I have severe pain running down the back of my leg. My doctor says this is from a ruptured disc in my low back and that surgery can fix it. Back surgery sounds serious. Is it worth the risk?

In the right circumstances, the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks. For many patients, surgery to correct sciatica, the pain you describe, may be one of those occasions.

A recent study showed that patients with sciatica improved more if they had surgery than if they didn't. Seventy percent of patients who had surgery had less pain after five-years, as opposed to 56 percent of those who didn't have surgery. Patients who had surgery were also more satisfied with their treatment five years down the road. These differences didn't translate to the work setting, however. Patients were equally likely to be back on the job five years later whether or not they had surgery.

Researchers believe that surgery is especially helpful for patients who have moderate to severe sciatic pain. These patients seem to get better, faster relief from surgery than from other kinds of nonsurgical treatment, like medication, rest, and physical therapies. Patients who start out having less pain from sciatica seem to recover whether they have surgery or not. Your doctor can tell you more about how surgery may help you, given your condition and history.