Unfortunately, for a small percentage of people suffering from low back pain and sciatica, surgery can actually be indicated.
While you’d like to avoid surgery as long as possible as a general rule, there is one major exception (and this is MAJOR): if you have unrelenting nerve pain, you must act quickly!
Let’s step back for just a moment, though… I’m not saying that if you have nerve pain (like sciatica) that you need surgery right away.
Rather, I’m saying that you must act quickly to get rid of it.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but let me explain. Several times a year, I run across clients who have some kind of permanent nerve damage following back surgery.
Their stories usually go something like this: “The doctor told me that I needed surgery but to wait as long as possible, until the pain was completely unbearable.”
I hear the same kind of thinking with people who end up having total knee replacements. They wait as long as they can stand the pain before having surgery.
However, there’s a huge difference between someone suffering from nerve pain and someone suffering from joint pain (again, this is HUGE).
Let’s start with the person with the arthritic knee pain. In this case, the cartilage in the knee is wearing away, causing pain in the joint.
At some point, the pain becomes so severe that the total knee surgery is performed, often with very good results. Since the joint was replaced, the person really doesn’t suffer any lasting damage to the knee joint by waiting, because in essence the knee is now gone (replaced by an artificial joint).
Sound pretty reasonable, right?
Okay, now let’s look at the person who has nerve pain radiating down one or both legs. In their case, something in the lower back is physically pinching/compressing a nerve.
If you’ve ever had this kind of pain, who already know how excruciating it can be. What happens if you follow the same path as the person with advanced knee pain?
Chances are, by the time you deem yourself ready for surgery, you’ll actually be stuck with permanent nerve damage.
Let me throw that scary term out again: permanent nerve damage.
Sounds painful, and let me tell you, it certainly is.
Now that I’ve thoroughly frightened you and given you the worst-case scenario about the risk of permanent nerve damage, let’s talk about 2 really important topics: first, how to handle nerve pain. And second, how to know if you need surgery immediately.
Simple Steps to Handling Nerve Pain
I’m going to keep this section pretty brief, because I’ve already covered this topic in regards sciatica pain in a previous blog post (click here for more info).
Let’s go over the basics, though.
The single most important step to eliminating nerve pain is to uncover the ROOT CAUSE of the pain. Once you do that, you can create a plan for getting rid of it.
That’s very oversimplified, but again I cover the details in the linked post above.
One more key point for this section: time is of the essence! If you have sciatica, or any other type of nerve-related pain, the faster you can remove the cause of the pain, the better your chances are of avoiding permanent damage.
Now let’s talk about how to know if you need surgery.
How to Decide if You Need Surgery
I like to break this into a 2-step style of thinking:
Step 1: act quickly, and do everything you can to get rid of your nerve pain with conservative measures (like physical therapy, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc.). Whatever works best for you, just act quickly. Obviously, I’m biased towards physical therapy J
Step 2: after trying to eliminate your pain with the above measures, if you still have unrelenting nerve pain that won’t go away no matter what you do, surgery may be in your future. Can you tell that I’m leaving myself quite a bit of “wiggle room” here when I say surgery may be in your future? That’s because various providers (PTs, chiros, pain specialists) treat nerve pain with varied levels of success. But by and large, if your nerve pain won’t ease up for at least a portion of the day, looking into surgery might be your best option.
Overall, surgery is definitely your last option for treating lower back and sciatica (or other nerve pain).
If you’ve been suffering with nerve pain and you haven’t yet figured out a game plan for eliminating it, we’d love you help you figure it out.
Call us today to schedule your FREE “Discovery Visit” with one of our PTs. In just 30 minutes, you’ll discover the root cause of your pain and whether we can help you eliminate it.
And if we think you need surgery (hopefully not!), we’ll tell you that too J
Call us today at 509.892.5442!