

The sciatic nerve is formed along the side of the lower back by the confluence of multiple nerve roots. It runs into the pelvis and then along the back of the hip joint along the back of the thigh and the knee. At the level of the knee, the sciatic nerve divides into two median nerves called the common peroneal nerve and the tibial nerve.

Can sciatica cause hip pain?

Sciatic pain can radiate along the back or the outer aspect of the hip and can sometimes be confused with a hip pain and itself. Thorough history and examination by the physician as well as radiological examination in the form of x-rays and MRI may be needed to differentiate the two pains.

How to sit with sciatica?

Patients with sciatica may have difficulty sitting. Such patients should sit such that their knees are bent 90 degrees while they are resting on the floor. They should sit on a soft comfortable seat with the lumbar back support to support their back. These patients may need to bend forward a little bit to relieve the pressure over the nerve root.

What side is sciatic nerve on?

Sciatic nerve is on either side of the lower back. It is from the base of the lower back on both sides and runs through the pelvis along the back of the hip joint and thigh on both sides.

Can sciatica cause foot pain?

Sciatic nerve presents with pain along the outer aspect of the back of the thigh, knee, leg and foot. Pain in the sole of the foot or on the dorsum of the foot involving either the outer toes or the inner toes may be related to sciatica on examination by the physician along with radiological examination may help find the cause of the pain.

Can sciatica cause groin pain?

Though the sciatic nerve runs along the back of the hip and can present with pain along the back of the hip and over the outer aspect of the hip, it is highly unlikely for it to cause groin pain. The groin pain can usually be caused by hip joint problems or issues like inguinal hernia. Occasionally compression of higher nerve roots, which suffered a femoral nerve can present with groin pain.

How to fix sciatica nerve pain?

Sciatica nerve pain can be relieved to various modalities. To start with, antiinflammatory medications like ibuprofen, naproxen or Tylenol may help. If pain is not relieved with the medications, physical therapy, chiropractor and acupuncture may also help. The patient may also take medications including gabapentin or pregabalin for pain relief.

The patient should take a short period of bed rest for a day or two. The patient should continue to do normal usual activities. If the pain is not relieved, he should see his doctor. Epidural injection or nerve root blocks may help in relieving the sciatica pain. Patients who are not having any relief with any of the above-mentioned treatment plans, may need an MRI for confirmation of diagnosis and possibly surgery to relieve their pain.

How to get rid of sciatica nerve pain while pregnant?

Pregnancy causes a lot of limitations with regards to treatment of sciatica. These patients cannot take medications especially in the first and the second trimester. If patients are out of the risk period, they can take medications like Tylenol if their OB/GYN doctor allows.

The patients may have to rest more often. Physical therapy may help in decreasing the pain. If the pain is not relieved, other treatment modalities can be discussed including epidural injection. All such treatment should be done in consultation with the OB/GYN doctor of the patient.

How do you know when sciatica is getting better?

When sciatica is improving, the pain that radiates from the back into the leg decreases in intensity as well as frequency. The tingling and numbness will also improve. The patient will have more relief and longer durations of pain free period. This is a good sign and indicates a path towards complete resolution of sciatica.

How do you diagnose sciatica?

Sciatica is a clinical diagnosis, which can be corroborated by imagings with or without nerve conduction/EMG studies. Typical patient will present with pain radiating down one leg along the back or the side of the thigh index. They may have been associated with tingling and numbness or back pain.

Occasionally, patients may have weakness in the toes or the ankle. Once the clinical diagnosis is made, confirmation can be done using x-rays and MRI. In patients who have a confusing picture due to underlying comorbidity or atypical presentation, nerve conduction study and electromyographic study can be done to further confirm or rule out sciatica.

Is heat or ice better for sciatica?

Heat is usually better in patients who have sciatica, though patients who are not relieved with heat should also try ice or occasionally rhythmic use of heat and ice, cyclic use of heat or ice may help better than one alone.

What makes the sciatica worse?

Sciatica can be worsened due to activity, prolonged standing, lifting, pushing and pulling things. It can also be worsened due to arching the back or leaning backwards. Though short term of bed rest may help relieve pain, longer duration of bed rest causes deconditioning of the back and atrophy of the back muscles, which can lead to worsening of sciatica and back pain and poorer results.

Does massage help sciatica?

Massage is one of the modalities of adjuvant therapy for sciatica can be helpful and can decrease pain by strengthening the muscles as well as stretching the nerves. Deep massage can also help decrease the muscle spasms that develop in patients with sciatica.

How to massage sciatica trigger points?

Occasionally, sciatica may be associated with the trigger points in the muscles on the side of the back or even into the hip area. Deep massage of these trigger points can help decrease the pain and relieve the spasm. The deep massage is usually done by another person with the use of the elbow or palm or the thumb. Knuckle of the fingers can also be used. There are many mechanical devices that are available in the market, which can also be used for deep massage.

What does the sciatic nerves do?

Sciatic nerve carries the nerve fibers from the lower back to the muscles of the leg and foot. It also carries sensations from the foot to the spinal cord and to the brain. The sciatic nerve is essential for the movement of the foot and toes, which help in normal gait and walking.

Where to put an ice pack for sciatica?

For sciatica, an ice pack or even a heating pad can be used by placing it into the lower back and the gluteal region. It helps decrease the inflammation of the nerve there and thereby decreasing the pain and associated symptoms.

Can sciatica cause calf pain?

There are multiple reasons for calf pain, one of the dreaded one is blood clots and should always be checked for sciatica. Especially the involvement of S1 nerve root can also cause pain along the calf. This pain is usually felt around the back of the thigh as well as the calf into the foot. If it is caused by sciatica, it may be associated with tingling and numbness and occasionally weakness.

Can the sciatic nerve be removed?

Sciatic nerve is a very important and one of the thickest nerves of the body. It is important for supplying motor function to the muscles of the leg and foot as well as taking sensations from the foot to the brain. Their critical function cannot be replaced by any other nerve or muscle.

Thereby, it is important that the sciatic nerve is functional and present. Very rarely, patients may have tumor involving the sciatic nerve, which may have to be excised and may lead to sacrifice of the sciatic nerve; unless otherwise, the sciatic nerve is never removed due to its critical function.

Does the inversion table help sciatica?

Inversion table similar to traction helps sciatica by increasing the height of the disk and thereby allowing the disk to go back into space thereby decreasing the compression of the nerve root may help in decreasing the pain of sciatica. The issue of inversion table as well as traction is that this is effective until the patient uses them and once the patient is upright and moving, the effect of the inversion table or the traction may not be persistent.

Does sciatica go away on its own?

Sciatica can be a self-containing disease process, which can improve over a period of four to six weeks. The body takes care of the inflammation of the nerve root and also the disk herniation in most patients. 90% of the patient will get better in four to six weeks. Medications, epidural or nerve root block injections may help during this recovery period.

It is difficult to predict, which patient will get better and which will not. Therefore, a nonoperative treatment is planned for all the patients except those who develop neurological deficit or have severe worsening pain. Patients who do not get better by four to six weeks may need surgical intervention to improve their pain.

What kind of doctors treat sciatica?

Sciatica can be treated by multiple types of doctors including primary care doctor, pain physician, sports physician, spine surgeons and orthopedic surgeons among others. The methodology to treat sciatica nonoperatively is essentially the same among all field. Operative treatment for sciatica can be done by an orthopedic surgeon or a spine surgeon or neurosurgeon.

Can acupuncture help sciatica?

Acupuncture, as among all other modalities including physical therapy, massage and acupressure can also help in decreasing the pain of sciatica. Done in well-trained hands, acupuncture can give good results in many patients. Patients who do not get relief with acupuncture should try other modalities as well as medications. They can also try epidural or nerve block injection for pain relief.

Is exercise good for sciatica?

Exercises are important and beneficial in patients with sciatica.  These patients should also do stretching of the nerve.  Exercises in the form of cord strengthening exercises, hip exercises are important not only in relieving pain, but also keeping the mobility and activity as well as the tone of the muscles in good shape.

Is sciatica permanent?

Sciatica is not permanent, though it can be a recurrent. Patients who have had one episode of sciatica are at a higher risk of getting recurrence over the period of months and years. If the patient gets relieved with recurrent episodes of sciatica in shorter duration of time then it can be still treated nonoperatively.

Patient who have recurrent or prolonged episodes of sciatica, not relieved medications and physical therapy or patients who have neurological deficit or worsening pain, may need surgical treatment.

What is Lumbago?

Lumbago is another term that is used for low back pain. Such low back pain is essentially for a longer period, about more than 3 months or more. Most of the time, lumbago is due to mechanical causes especially involving weakness or atrophy of the paraspinal muscles. The treatment for lumbago essentially involves core strengthening exercises that are to strengthen the muscles of the core of the back, which include the muscles in the back, also the muscles in the front that are abdominals and the obliques.

What is Lumbago with sciatica?

Occasionally, low back pain may be associated with radicular pain down the leg with or without tingling or numbness. Such patients are said to have lumbago with sciatica. The treatment plan is essentially a mix of the treatment for low back pain and radiculopathy, which includes strengthening of the muscles along with stretching, medications, possible need for steroid injections and occasionally surgery.

Can the sciatica cause ankle pain?

Sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy causes pain radiating from the back or the hip into the lower extremities down the leg. The pain radiates along the back or the side of the thigh and leg and radiates down foot. An isolated ankle pain may not be caused by radiculopathy. If the pain is on outer or inner side of the ankle and is radiating down or coming from the top then it may be associated with sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy.

Can sciatica cause pelvic pain?

Occasionally, sciatica can present with pain in the back muscles only or the muscles of the hip. Such pain causes soreness or pain in one or both hips on the back or the outer aspect. Such pain can be confused with the pelvic pain. True pelvic pain will usually be on the front of the belly or on the side of the belly. These pains can also be confused with a hip pathology. A thorough history as well as examination with or without further imaging may be helpful to rule out pelvic cause, sciatica.

Can sciatica hurt in the front of thigh?

Sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy involving the L2, L3 and L4 nerve roots present as pain along the front of the thigh. The pain caused by pinching of the L2 and L3 nerve roots are present with pain along the upper and the middle thigh and may be associated with tingling and numbness. Pain due to the pinching of the L4 nerve root causes pain along the front of the lower thigh as well as over the knee and may have radiation into the inner leg.

Can you have sciatica both legs?

Sciatica is caused due to nerve root irritation or compression. It usually happens on one side of the spine, but occasionally if the problem is on both sides or if the problem is in the midline then a patient can present with radiating pain, tingling, numbness with or without weakness on both sides also. Rarely, patients who have severe compression of the spinal nerve roots in the canal can present with cauda equina syndrome, which is an emergency and they present with involvement of both lower extremities or both legs.

Does sciatica get worse before it gets better?

90% of patients with sciatica will eventually get better in a period of four to six weeks. During this time, the pain may worsen also or it may keep on improving. Patients who have severe pain with or without tingling or numbness usually will need medical attention to relieve their pain during this duration. The treatment may involve medications, physical therapy and cortisone shots. Patients who have sudden onset of neurological deficit or weakness or worsening of the neurological deficit may need surgery also.

How to stop sciatica spasms?

The muscles on the back of the thigh are prone to spasms in patients who have sciatica. These muscles get tensed up while activity or may be at rest also. To relieve these spasms, stretching of the muscle regularly as well as performing exercises for the back is of crucial importance. Patients may also need a prescription of muscle relaxant if the muscle spasms are causing discomfort especially difficulty during sleep.

Is sciatica hereditary or genetic?

Sciatica is caused due to irritation of the nerve root on either side of the lower back. This irritation is commonly caused due to disk herniation or osteophyte formation. Since most of the causes are due to degenerative spine disease, the degeneration of spine does have some genetic component, so indirectly sciatica can have a genetic or hereditary component, but there are many more factors associated with sciatica which are not genetic-related and it may be difficult to define how much genetics can play a role in sciatica.

Where to place TENS pads for sciatica nerve pain?

TENS pads for sciatica nerve pain are usually placed on the lower back on the side of the pain.. They can also be put over the muscles of which is having spasm or in pain.

Can sciatica affect nerve function?

In severe form of sciatica presenting with an emergency condition called cauda equina syndrome, in which there is severe compression with almost loss of all function of the nerve root, the patient may present with weakness of either or both lower extremities with or without involvement of bowel and bladder. Most of such patients will have loss of rectal tone leading to incontinence and loss of control of falls.

Can sciatica cause swelling in the foot?

Swelling in the foot is most likely not related to sciatica because sciatica is caused due to neurogenic pain. They should try to find out and exhaust all other reasons for foot swelling, which may or may not be related to blood pressure, heart condition, liver condition, kidney condition and others. Occasionally, patients may develop neurogenic edema of the extremity due to involvement of the autonomic nervous system leading to compression of the nerve root.

Can stress cause sciatica?

Sciatica like any other neurologic pain can have relation with the mental status and cognitive functions of the person. Though stress may directly not be the causative factor for sciatica, it may have its effect on the severity as well as course of the disease process of sciatica. Patients with high stress levels may have difficulty coping with sciatica and may take longer time to get better.

Is yoga good for sciatica?

Yoga leads to good exercise of all muscles of the body. The yoga also causes good muscle stretching and strengthening of the core muscles of the back. Some form of yoga are focus on back exercises only, though it may be difficult to do yoga in the earlier phase of sciatica, but trying to stretch the muscles of the back as well as legs as well as strengthening helps in relieving the pain of sciatica as well as rehabilitating the back to improve.

What does sciatic nerve innervate?

Sciatica nerve innervates all the muscles of the leg below the knee joint as well as carries sensations from the skin of the leg and foot. It also supplies all the muscles of the foot and is crucial in ambulating.

What happens if sciatica left untreated?

Sciatica in most patients will get better by itself in a period of four to six weeks. The pain as well as tingling and numbness tend to improve over time, though it may have periods of worsening. Patients may need treatment in the form of medications or injections to relieve the pain, so as to spend this period of four to six weeks, till then the relief is evident.

Occasionally in about 10% of the patients, there will be no relief, worsening or recurrence of sciatica pain despite all treatment modalities over four to six weeks. These patients may need surgical management to relieve their pain due to the pressure over the nerve roots.

Can sciatica cause foot numbness?

Sciatica is a pain that radiates from the back into the thigh, leg and maybe into the foot also. This pain can be associated with tingling and numbness in the area of its pain. It can cause tingling or numbness along the outer or the back of the thigh, outer or the back of the legs and the top or the bottom of the foot. It can also cause tingling or numbness in the front of the thigh or the inner leg depending on the nerve root, which is pinched and causing the sciatica.

Can sciatica cause heel pain?

Radiculopathy or sciatica of S1 nerve root may be associated with pain along the bottom of the foot and may mimic heel pain. If there is no pain on pressing the heel then it may be associated with sciatica. If there is pain on pressing the heel then it is unlikely to be sciatica and maybe due to many other causes.

Does physical therapy help sciatica?

Physical therapy is one of the modalities used to treat sciatica. It can help relieve sciatica as well as optimize the muscles of the back and legs, so that the patient can stay active while being during the phase of sciatica.

Why does sciatica get worse in the night?

Sciatica can get worse in the night, as the muscles relax while lying down, which causes the load to be more on the bones and the disk of the back. Convalescing sciatica pain may worsen while standing and walking also due to the dynamic change causing compression of the disk and leading to further protrusion. The patients who have instability and sciatica pain due to instability can also have worsening of pain due to the worsening of instability while standing and walking.

Can a car accident cause sciatica pain?

Car accidents can cause sciatica pain due to irritation of the nerve or radiculitis. This may be caused due to injury to the nerve root or more commonly due to disk herniation that causes pressure on the nerve root and ischemia and chemical injury leading to radiculitis.

Can sciatica be a serious disorder?

Sciatica is usually self limiting in 90% of patients and only needs treatment in the form of medication and physical therapy and occasionally cortisone injection. In about 10% of patients, this may not be relieved by any modality and these patients may need to undergo surgical treatment.

Sciatica can also rarely lead to rapid neurological deficit presenting in the form of cauda equina syndrome, which can be potentially disabling. The neurological deficit caused due to cauda equina syndrome may be permanent especially if not treated early in the disease process. Such patients may not only have weakness in their legs, but may also lose control over their bowel and bladder, which may or may not recover over time.

Can sciatica cause muscle loss?

Sciatica pain or radiculopathy can be associated with decreased motor innervation to the muscles leading to weakness. This will also lead to muscle atrophy over the long run.

Can you get sciatica in the arms?

The upper extremity equivalent of sciatica is called cervical radiculopathy. The process is similar to sciatica. The nerve root in the neck or the cervical spine is inflamed and irritated most commonly due to disk herniation in the neck. This leads to radicular pain along the arm and the forearm and to the hand depending on the nerve root, which is compressed or irritated.

Can you have sciatica without lower back pain?

True form of sciatica, due to compression of one nerve root may have isolated components of pain in the lower extremity.  These patients may not have any back pain or back complaints.

What are the medication that can help sciatica?

Sciatica pain can be relieved by the help of anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, naproxen. It can also be helped by Tylenol. Stronger pain medications like tramadol and narcotic medications may occasionally be needed for a short period of time.

Neuromodulator medications like gabapentin and pregabalin may also be helpful in decreasing the sciatica pain. Occasionally, medications like amitriptyline, duloxetine and carbamazepine may also be used in some patients to relieve their pain.

Is the back brace helpful for sciatica pain?

Back brace may be helpful in patients who have back pain with or without sciatica. Patients who have only radicular pain in their lower extremity may not be helped by the back brace. Use of back brace for a long period of time may be detrimental by causing atrophy of the back muscles.

Is it okay to work out with sciatica pain?

If the sciatica pain is under control or mild then doing workout which should include stretching as well as strengthening muscles especially of the back may be helpful in decreasing the pain and recovering from sciatica.

Can sciatica nerve damage cause foot drop

Sciatica damage to L5 nerve root and S1 nerve root maybe associated with ankle weakness and occasionally foot drop. Such patients usually have a severe form of nerve damage. Treatment could include management of the radiculopathy, medications, physical therapy with or without surgery. Surgery may be more often needed in such patients especially if the neurological deficit is still evolving, so as to decrease or elevate the further neurological deficit as well as to optimize the recovery.

What is laminectomy and what is the purpose?

Laminectomy involves removal of the back of the vertebrae so as to remove pressure from the spinal cord or the spinal nerves in the vertebral column. This can be performed in the neck, chest, or lower back area depending on the location of the compression over the neural elements.

Who does the laminectomy?

A laminectomy is performed by spine surgeons or surgeons who specialize in doing spine surgeries.

Will the laminectomy remove all my pain?

Laminectomy in the lower back is very helpful in patients who have radicular pain going down their legs. In most of the patients, the symptoms are well resolved, and these patients are able to get back to their normal life within six to ten weeks after the surgery.

What if, during my surgery, you encounter a different issue other than expected?

Usually, before the surgery, we discuss with the patient regarding all the possible spine issues that we may expect and how to manage them. If there is an unexpected issue, which has not been discussed earlier, we would go ahead and discuss it with the patient’s relative and treat it accordingly from there. If there is something which can wait, and is not detrimental to the patient, and relatives are not able to make decision on it, we may leave it for a later date to be discussed with the patient after the surgery.

How long is it possible to stay for back surgery?

Most of the patients with back surgery can be discharged within one to four days after the surgery depending on the type of surgery and the type of recovery that they have. Patients who undergo complex spine surgeries may need longer period of hospitalization and recovery.

Which pain medications will I be sent home with? What are the possible side-effects of these prescriptions?

Most of the patients with cervical spine surgery, will be sent with some narcotic pain medication to take care of their pain. These medications do have their multiple side-effects, which may be constipation, nausea, vomiting, impaired judgement, drowsiness, headache. Though patients who are treated with narcotic pain medication for acute pain, mostly do not lead to addiction, but these medications do have addiction potential.

Will you know before the surgery if I need a brace afterwards? If so, will I be fitted for one before the surgery?

Most of the patients with spine surgery do not need a brace. If we expect that the patient will need a brace, we will get the patient pre-fitted with a brace so that it is available immediately after the surgery. Occasionally the need for brace may be decided at the time of surgery. In such cases a brace is arranged in immediate post-operative period.

Will I need any other medical equipment like a walker when I go home? Should I get an adjusted bed or sleep downstairs?

Patient may need other medical equipment like walker or a stick. If that is required, patients are provided with such equipment in the hospital before their discharge and are trained how to use them by the physical therapist and occupational therapist. If the patient needs to use stairs, patients are trained by the physical therapist before they are let go home. If the patient needs an adjustable bed, they are informed about that. That can be done prior to the surgery. It is desirable for patients to stay downstairs for a few weeks if possible.

Who can I call if I have questions after the surgery?

In case patient has routine questions regarding after the surgery or regarding the surgery, they can call the physician’s office and talk to the nurse or secretary or the physician. If they’re not available on the phone, they can leave a voice mail and they will be answered later. In case the patient has a medical emergency, then they should not call the physician office but rather call 911 or get to the hospital ER as soon as possible.

How often will I see you after my surgery?

Patients are usually followed at two weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, and a year after surgery.

What symptoms would warrant a call to your office after the surgery?

If the patient develops problems like chest pain, breathing problems, sudden neurological deterioration, or any other emergency they should call 911, or go to the emergency room directly. Patients who develop worsening pain at the surgery site, discharge from the wound, fever; they should call in the office.

How long should I wait to bathe after the surgery?

Patients are usually asked to avoid bathing, until the incision heals, which may take two to three weeks. Patient can take shower after 72 hours of surgery with an impervious dressing in place. The dressing can be changes if the wound is visibly soaked. Patients are asked not to rub the area of surgery for about two to three weeks. They can gently dab it dry with a towel.

How long will I be out of work?

Patients with low demand work and desk job, can be back to work as soon as three to six weeks after the surgery depending on patient pain control as well as recovery. Patients who are in heavy lifting or control of heavy machinery or handyman job, may take three to four months, or even more to get back to work depending on their recovery from the surgery.

How soon after the surgery can I start physical therapy?

Patients after back surgery are usually started on physical therapy, if they need, depending on physician’s advice, at two to four weeks after the surgery. Many of the patients do not need physical therapy. A decision to go into physical therapy will depend on the surgery as well their recovery.

What if I get an infection?

If the patient has a superficial infection, few days of antibiotics will help heal these infections. Occasionally patient may develop deep infection. In these patients may need IV antibiotics for a longer period. If despite all efforts or in patients with rapid deterioration due to infection, surgery may be needed to help clean off the infection.

How common is surgery?

Most of the patients do not need surgery and can be treated with conservative means. When the patients do not respond to conservative measures, or if they have worsening neurological deficit, or worse pain, they may need surgery.

Will I have irreversible damage if I delay surgery?

Patients who develop neurological deficit in the form of weakness or involvement of bowel or bladder may have irreversible damage if the surgery is delayed enough.

When do I need fusion?

When patient has back pain or has a surgery in which enough bone is removed to destabilize the spine, in these cases patient may need a fusion surgery to stabilize the spine, as well as to alleviate the symptoms.

What are my risks of low back surgery?

General surgical risks of low back surgeries include bleeding, infection, persistence of pain, reversible/irreversible nerve damage leading to tingling, numbness, or weakness down the legs or involvement of bowel or bladder, failure of resolution of symptoms, failure of fusion, failure of implants. Most of the patients can undergo a safe surgery due to the development of vision magnification as well as refined surgical techniques. There are anesthesia risks also associated with this surgery.

When will I be back to my normal activities?

Though these things depend on the type of surgery patient has undergone, patient can usually be progressively back to their normal activities, starting from three to five days from surgery. Patients are encouraged to take care of their activities of daily living, as well as light household activities. Patients can get back to driving once they are free from pain medication and are able to sit for a duration of period for driving, which may take upto 2-3 weeks or more.

What type of surgery is recommended?

The type of surgery depends on the presenting complaint, examination findings, as well as imaging findings in the form of x-ray and MRI. Some patients may need to undergo just discectomy, or laminectomy, while others may need a fusion surgery on their back to relieve their symptoms. To know more about the type of surgery, the patient needs to discuss this with their spine surgeons.

How long will the surgery take?

Spine surgeries like discectomy and laminectomy usually last about one to one and a half hours. Spine fusion surgeries, may take longer periods, up to two and a half to four hours or more. It depends on type of surgery, and as well as the level of spine to be operated upon.

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degeneration means gradual damage of the tissue. Degenerative disc disease represents aging of the disc, either appropriate to the normal age of the patient, or maybe accelerated due to injury or chronic disease, or other factors like smoking, obesity.

What is Lumbar instability?

Lumbar instability means that the spine is not stable and there is excessive abnormal movement between two vertebrae. This is usually diagnosed by imaging in the form of X-rays, CT scan, or MRI of the patients. Instability may lead to compression of nerve roots causing radiculopathy with or without back pain.

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal Stenosis means narrowing of the spinal canal. It is can be at the cervical or thoracic or lumbar level. Most common spinal stenosis is at lumbar level and it, when narrowed, can compress nerves, causing pain going down the legs, with or without tingling, numbness, weakness, or involvement of bowel or bladder.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is another name for lumbar radiculopathy, in which patient has pain going down their legs. The pattern of pain depends on the nerve root involved, but the most common is pain going down the outer side of the thigh and leg into the foot.

What is lumbar disc disease? How is this problem diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Lumbar disc disease is made by history and examination of the patient. The confirmation of diagnosis is done by imaging in the form of X-rays and MRI. Occasionally the patient is having contraindication to MRI, patient may need to undergo a CT scan. When a CT scan is done, occasionally the patient may need to get injected with a dye before the CT scan and this is called CT myelography. Occasionally patient may need a CT scan along with MRI also.

When should I consider surgery for the back pain?

Most of the patients get treated with conservative means. In case the patient is not getting relief despite continuous conservative measures, or if there is worsening of pain associated with or without weakness or involvement of bowel or bladder, the patient may need surgical intervention in the form of surgery.

Am I a candidate for minimal-invasive spine surgery?

Some patients are good candidates for minimally-invasive spine surgery and they can get better with that. History, physical examination, as well as special investigations like X-ray and MRI, are needed in order to discuss regarding options of minimal invasive spine surgery. Some patients are not good candidates for minimal invasive spine surgery and doing such a surgery in such patients may lead to non-resolved solution of the symptoms or worsening.

Are there any warning symptoms?

Warning symptoms of lumbar disc disease include worsening pain, tingling and numbness, development of weakness, or worsening of weakness, involvement of bowel or bladder in the form of incontinence of urine or stools, presence of fever, unintentional weight loss. In such conditions patients should immediately seek medical attention.

Do you need any tests?

General blood workup is needed in most patients before the surgery. This will include blood counts as well as metabolic profile. Special tests may be needed in some patients if the physician has suspicion of some other disease. Most of the patients will have to undergo X-ray and MRI, or a CT scan before the surgery to confirm their diagnosis.

What are the possible surgical complications from a low back surgery?

Common complications of a low back spine surgery are bleeding, infection, leak of cerebral spinal fluid temporary or permanent neurological deficits, blindness, worsening of pain, failure of fusion, failure of implants. There may be risks due to the anesthesia also.

What is foraminotomies?

Foraminotomies is the surgery done from the back in the neck or the lower back area in which a small amount of bone is removed to increase the size of the foramen where the nerve roots pass to give more space to the nerve root and to relieve the symptoms. These surgeries do not involve removal of enough bones to require insertion of screws and rods to fuse the spine.

What are the risks of laminectomy?

Apart from the usual risks of having some back surgery, the risk of laminectomy includes injury to the nerve roots of the spinal cord, bleeding, injury to the sac, covering the spinal root or spinal cord leading to leakage of the fluid, persistence of pain or worsening, temporary or permanent worsening of symptoms. It may also lead to delayed restenosis as well as destabilization of the fragment leading to forward bending of the spinal column.

What is post laminectomy pain syndrome?

Post laminectomy pain syndrome usually involves the lower back and presents in patient who have undergone laminectomy for spinal stenosis. These patients, due to worsening of their degenerative condition or osteoarthritis of the back, start having pain involving the disc in their lower back. They may also develop flattening of the back due to weakness and muscle spasm.

Is laminectomy an outpatient surgery?

One or two level laminectomy of the lower back can be done through outpatient. Laminectomies more than two levels or laminectomies of the cervical spine or thoracic spine are usually performed in a hospital setting due to the complexity of the surgery.

What is the difference between a laminectomy and discectomy?

The disc is present in the front of the spinal cord or nerve roots and the lamina are present behind the spinal cord of the nerve roots. Discectomy involves surgery usually from the front, though it can also be performed from the back especially in the lower back and involves removal of the disc to remove the pressure from the front of the neural elements. Laminectomy on the other hand is performed from the back and involves removal of pressure from the neural elements from the back. Sometimes especially in the lower back area, both the surgeries can be combined and usually performed from the back.

What is laminectomy of the neck?

Laminectomy of the neck involves removing the lamina from the vertebrae or the bones of the neck. These laminae are present on the back of the neck and the surgery is done through the back of the neck. These patients also need to undergo fusion with screws and rods so as to prevent later complications of laminectomy. This is usually done for patients who have impingement of their nerves in the neck from the back side rather than the commoner form that is from the front.

What is thoracic laminectomy?

Thoracic laminectomy involves removal of the lamina from the back of the vertebrae or bones of the thoracic spine or the chest region. The surgery is done from the back and may or may not involve fixation with screws and rods. This surgery is usually performed for patients who have compression on their spinal cord in the thoracic spine.

What is cervical decompressive surgery?

Cervical decompressive surgery is removal of pressure that is on the spinal column or the spinal cord in the neck region. This can be performed from the front or from the back depending on the location of the compression on the spinal cord. This surgery may or may not be accompanied with fixation of the vertebrae using screws, rods or plates.

What is laminectomy and what is the purpose?

Laminectomy involves removal of the back of the vertebrae so as to remove pressure from the spinal cord or the spinal nerves in the vertebral column. This can be performed in the neck, chest, or lower back area depending on the location of the compression over the neural elements.

Who does the laminectomy?

A laminectomy is performed by spine surgeons or surgeons who specialize in doing spine surgeries.

What is laminoplasty of the neck?

The laminoplasty involves cutting of lamina on one side so as to open it up and fixing it in an open position with the use of mini plates so as to increase the size of the spinal canal and decrease the pressure on the spinal cord. This surgery is performed from the back of the neck and does not involve fusion of the neck thereby decreasing the restriction of movement of the neck as may be present after laminectomy and fusion surgery.

What is cervical spine foraminotomy?

Cervical spine foraminotomy is a minimal invasive surgery which is performed from the back of the neck for pinched nerve in the neck. These patient’s usually have radiating pain into the arm and the surgery helps in decreasing the pressure over the cervical spine nerve root to allow space for the nerve and eliminate the symptoms. This surgery if done in suitable candidate can avoid fusion surgery that is traditionally needed to decrease the pressure of the spinal roots.

These questions have been personally answered by:

Dr. Vedant Vaksha

I am Vedant Vaksha, Fellowship trained Spine, Sports and Arthroscopic Surgeon at Complete Orthopedics. I take care of patients with ailments of the neck, back, shoulder, knee, elbow and ankle. I personally approve this content and have written most of it myself.

Please take a look at my profile page and don't hesitate to come in and talk.

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Dr. Vedant Vaksha

I am Vedant Vaksha, Fellowship trained Spine, Sports and Arthroscopic Surgeon at Complete Orthopedics. I take care of patients with ailments of the neck, back, shoulder, knee, elbow and ankle. I personally approve this content and have written most of it myself.

Please take a look at my profile page and don't hesitate to come in and talk.