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To live like I want to, or give up

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,670
Hi everyone - I just found this website today, and I am enjoying reading the posts. It sounds like a very supportive group! I have had lower back issues for probably 15 years or so. I'm 38, and as of June of '08, I have had sciatic pain down the right side. I have herniations at L4-L5 & L5-S1. My pain was at an 8 before my first ESI, and is now around a 2 after 3 of them. I am still limited in what I can do, don't sleep well, but I am doing what I love - and that is tennis. The doctor who gave me the injections said not to play anymore, but another doctor (who I obviousy chose to listen to) said that I'm too young to give up playing, and that I should do what I want, and when the pain gets too bad, go have surgery. I definately hurt more now that I'm playing again (I haven't played since July, and started about 1 month after the 3rd injection) Before I started again, I didn't have much radiating pain at all. Now it's there pretty much all the time, but still around a 2-3 pain level. So, what do I do? Am I going to regret playing, or regret not playing? Living with the nerve pain - can that become permanent? Will it go away with more injections, or surgery? I'm in good shape, healthy weight... been stretching & stregnthening. Went through all kinds of PT - none of them worked, tended to make it worse. I've met with a neurosurgeon, and he said not to do anything while my pain level was only 2, but suggeted I wait 2 more months to play tennis. I figured that if I waited 2 months, I would just be in pain when I started up again - it's not like I'm going to just heal up in that time. Ok - sorry to ramble, just trying to figure out how to manage this. Thanks!


  • yes, the nerve damage can become permanent. It happened to me, and it only took 4 short months. I delayed medical treatment while I was deep in denial and going to a chiropractor. I didn't have back pain, so I thought it was just piriformis syndrome, like the chiro said. While I ignored the problem, the damage became permanent. 3 surgeries later and while my back is stable, my nerve damage never changed.

    How far down does your pain radiate? The lower down, the worse it is. Mine started in my buttock, then went to my thigh, then my calf, then my feet. Today, I have lateral numbness on both legs from the outside hip down to my toes, causing major balance issues. The SCS (spinal cord stimulator) I got 7 weeks ago is making a huge difference by blocking the pain signals to my brain. But if I could go back and do anything differently? I would get medical treatment sooner, I would have taken extremely seriously the not BLT - bending, lifting and twisting. If I could.

    Definitely live your life, just be careful. Don't bend, lift or twist when you don't have to. Give your herniations a chance to heal on their own. Constant bending over, major twisting or lifting will prevent that. Staying in good shape is excellent, but also being smart is too. Don't even bend over to brush your teeth - pull a chair up and keep your back straight. You won't believe how much this can help.

    Also, look into something called "Manual Physical Therapy". Completely different than traditional PT, which also did nothing but make me worse. It's hard to find, but you will love it if you can find a manual PT.

    Follow your docs advice, and follow your intuition. That is amazing that the injections have helped you so much!! So happy for you!!

    Take care,

  • if your pain is only a 2/3 you are extremely lucky!1 so carry on enjoying your life because like me and others on here .our pain is regularly in the 9/10 all the time ! like the above post .i would agree that pain and permanent nerve damage does happen .i should know after 2 major back operations i have gone from a fit man to a house bound wreck ..so my advice to you is enjoy it while you can!
  • Hi and welcome to Spine Health. As you can see, you are going to get as many different opinions as answers. That's what they are, opinions based on personal experience. We are all folks with spine issues that may or may not be similar to that which you yourself are experiencing. Even the doctors treating you have differing opinions based on their own personal experiences either treating someone or being treated. So you may wind up confusing yourself more than finding an answer. What is the right answer? Who knows.

    The body is a tremendous mechanism. Being an athlete you should understand and appreciate that. It has the ability to compensate for many things, some temporary and some permanent. One thing that holds true across the board, is the body's ability to raise a flag and say something isn't quite right. At 38, you've had enough experience to know when your body is asking for more of a break than you are giving it, or on the flip side, when it can take more than you are giving it. So listening to your body is extremely important in avoiding long term permanent damage.

    The hard part comes, especially the older we get, when we have to admit that our body is telling us the opposite of what we want it to be telling us. No matter how much we refuse to listen, it's still the same message waiting on the machine. We become a lot more stubborn and try to force the message to have a different meaning. A battle of wills ensues and guess who generally loses ... both.

    Now the question I have for you, is, of the doctors who recommended differing approaches to your predicament, which one is the spine specialist? Which one knows the nerves in your body as they are related to your spine problem?

    Just food for thought.

    Anyway, welcome to the forum.


  • I can connect to you too since tennis WAS my love. I stopped playing last year due to severe tennis elbow and now severe sciatica/nerve damage etc etc. I had back issues in the past and I found that the hardest thing (for back) is running backward from the net. My personal suggestion is to take a break for few more months. You will not heal yourself by aggrevating your condition. And this is just for few more months. I also run into interesting website by Dr Bookspan recently (google it) and she was talking a lot about bad stretches and bad excersices that people do. I personally think that my last sciatica incident was due to the fact that I did yoga 'double time' trying to ger rid of my pain and according to her I did way too much forward bending. Try to stop for a few months and/or watch your body mechanics when you are picking up the ball and fixing your shoes - may be it will make a difference. As for me I still hope to come back to tennis one day...not now.
  • As Haglandc says, everyone's experience is different. Some people get better from their disc problems and get back to what they love, others (like me) get worse.

    I should have known for a year or so to cut back on my running and weightlifting due to low-level sciatic pain, but I kept doing it and the docs weren't especially concerned because I seemed young (early 30s) and healthy. Eventually a disc ruptured and I went to surgery - but in my case going in made things worse and left me with far worse pain in both legs and new low back pain that affects most everything I do - sit, stand, bend, walk, etc. Microdiscectomies aren't slam dunks, and if the microdiscectomy doesn't work, then there aren't many good options left. Looking back, I wish I would have been a lot more careful and done lower-impact workouts - I loved my old workouts, but they weren't worth the pain I have now that well might be permanent.

    You really have to listen to your body about what you can and can't do. I tended to hear the positive things that the doctors said about returning to activity, but now I wish I'd paid more attention to some of their warnings. Their predictions are just their best guesses, and after a while I began to think that they didn't like to give bad news to their patients anymore than the rest of us like giving bad news to others. Sometimes I got the sense they were just repeating generalities and not necessarily responding to the situation I'd just described to them.

    Of course - this isn't to say that some people don't have good recovery stories, but backs and discs are fickle things and can be hard to fix.
  • That second doctor who said you should go play, mess up your back, then have the surgery sounds like damn idiot. I seriously hate doctors who lack common sense. We take every single word they say into heart because we expect them to know best, when the truth is, all they have is knowledge. Some doctors simply don't know how to apply their knowledge..they lack the common sense.

    Why mess up your back to begin with? If you're going to have the surgery, have it now--immediately, and then give it three months of light activity until the annulus repairs itself (it takes three months). And then play all the tennis you want. That way you don't risk any permanent nerve damage and you'll be back on your feet after three months. That's what pro-football players do. Otherwise, quit tennis now because so long as you play, your sciatica will not get better. And you can expect to stay at the same level of pain at best for the rest of your life. At worst, you'll end up like some the current posters and have permanent nerve damage. I know it's hard, but sometimes we have to make hard decisions, and only you can make them.

    Now, I'm only 19 years old and last year I could happily say I was a division I college wrestler in the prime of my life. Now, I can't even play the sport I love. I'm in the same boat as you are in that right now, my pain is hovering around a 1-2--basically non-existant unless I do something to aggravate it such as sit down for too long, bend down, or lift and twist. To my parent's delight, I decided not to go through with surgery because of my improvement and will not be playing any sports this year. I'm going to take it easy and hope for the best. If it doesn't work out, I'm going under the knife. Only reason I haven't had the surger already is because my parents don't want me to and I have to respect that.

    If you plan on getting the surgery, make sure you ask the surgeon as many questions as you can. Ask him how many he has done, if he does regular followups, and if you can expect a pain-free life after surgery. Make sure he's done his fellowship in spine surgery, and that he has done a minimum of 100 of your specific surgery. You didn't really state where your sciatica was coming from. L5-S1/L4-S1? Both? If it's a microdiscectomy being recommended make sure he's done at least 450 of them (average for a good surgeon).

    My .02
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