Pain coming from compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve is called sciatica. Sciatica – which can include pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness – is really a symptom indicating an underlying problem, not a diagnosis in and of itself.

A controlled study conducted a few years ago compares spinal manipulation (chiropractic) and surgery for people whose sciatica did not respond to traditional medical treatment approaches. The National Spine Center in Alberta Canada published the study in October of 2010 in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT). Forty participants with sciatica over 3 months duration were selected because they were unresponsive to pain medications, lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, massage therapy and/or acupuncture. Each had been referred by their primary care physicians to spinal surgeons, and each was accepted as an appropriate surgical candidate.

The participants were split into two groups – one group to undergo a surgical microdiscectomy and the other group to be treated with standardized chiropractic spinal manipulation by a single chiropractor. If not satisfied with the results they obtained from their assigned method, the patients were allowed to switch to the other treatment plan after 3 months. The results were very interesting.

Both groups made significant improvements over baseline scores. In other words, they all experienced noticeable improvements. The statistics show that 60% of the study participants benefited from chiropractic spinal manipulation to the SAME degree as if they underwent surgery. Even more importantly–after 1 year there was no difference in outcome success based on the treatment method. That means that a full 60% of people referred for surgery by their primary care physicians and accepted as surgical candidates by the neurosurgeon would actually get similar results with chiropractic. That is a lot of potentially unnecessary cutting, anesthesia and ER time. How about the costs involved?  One year of chiropractic care could possibly run $2-3,000. One surgical procedure would cost at least $50,000 not to mention time off work and post-surgical rehab. Ever wonder why your insurance premiums continue to go up double digits every year or two?

There is one paragraph in the results section of this study that is easy to overlook, but incredibly important. There were originally 120 candidates of which 60 met the study criteria and were asked to participate. Of these 60, 20 refused. Why? Because they had never been offered spinal manipulation as an alternative to surgery! They didn’t want to participate in the study and to be randomly placed in the surgery group without first trying the spinal manipulation! This is incredibly telling. Not only does it demonstrate that there is still a lot of education about chiropractic that needs to happen among the public and among primary care providers, it also demonstrates that people understand the risks and costs of surgery and want to exhaust other possibilities first. This was the first study to ever look at people who had failed traditional medical management of sciatica. Currently most patients that fail ‘conservative care’ are referred for a surgical evaluation. Now we know that 60% of these folks might be able to avoid surgery and get similar long-term outcomes with chiropractic.

Please share this article with anyone considering surgery for sciatica. Call us for a consultation, and find out if chiropractic could help your sciatica. Just recently, a 40-something athletic lady spent month with low back pains, and had surgery scheduled.  She had tried regular chiropractic care to no avail as well as all the medical approaches. The upper cervical approach to her lower back and sciatic pain made a huge difference. Three weeks later, she is walking 10+ miles/day and signed up for a half marathon.