Sciatica is characterized by lower back or hip pain that radiates down one of the legs. Though sciatica is often referred to as a spine condition, it is actually a nerve pain symptom caused by spine conditions that compress one of the nerve roots in the lower back. In order to treat sciatica, it is important to diagnose the root cause of the symptoms.
Dr. Alex Ching is a fellowship trained and board certified spine surgeon. He has over a decade of experience with diagnosing and treating conditions that cause symptoms like sciatica. He has participated in national lectures and has published articles in medical journals on the treatment of sciatica. Whenever possible, he utilizes nonsurgical treatment options and only recommends surgery when more conservative treatments have failed to provide sufficient relief.
Causes & Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica can develop when a nerve root in the lumbar spine is compressed. This can be caused by degenerative changes in the spine over time, including bulging discs and spinal stenosis. When these conditions occur in the lower back, they can put pressure on the nerves that supply the leg, causing sciatica.
Sciatica is generally characterized by pain that travels from the lower back or hip down one of the legs. For some, the pain is sharp and feels like a bad leg cramp. For others, the pain feels more like a burning or tingling (pins and needles) sensation down the leg, and weakness or numbness may also be present. The pain may be constant, or may worsen with certain movements.
If you are experiencing sciatica-like symptoms, Dr. Ching will conduct a thorough exam to determine the cause of these symptoms and recommend a treatment plan.
Treatment Options for Sciatica
Initial treatment of sciatica is typically nonsurgical. However, if symptoms do not improve or worsen with nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be recommended.
Nonsurgical Sciatica Treatment
In many cases, nonsurgical treatment provides effective relief from sciatica symptoms, particularly in mild cases. Physical therapy can be very effective for mild cases of sciatica. Dr. Ching often recommends that patients work with a physical therapist to strengthen the back and learn how to modify activities to relieve stress on the lower back.
Dr. Ching may also recommend epidural steroid injections to reduce inflammation around the compressed nerve, which can help to relieve symptoms.
Patients may also wish to try other nonsurgical methods, like the use of foam rollers, at-home stretches, or chiropractic care to help relieve sciatica symptoms. Though there is no medical literature to suggest that any one of these treatments are more effective than others, they are not outwardly harmful and worth trying if they help to relieve symptoms.
Surgical Treatment for Sciatica
If sciatica symptoms persist or worsen after several weeks of nonsurgical treatment, Dr. Ching may recommend surgery. Patients with sciatica caused by spinal stenosis are more likely to need surgery than patients with bulging or herniated discs.
If sciatica is caused by spinal stenosis, Dr. Ching may recommend a laminectomy. During a laminectomy, Dr. Ching removes bone from the vertebrae around the compressed nerve to relieve pressure. If sciatica is caused by a bulging or herniated disc, a discectomy may be recommended to remove disc material that may be compressing the nerve.
Recovering from Surgery
After surgery for sciatica, most patients are able to return home by the following day. Recovery timelines will vary depending on the procedure and the patient’s individual needs. Dr. Ching and his team will explain your specific needs and expected timeline, and are happy to answer any questions you may have.
After surgery, patients are advised to take it easy for the first two weeks of recovery. Light everyday activities around the house are permitted, but anything more strenuous should be avoided. After those first two weeks, Dr. Ching typically advises a gradual return to activity, starting with light physical activity like walking, and gradually reincorporating more strenuous activity back into the normal routine.
If needed, Dr. Ching can provide a referral for a physical therapist, though the majority of patients do not need formal physical therapy after surgery. Full recovery and return to activity takes an average of 3 to 4 months, though this timeline may be longer for patients needing more extensive procedures.
Sciatica Treatment in Tualatin, OR
Dr. Alex Ching has over a decade of experience with treating spine conditions that cause sciatica, including bulging discs and spinal stenosis. Dr. Ching is fellowship trained and board certified in spine surgery, and has participated in several lectures and research studies on advanced treatment options for sciatica. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Ching, please call our office at (503) 828-1150, or request an appointment via our convenient online form.