The natural history of sciatica associated with disc pathology. A prospective study with clinical and independent radiologic follow-up

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1992 Oct;17(10):1205-12. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199210000-00013.


The purpose of this study was to assess the natural history of sciatica due to lumbosacral nerve root compromise and to evaluate the pathomorphologic changes that accompany the natural resolution of the disease. One hundred sixty-five consecutive patients, 114 males and 51 females, with an average age of 41 years (range, 17-72) and an average duration of symptoms of 4.2 months (range, 1-72) presenting with sciatica thought to be due to lumbosacral nerve root compromise were admitted to the study. The cornerstone of treatment was the serial epidural administration of steroid and local anesthetic by the caudal route on an outpatient basis. Lumbar epidural injection or periradicular infiltration at the appropriate level, confirmed under image intensifier, was the next step before considering surgical decompression. An average of three injections (range, 0-8) was received by each patient. Patients underwent clinical examination and computed tomography. Twenty-three patients (14%) underwent surgical decompression. The remainder were clinically assessed at 1 year after presentation, and 111 were rescanned at the appropriate levels. All conservatively managed patients made a satisfactory clinical recovery: average reduction of pain on the visual analog scale was 94% (range, 45-100), and 64 (76%) of the 84 disc herniations and 7 (26%) of the 27 disc bulges showed partial or complete resolution (chi-square = 20.27, P = 0.0001). Thus a high proportion of patients with discogenic sciatica make a satisfactory recovery with aggressive conservative management, and this recovery is accompanied by resolution of disc herniations in a significant number. Only a small proportion of patients needed surgical decompression.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / complications*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / therapy
  • Lumbar Vertebrae* / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Procaine / therapeutic use
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sciatica / epidemiology*
  • Sciatica / etiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Triamcinolone Acetonide / therapeutic use


  • Procaine
  • Triamcinolone Acetonide