Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Back Pain Health Center

Font Size

Back Pain Often Ends Without Surgery

Study: Surgery Fastest Treatment for Back and Leg Pain, but Waiting Works, Too
WebMD Health News

May 30, 2007 -- For two specific kinds of back and leg pain, back surgery offers the fastest relief -- but those who choose nonsurgical treatments get better, too.

Two separate studies reported in this week's New England Journal of Medicine show that surgery is the fastest route to pain relief for two very different conditions: severe sciatica and degenerative spondylolisthesis.

But the studies also show that these conditions do not worsen if surgery is delayed -- and that nonsurgical treatments can relieve at least some of the pain.

An editorial titled "Back Surgery: Who Needs It?" accompanies the studies. Editorialist and back pain researcher Richard A. Deyo, MD, MPH, is professor of medicine and director of the center for cost and outcomes research at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"The people who truly need back surgery are those who need it to preserve their ability to function," Deyo tells WebMD. "But short of that, most back surgery is an elective procedure. It is not urgent. Patients face real choices that are quite reasonable: either surgical or no surgery."

Sciatica: Surgery vs. No Surgery

Sciatica is pain or tingling that begins in the back or buttocks and runs down the leg. The most common cause is a bulging disk in the spine. The bulge presses against a nerve root, causing problems all along the nerves that branch from that root.

Surgical treatment of sciatica relieves pressure on the nerve root by removing a portion of the affected spinal disk. But sciatica often gets better over time. Is surgery really the best choice? How long should a patient wait before opting for surgery?

To answer these questions, neurosurgeon Wilco C. Peul, MD, head of the spine intervention study group at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, led a study of 283 patients with confirmed cases of severe sciatica.

All of these patients' symptoms had lasted for six to 12 weeks. Even with pain medication, they could barely walk and were not able to work around the house or at their normal jobs.

Half the patients underwent early surgery, most within two weeks of study entry. The other patients were assigned to "conservative treatment," which included pain management and physical therapy.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Woman holding lower back
Or is it another form of back pain?
Hand on back
See the myths vs. the facts.
Woman doing pilates
Good and bad exercises.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Use it to manage your pain.
Man with enhanced spinal column, rear view
pain in brain and nerves
Chronic Pain Healtcheck
Health Check
break at desk
Woman holding lower back
Weight Loss Surgery
lumbar spine
back pain