Most people have had bouts of sciatica at some point in their lives, or have known somebody who did.
It consists of pain which starts in the buttock region and radiates down the leg. Most of the time the pain is annoying but not excruciating, and it goes away without much help in a few days to weeks. However, sometimes the sciatic pain can become so bad that it’s just not bearable. Most of the time the culprit is a herniated disk.
Disks are the cushions between the vertebrae that act as shock absorbents in the spine. Their structure is like a spare tire filled with jelly. The tire holds in the jelly, which acts to absorb shocks. Sometimes the tire-like portion wears thin and finally ruptures, allowing the jelly (which is called the nucleus pulposus) to escape and bulge into the spinal canal. This bulge can put pressure on the spinal nerves, which may either cause pain that shoots down the leg, numbness, weakness, or all three.
What can your doctor do to relieve this pain? Fortunately, most herniated disks can shrink over time, and the symptoms gradually lessen by themselves. This can take anywhere from three weeks to three months. Treatments used during this period are intended to make you more comfortable while you are waiting for the shrinkage to occur. These include rest (but not strict bed-rest!), anti-inflammatory medicines, pain pills, physical therapy and sometimes cortisone injections in the back.
Unfortunately, some people may continue to have pain despite a good conservative treatment regimen. Or, the pain they are having may be too bad for them to wait it out. In these people, surgery can be an excellent option to relieve their pain. The procedure is called a discectomy. It is fairly simple, and it is successful in relieving pain up to 95 % of the time. The ruptured portion of the disk is removed, and the nerve pressure and the pain are relieved. Because only a very small portion of the whole disk is removed, it continues to do its shock-absorbing job well.