24 September 2018
Back pain and sciatica are very common conditions, with 60-80% of people in the UK suffering from back pain at some point in their lives.
These conditions can be extremely painful. Your quality of life and routine activities like work, sleep, driving, sports and social activities can be affected greatly. In the majority of cases, back pain is due to general wear and tear of the discs and joints in the spine.
Sciatica is usually caused by a slipped or prolapsed disc in the spine trapping a nerve which runs down the leg. Rarely, it can be due to more serious conditions such as cancer or infection. Your GP or physiotherapist will be able to identify if you have any ‘red flag’ symptoms that require urgent medical attention.
Usually back pain and sciatica settles down within a few weeks, often with a course of pain killers. The help of a physiotherapist or osteopath may also be very beneficial. The therapist will often use several techniques such as manipulation, stretches, massages, heat treatment or acupuncture to try and improve your symptoms.
If symptoms don’t improve the way you expect or you are concerned, then a referral to a spinal specialist is advisable. Following a thorough consultation and examination, an MRI scan of the back and X-rays are often performed. This can identify any potential problems in the spine giving rise to your back pain, such as a tear in the disc, arthritis of the spine, or slipped vertebrae (spondylolisthesis).
Once a diagnosis is made from the scans and X-rays, the consultant can work on your specific symptoms and needs. For mild symptoms, often several sessions with a physiotherapist is all that is required.
For more severe symptoms or those who have not responded well to therapy, symptoms can be improved with targeted injections such as nerve root blocks, facet joint injections or epidurals. These are very effective, safe, low risk, day case procedures.
As a last resort, if symptoms fail to improve then spinal surgery may be a solution, usually with modern micro surgical and minimally invasive techniques. Fortunately only a minority of people require surgery. Spinal surgical intervention is normally only recommended after a failure of other treatments.
Consultant Spinal Surgeon Mr Robert Lee says, “Back pain is extremely common and in most patients surgery is not required. However it is leg pain (due to nerve compression) that can be excruciating. Depending on the severity this can often get better by itself but it depends on the root cause."
He continues, “If surgery is required, it is important not to damage the muscles that surround the spine as they are important in the patient’s recovery. Minimally invasive techniques are now available which lead to less muscle damage by respecting the patient’s anatomy. Surgery performed using these latest techniques leads to faster rehabilitation and better outcomes for the patient.”
At Spire Hospitals we work with a number of leading orthopaedic consultants, specialising in the treatment of spinal conditions. Don’t suffer unnecessarily.