Surgery No Better for Sciatica Then Waiting

The above comes from a study published in the November 22/29, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, (JAMA). The study was also reported on in an Association Press (AP) story of November 22, 2006. The report comes from two large US government funded studies on patients suffering from sciatica.

In this study 472 patients with an average age of 42 were assigned to either have surgery or watchful waiting. However, many of the patients assigned to one of the two groups switched groups and decided to go against the group they were assigned to. However these subjects were still followed for 2 years to see how they responded from whichever group they ultimately wound up in. Those that had the surgery were compared to those that did not for both bodily pain and physical function.

The study shows that patients who have been diagnosed with herniated disks creating sciatica had “no clear-cut reason to choose an operation over other treatment.” According to the researchers in this study patients who suffered from these problems showed significant improvement over two years time regardless of whether they had back surgery or not.

Dr. James Weinstein of Dartmouth Medical School and lead author of the study suggested that based on the findings of this study patients should choose whether they want to get the surgery or not based on their own desires. He stated. “If you don’t want the risk of surgery, you can do watchful waiting.”

The article notes that about 250,000 Americans go under the knife for herniated disks each year. However, they also report that an equal number choose not to have surgery, which costs $6000 on average, and instead choose other types of care.