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Recovering--But already scheduled surgery

SteveASSteveA Posts: 26
Well--for those haven't read my previous post, I'm a 19 yr old college student who used to be incredibly active (Division I Wrestler...All State Wrestler, All County Football in high school) however back in February of this last year that all changed--I tore the ACL in my left leg and had to have knee surgery. When my knee was finally recovering, at around August of this year, I got another slap on the face. For some reason, whenever I went to stretch my right leg, I'd feel a sharp pain down my leg. I had no clue what it was. In retrospect it was a bulging disc around L5-S1 that stuck out whenever I I'd bend forward to stretch the hamstring. I thought maybe all the muscles in my right leg were tight because I had been focusing on rehabilitating my left leg from the knee surgery and hadn't been taking care of my right leg. A week of stretching later, whenever I would sit down for longer than a few minutes and then stand up--I'd have trouble straightening my back again.

A week or so later, some time in early September, I was jump roping in order to warm up and stretch the leg some more when all of a sudden I started feeling this massive amount of pain focused around my upper right glute. Saw my Doc, Doc gave me lots of pain med (3 bottles consisting of 10mgFlexeril, 10mgOxycodone, and 800mg ibuprofen) and told me to see him in a week. That week the pain had hit my right calf--it felt like I had been in the gym working out my calves for hour, and went down the right side of my Achilles and pinky toe. I had an MRI done--turns out I had 3 herniated discs and DDD running down my entire lumbar spine. The most noticeable problem was the massive herniation at L5 that was clearly impinging on the L5-S1 nerve root. So he gave me a referral to see an Orthopeadic Surgeon who specialized in the spine--guy wanted me to have surgery immediately. But my parents didn't want me to--they wanted me to try a conservative route.

2.5 months of physical therapy later, in December, I was at about 60% recovered. Couldn't swim or job without having these twinges of pain, coughing and sneezing hurt, and I couldn't sit for longer than 20 minutes without becoming really uncomfortable with a mix of numbness/burning/and tingling down the leg. I had a transversal epidural injection (epidural in L5, L5, and S1 to bathe the area) early December and it helped me a little. Brought me up to 70% recovered I would say, but I hit a plateau the rest of the month with physical therapy and my PT said there was nothing more he could do. I got a referral to see a neurosurgeon finally and he said it's time that I get the surgery. I scheduled the surgery for two weeks from that day--on the 27th the only opening the surgeon had until late February.

Now, I'm in a predicament. This last week, I somehow managed to break out of my plateau. I went for a jog yesterday and I felt great no twinges or anything. Then I went swimming and I still felt great. I can even sit for like 30-40 minutes without any pain down my leg, and even after 40 minutes it's still bearable--I can deal with it. From what I was at originally in September (about 4.5 months ago) I am 80% recovered. I can for the most part jog and swim. Only thing is I have surgery scheduled this coming Tuesday the 27th and I don't know what to do. I've worked so hard with the conservative treatments and I've definitely had improvement--but will I ever be 100%? I just want to get back to my normal life, and I don't want to risk surgical complications so late in the game. I've been digging down really deep trying to figure out what I should do. But I just don't know.

I've already gone through my pre-admission testing, and as is my Doctor has no clue I'm second guessing the surgery. I just don't know. Should I go through with it? Or should I back out, go back to physical therapy and break through the plateaus little by little?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. I'm 19years old with the back of a 40 year old according to my neurosurgeon--however because I'm 19 I'll recover faster than any 40yr old after surgery and my doctor is confident that I'll be good as new just a couple weeks after the surgery.


  • sunny1966ssunny1966 VIRGINIAPosts: 1,385
    I'm glad that you've improved so much! Only you can decide whether to go ahead with the surgery or not. Is there anyway you could discuss this with your surgeon on Monday? I wish you the best whichever you choose to do. You are so young to be facing this. Take care of yourself and good luck.
  • Hi Steve,

    If you feel that much better, I think you should put off the surgery. Just because you cancel it doesn't mean you can't reschedule at a later date. There is no guarantee that the surgery will bring you back to 100%. But if you're at 80% now, you should give PT another try and see what happens. Just my opinion. I hope everything goes well for you.
  • I agree with Laura. I firmly believe that surgery is the last resort. it doesn't sound like you're there yet.

    Since you are only 19 and your body heals faster, perhaps the herniated discs have responded to the conservative treatment.

    I didn't see where you mentioned what type of surgery is planned. Except in the case of foot drop, or bladder or bowel involvement, most back surgeries are performed for pain relief. Studies have shown that 6 years out from a herniated disc, a patient who elects to have surgery and a patient who goes with conservative treatment will end up in the same place (place meaning ability to function, amount of pain, etc.) Given enough time and care, most herniations will heal on their own.

    Your question about "will I ever be 100%?" is a question without an answer. There are NO GUARANTIES, whether you have surgery, or not. Surgery will not restore any patient to the way he/she was prior to the back injury or onset of pain. It is not like an appendectomy, where there is pain, the diagnosis is made, the appendix is removed, the patient recovers from the surgical pain and life goes on. Back or spinal surgery changes you forever, and it is not always for the good.

    In your case, since you do not have bowel or bladder involvement, or foot drop, you might want to hold off on surgery. You can always have it done the road if the pain becomes intolerable...and, you just may get better on your own.

    FYI: It took my husband a good six months to start to feel better after he ruptured a lower lumbar disc. They heal at a glacial speed!!
  • I am sorry, I can imagion how you feel. I have had the same type of recovery as you, except I cant run or stand very long. I'm meeting with my surgeon on the 29th and I'm at a cross roads also. I'm older though. I guess I tend to agree with other posters who say your young and might just give it alittle more time to heal. I would just be careful not to push it.I would think jogging would be painful and put pressure on the disk. If it's this good maybe a epidural would get you by another month or more of healing? Good luck.
  • Thanks again for all the replies. It really helps having knowledgeable people around. Before my Sciatica, I had no clue what Sciatica was nor did I know anyone who has ever suffered from it. It's really difficult explaining to people how I went from being a division I collegiate athlete to where I am now--though I have been improving. A lot of people just don't understand. It's great to find a place where people do. I have a new found respect for chronic pain sufferers.

    I think I'm going to call up my Neurosurgeon Monday morning and have a talk with him to see what he has to say. And the surgery I'm scheduled to have on Tuesday is a Microdiscectomy on L5 to decompress the L5-S1 nerve root.

    I just have one more question: the MRI the surgeon is going off was taken on October 30th--about 3 months ago. And I haven't gotten a CT scan, myelogram or anything else for my back. Should my surgeon have done a fresh MRI or any additional imagings? My parents are really worried he'll be working off old images--back when my symptoms were worse. According to the surgeon it's unnecessary to have any additional images done if I am still having the same pain I was back when I had the MRI. The thing is my pain is not the same--it may be at the same location but it's no longer chronic. It only hurts when I aggravate it such as when I sit down, bend down, or anything of the sort. The radiologist report that came with the MRI showed some mild spinal stenosis (very rare for someone my age), and I fear that may be contributing to my problem and the surgeon has completely ignored it because he thinks I'm to young to have spinal stenosis. Again, any advice/knowledge will be greatly appreciated.
  • I was wondering the same thing, my MRI was taken in Nov. and none since. I guess they figure what else could it be. If your still having any problems then theres still pressure being put on the nerve and that is what he will cut out. I have to tell you how this was described to me by my chiropractor. He said the disc material when it ruptures is like a sticky booger that can get stuck on your nerve root, as it is being reabsorbed back into the disk some of the sticky stuff still is stuck there so he said what happens the surgeons go in and cut away most of the bulging disk and try and clean up the sticky stuff on the nerve. Sometimes they don't get it all off and you still have some issues. I would have your surgeon explain the whole procedure to you again. I don't know too many back surgeons who want to do surgery for no reason. They usually will back down if theres any improvement, so maybe if he sees how well you have come along or you tell him, he may decide to post pone the surgery anyway. Your symptons are just like mine, Think your alittle better then me. My question is going to be " Is this the best I will get and if it will get better how long could it take and will surgery be faster then just letting it heal on its own at this point" Also "what are the true risk at this point , can I expect a full recovery with no more pain". If he says he can't guarentee I won't be in any pain then what's the point. I might as well not have surgery. This is just my opinion. I have to laugh I'm 44 and married, my parents are so against me having the surgery, they have been trying to talk me out of it since I first saw the surgeon, but my husbad is sick of my complaining and just wants me back to normal so he's been really pushing the surgery. I feel like screamimg because it's confusing enough, then all I ever hear are bad stories. I rarely hear of a successful surgery so it makes me jaded towards having the surgery. My husband tries to tell me that football players and sports people have these surgeries all the time and are fine.. so I try and keep that in mind. Good luck please let me know what your surgeon says, since our symptons are so similar. Liz
  • yeah, there is definitly no reason to have surgery at this point IMO. My pain was like yours, where i could make it through the weekend and id be fine until i got to work on monday morning and sat at my desk all day. Then id be stiff and sore, but not really really bad. This went on till i sneezed the other day and now cant stand more than a few minutes, cant walk without limping or hunched over, and exteme pain a lot of the time. Ive tried PT, but just makes it worse. Im on no pain meds other than muscle relaxers and OTC Ibuprofin. I definitly think you can get through your ordeal and back to normal with PT and another Epidural, and probably not even the Epidural. It sounds like your back is going to be pretty bad later on in life and the less surgery you have on it, the better. So to save a surgery for a later date would be wise
  • Also, try looking into an inversion table/or chair. I just bought mine today, so im going to try mine out. People swear by them
  • Man I am in the exact same position. I have had 2 surgeries - microdiscectomies on L5-S1 3 years apart - the most recent was 3 months ago. After the 2nd one I had pretty bad pain that lasted 3 months til now and finally after many tests and other injections, etc. they finally found that I re-herniated the disc and suggested another surgery. I'm personally not too worried about the complications of surgery so I went ahead and scheduled it for one month from now (they are booked until then). However, in the last week I'm feeling better (not 100% though) and I'm wondering the same thing about whether I should cancel the surgery.

    If you want to talk about it write me a note - maybe we can relate...also I have some experience with surgery if that info might help you...
  • Have you had a 2nd opinion? If you're not completely sure you want to do the surgery you need to find out if the compression on your nerve is not going to cause any more damage. Which means you would need surgery. You should get a 2nd opinion from an Ortho Dr. or a Neuro Dr. Good luck. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • :sigh: I just wrote out four paragraphs noting everything and then I accidently hid the X button.

    Well, this wont be as wordy as I had just wrote but------- I called my neurosurgeon on Monday, the day before the surgery and told him that I improved a ton the last couple of weeks and asked him if he still thought I should go ahead and get the surgery. He replied that I am not the first person who's seen great improvement in a little time, and that he's had many people come to him saying that they've improved a great deal right before surgery, but most of them come back within a month or less and reschedule their surgeries because their pain became even worse than before. He went on to say that my improvement is more than likely just the inflammation of the nerve dying down a little bit and that it would probably come back, and usually when it comes back it's worse than it was before. In the end he advised that I get the surgery, although because I have improved so much it wasn't really something that had to be done urgently. I decided I wanted to ahead and have the surgery as scheduled. However, against my will, my dad decided to call the neurosurgeon and cancel the surgery telling him that he would not let me get the surgery until I had a new MRI done to confirm that my improvement had come only because of reduced inflammation and not because of the disc receding.

    He could not schedule the MRI the night before the surgery because my Insurance company would never authorize it at such short notice. So he scheduled the MRI on Thursday--two day ago. The results were..........drumroll.........the herniated disc is still there impinging on the L5-S1 nerve root :sigh:. I have an appointment with the surgeon on February 4th to discuss everything, and I rescheduled the surgery for February 10th.

    I think this smiley sums up my situation best: :frustrated:
  • I should have mentioned that my February 10th surgery date is just tentative. I'm still not sure if I want the surgery, and the reason I scheduled an appointment to see him on February 4th is that I want to discuss everything with him. I don't want to make any possible life altering decisions over words I heard on the phone.
  • sunny1966ssunny1966 VIRGINIAPosts: 1,385
    Oh, I've deleted my messages more times than I can count. Usually it's after I've typed a long one and then I'm too lazy to type it again! I hope that it all goes well for you at your doctor appt. Wednesday. I agree that it's best to wait until you actually get to talk the new MRI report over with your surgeon. I wish you the best whatever you decide.
    Take care,
  • Hi, I just wanted to update you, I went and saw my neuro on the 29th. I was having the same mixed feelings about surgery, I pretty much talked myself out of it till I saw him. He did some reflex test on my foot and leg, and the right was much weaker then the left. He told me it's the nerve being pressed. I decided to go ahead and have the surgery, mine is scheduled for the 9th of Feb. I have to trust the surgeon. I have to believe he wouldn't do the surgery if it wasn't needed. I asked about the MRI, since my last one was in Nov. He said it wasn't needed, either way he could see whats happening when he went in. Good Luck with your surgery. I'll check back to see updates.
  • Steve,

    Have you gotten a second opinion? I have had ortho tell me I needed a microdiscectomy on L5S1. However the Physical Medicine/Rehabilitation doctor I see said surgery would not solve my sciatic pain. He has me on a strict exercise plan and it has made a big difference. I have 4 herniated discs in my lumbar and cervical back and 3 in the thoracic area and have not had any knifes touching my back!

  • Well, I just got out of my appointment with the surgeon. According to him, I'm one of the rarer case in that I hit a plateau for several months and then suddenly broke out of it. He said that my recovery is due to the disc shifting a little bit, but it obviously hasn't receded (MRI is still the same as the day symptoms started).

    He went on to say that a disc herniation the size of mine never really does recede and I may likely face problems in the future because the herniation is still there and is limiting the space the L5-S1 nerve has to move. And because of this, he has no problems offering me the surgery up front, nor would mostsurgeons. However he doesn't feel that surgery is absolutely necessary, and there is no "Right" thing to do now.

    So, I decided to cancel the surgery and make my parents happy. I'm still not sure if I made the right decision, so, if my symptoms do return in full force or anything close, I will not hesitate to call the surgeon up and reschedule the surgery (That is if he'll still have me--I've canceled on him twice already lol).

    Btw, if anyone wants the name of the surgeon I've been seeing and lives in the New York/Metro area, just send me an email me at awaderboy@gmail.com and I'll gladly give you his name. He's a neurosurgeon, and has been ranked as one of the top 50 surgeons in America many times. He also did his residency in spinal disorders and has performed around 530 discectomies. To top it all off, he's got great bedside manner and takes his time with patients. I (and I'm not exaggerating) spend about 45 minutes with him with every appointment. It's odd for a doctor--usually I feel rushed in appointments but this guy waits for me to end the appointment--I feel like he'd sit with me for hours as long as I had questions to ask him.
  • Would it be possible for you to tell us which exercises your doctor has you doing? I would be curious to know what is making a different for you. Just in general-- you don't need to describe it all in great detail! ;)
  • Yes, NeilD--I'd also like to know how you've avoided the surgery. And, I wonder how Lizard is doing--her surgery is today.
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