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Have I suffered long enough?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,670
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:28 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
For the past 4 years I have had mild lower back pain, numbness in the back of my legs if I stood the wrong way, and numbness in my left foot when exercising. I never really thought too much about it, I honestly thought that I was just getting old and fat. However, this past November 2008 my lower back started really bothering me and it just got progressively worse. I saw my PCP and an Ortho Doc, tried various pain meds, anti-inflammatories, and muscle relaxers, nothing worked. I couldn't stand up straight and had severe pain down the back of my left leg and finally ended up in the ER on December 22nd. My holidays were a blur. I got an MRI, started PT, and got an epidural injection on January 12th. The epidural helped significantly. The pain in my leg never went away, but I was at least able to function again.

After a month of PT, I was not improving. The pain in my leg remained no matter what we did and my leg began to get weak and muscles began to atrophy. My Physical Therapist suggested that I see a neurosurgeon. When scheduling my second epidural, the Pain Mgt Doc also suggested that I see a neurosurgeon because of the way my MRI looked and that I was still having pain and a very limited range of motion.

I went to see a neurosurgeon and he told me that on a scale of 1 to 10, my problem is a 9! Long story short, I have DDD with herniations at L4-L5 and L5-S1, and spondylolisthesis. He told me that I need a Two-Level PLIF. I freaked. He told me that the longer I wait, the more nerve damage I will be doing and that a 2nd epidural is just a temporary fix.I may not have as much pain as I did in December, but the back of my leg and my heel are numb. My leg is weak, my calf muscle cramps up, my leg feels tingly, burning, achy, and I even fell once because I got up and walked too quickly.

My question is this: Have I suffered enough to warrant jumping into this very serious operation?? Is the numbness/weakness I'm having as concerning as all of the pain that I have been reading about? I have been reading this site for weeks now, and I see so many of you have been dealing with severe pain for years and years before getting this surgery.

This is all just happening so fast, I was just so shocked to find out that I have been walking around for all of these years with just mild symptoms, and now I need a fusion? I really do like my Doc, he was great at explaining everything and spent a lot of time with me and my husband. He said that I have an excellent chance of a full recovery due to my age (39) and the fact that I don't have any other underlying health issues. I did get a 2nd opinion and unfortunately that doctor suggested the same procedure.

Help! Any advice and/or similar experiences that you have would be greatly appreciated. My surgery is scheduled for March 9th and it is approaching fast!


  • Welcome to Spine Health. As far as your question, to me the selling point for surgery was not necessarily the pain but the fact that my spine was suffering degenerative changes (kind of like yours) that had no possibility of getting better without surgery. I did a lot of research then in a very short time, talked to my PCP, got a second opinion, and decided to go with the suggestions of my OS (L3-S1 fusion) whom I trusted. In my case, it payed off, as my symptoms are now gone and I am doing very well. I am now over 9 months post surgery, but I felt good from the moment I woke up from the anesthetics. Keep in mind, that everybody is different, but if your doctor (and perhaps others) make the same suggestions, I would take those into consideration. At the end, you will have to make that decision.

    Good luck,

  • I think it is more a question of what is going to give you the best results. The sooner something is fixed, usually the better. I have had my problem for 2 1/2 years and now may suffer from nerve damage from waiting to long for someone to find the problem. I think if you feel comfotable with your Dr and feel that you have enough testing to warrant the surgery, I would not wait. Waiting only makes it harder, especially for long term damage.Good Luck in your decision.
  • I agree with what the others said,and also keep in mind that your pain is not to be compared to anothers,because we are all so different in the ways that we go about describing our pain.One example is that I have heard stories where people have passed out from injections,hyperventilated from procedures that another person didn't blink an eye at.I'm not trying to judge here,or make anyone feel bad about their pain tolerance-only trying to say that some people do seem to handle pain better than others.

    So while you are walking around for several years in moderate or mild pain,that same pain may have been severe to the person who passed out or hyperventilated.

    The fact that you actually fell down once,and had two opinions-those were the leaning factors for me.I haven't had spinal surgery myself,and I hope that I never have to,but when the day comes that I fall down or something equally scary happens,I will start getting opinions and making some serious decision making as you are now.It can't be an easy one to make and I wish you luck in making the right choices.
  • I felt much the same way you do prior to my surgery. For about 2 years I would read threads on various boards and think that I was not as bad as the conditions of the people on the board who had surgery. Plus a fusion just seemed like such a drastic thing to do. I kept thinking that there ought to be a new procedure that would be more high-tech and sophisticated than something that was developed in the 1940s!! I ended up collecting opinions from 8 different spinal specialists, hoping I would find someone who would tell me that I did NOT need a fusion...but, I never did. And I continued to slowly get worse...The time I could stand, or the distance I could walk got shorter and shorter until I finally decided I had no choice but to have surgery.

    It sounds like you are doing your homework and that you feel comfortable with your surgeon. That is very important. Some people rush into surgery without examining their other options, and not realizing that spine surgery is a big deal.

    It is important to remember (or to learn, as the case may be) that most spine surgeries are done for pain relief, except for a few emergency situations. In almost all cases, spinal surgery will not restore you to the way you were many years ago before you had any back issues. It will help, in some cases, help almost 100%, but it isn't like having an appendix out where you recover from the surgery and go back to feeling exactly the same as you always were.

    That being said, it sounds like you have found a realistic, compassionate surgeon whom you can feel comfortable with. Hopefully you will come out on the other end feeling much better and able to get back to doing the things you love.

    Good luck. ~
  • Shanmbro

    I think you should repost your story with the the title being "Anyone out there have the Two-Level PLIF surgery?" ... and see what replies you get.

    Hopefully you'll get replies from others who got the surgery.

    Good luck!
    ~ Cece
  • I appreciate all of your advice, thank you!

    I will take your suggestion and re-post this with a different subject line. Sorry for any duplicating!
  • I just found this forum and I am looking at scheduling fusion surgery for May. I have a grade 1 (on MRI), grade 2(on x-rays) slippage on l5-s1. I'm still waiting for a less invasive procedure, too! I went from being an extremely active person to leading a limited and painful life. I'm much better now but not well.

    I'm posting a general question out there about fusion that describes my situation more, but I wanted to ask if you had the surgery and how you are feeling. Since you said March 9 was your scheduled date, I understand that you may not be posting for a while if you did do the surgery, but either way I wish you the best!

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