It’s estimated that as many as 40% of people will experience sciatica at some point in their lives. In most of these cases, it's mild and resolves on its own or with simple at-home care. However, when symptoms linger or are severe, it’s wise to discuss advanced treatment options.
At The Spine Institute of Southeast Texas, board-certified orthopedic surgeon Thomas Jones II, MD, provides comprehensive care to patients with a broad range of spine conditions. When the pain of sciatica persists despite nonsurgical measures, Dr. Jones can discuss surgical treatment to provide relief.
Typically, the nerves in the body travel along their normal routes without a problem. Sometimes, the space a nerve travels through narrows or otherwise becomes compressed. When this happens, you know it — a compressed nerve causes pain and abnormal sensations such as tingling and numbness.
In the case of sciatica, the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body, becomes irritated or compressed. This causes pain that radiates from the lower back down one or both legs. More often than not, only one leg is affected.
While conservative treatments such as physical therapy and steroid injections are usually enough to relieve sciatica, there are cases when nonsurgical approaches aren’t enough.
When to seek advanced treatment
If you’re having persistent pain that hasn’t responded to other treatments, it’s time to discuss more advanced treatment. Here’s when sciatica warrants advanced medical intervention:
Pain is severe and persistent
If sciatic nerve pain becomes intolerable and severely affects your ability to go about your normal daily activities, it's time to consult Dr. Jones. Chronic, severe pain can indicate more serious underlying issues, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
Prolonged pain can also lead to a chronic pain cycle, making the condition more difficult to treat. Early medical intervention can provide relief and prevent the pain from becoming a long-standing issue.
You’re having muscle weakness
Numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot is a sign that the sciatic nerve is being significantly compressed or irritated. This can lead to muscle atrophy if not treated promptly. Medical intervention is necessary to determine the cause of these symptoms and to prevent nerve damage.
Loss of bladder or bowel control
A rare but serious complication of sciatica is cauda equina syndrome, where the nerve roots at the lower end of the spinal cord are compressed. This condition can cause loss of bladder or bowel control, a medical emergency that requires immediate intervention. Treatment delay can result in permanent nerve damage and long-term dysfunction.
Symptoms persisting beyond a few weeks
While mild sciatica symptoms often improve within a few weeks with self-care, persistent symptoms warrant a visit to a health care provider. If your symptoms fail to improve with conservative treatment, or if the pain continues for more than a month, professional evaluation is necessary to identify and treat the underlying cause.
Accompanied by other health issues
It’s important to seek medical intervention if you also have issues such as a back injury or other spine condition. In these cases, sciatica can be a symptom of more serious health issues that require diagnosis and treatment.
Minimally invasive sciatica treatment
Dr. Jones specializes in minimally invasive approaches. Sciatica surgery is typically an outpatient procedure, and the goal is to relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve.
A herniated disc is often responsible for persistent sciatica pain. When this is the case, Dr. Jones can perform a lumbar discectomy, which involves removing a part of the herniated disc to eliminate the pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Help for sciatica
Surgery is reserved for situations where conservative treatment has been unsuccessful in relieving the pain of sciatica. Early intervention not only provides relief from the immediate discomfort but also prevents long-term complications.
If you're experiencing severe, persistent, or unusual symptoms, don't hesitate to consult a Dr. Jones for a comprehensive evaluation. Taking the right steps at the right time can lead to a quicker recovery and a return to a pain-free life. Contact us in Pearland or Jackson, Texas, to request an appointment with Dr. Jones.