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Non surgery stories

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
I want to hear the stories of those who opted for no surgery. What was your diagnosis? How long has it been? Describe the journey (ups and downs). Are you glad you didn't opt for surgery or are you still thinking about it? Are you completely recovered or still have problems? And finally, do you have before and after MRIs? I have yet to see an MRI of a naturally healing rupture and I'd love to see one.


  • I think I might have told you about my husband already...can't remember. Anyway, I'll make it quick. 16 years ago he ruptured L5-S1 on the day before Christmas. He went to several spinal specialists who all told him they would not recommend surgery. So he went to PT and had a few pain pills at the beginning. Epidural injections were not nearly as common then....He was off work a couple weeks, then returned. He was feeling quite a bit better by about 4 months, began regularly walking in May or June. He healed and to this day, does his "back" exercises every single day -- never misses a day!

    He has not had further problems that required medical attention. He avoids activities that he knows are bad for him, uses good body mechanics, keeps his weight normal.

    We do not have a MRI -- sorry.
  • But I'm assuming he did get an MRI. Do you know what type of rupture it was or did they not get into specifics? Also, how old was he when it happened? Does he have any flareups or numbness/tingling around the groin (I heard that's common with L5-S1)?
  • I am in no surgery club. I am 5 month after herniation, recovered 75% and still improving. I saw 3 surgeouns and none wanted to operate on me due to 1) 2 disks involved and 2) I am improving. As for MRI, I had 2, one after herniation and the other one 4.5 months later - according to radiologyst second MRI shows 'marginable imrovement' only - but I feel so much better.
  • hi i have had kinda both i had a lamindectomy 13 years ago and all was great it was the L5/S1 that got operated on all was good until 3 years ago and it went again, but this time i didnt have another op had physio and drugs took a while 6 months and then 99% good but then it has just recently gone again1 and now have an appointment with a Neuro Surgeon as it has gone bad twice in the last two months so Doctors reckon i should have surgery not sure yet as when it went 3 years ago and it did get better and again its now started feelin loads better already and cutting down the pain killers so at the moment in two minds go with .. will let you all know

    cheers Richie
  • Since it's difficult to guage small increments of less pain, I figured I document my progress. First, I'm male, 45 years old. I have a good-sized, lumbar, migrated protrusion focalized on the left side. L4/L5. First noticed it March 1, 2009. So I'm in week 8. First week wasn't bad. Intense pain didn't kick in until the middle of the second week. Here's my progress from 5 (long) weeks ago to today:

    *Couldn't put my socks on without intense pain. *Now one hand can go lower than my feet so I can get them on easier (still a challenge).

    *Couldn't drive my truck without leaning on my right butt cheek. A couple times driving to work I made it a few miles and had to come home and call in sick. Getting out of the truck and putting feet on ground was intense pain/throbbing down left leg. *Now I can drive normally, carefully get out, stand for about 15 seconds looking at ground (never look up), maybe one sharp throb, then I'm fine.

    *Waking in the morning was horrible. After standing for 10 seconds the pain was overwhelming. Felt like my hip was broken, massive throbbing, razors down the side, calf was exploding, top of foot and big toe hurt. I'd walk dog for 20 minutes very slowly (at 4am!) then stretch for 30 minutes before my shower. *Now I get up at 5am, pop an ibu, walk dog with medium pain, stretch about 5 minutes, and I'm good to go.

    *Was taking a hydrocodone every 2 hours and Motrin every few hours. Switched to 800mg Ibu's once every 8 hours and two hydrocodones per day. *Now I'm down to 1 200mg Ibu every few hours. Tried to do less but I'm not there yet.

    *Had 'intense' pain episodes (lasting 10-20 mins) at least 3 times per day. *Now I have one maybe every 3 days and only with certain activities.

    I figured my progress might be helpful for anyone with a similar injury, maybe shining the light down the tunnel. I'll update this in a few weeks. My big goals are to cross my legs, sleep on my sides again, ride my motorcycle with no intense pain dismounting, and normal sex again. At the end of six months I fully intend on getting another MRI and posting the results.

  • To answer your questions, my husband was about your age when it ruptured. I believe he was 43 and had a birthday 10 days after it happened. At the beginning he really could not move. He spent Christmas day stretched out on the floor near the tree. I even fed him Christmas dinner on the floor. (Our dogs thought it was quite a wonderful holiday!) Our neighbor is an anesthesiologist, but had been a family practioner. He advised us NOT to go to the ER as it was a holiday. He came over and examined my husband. He wrote a prescription for a pain med and got him an emergency appointment with a spinal specialist he knew. That got my husband through to his appointment a number of days later.

    I remember seeing the MRIs but do not recall any specifics. When he gets home tonight, I'll see if he remembers any details.

    He has had two slight flare-ups in 16 years...both times he stopped running, and let up on other things and it passed quickly. He does not have any symptoms and never did in the genital area. His was all down his thigh.

    When he went back to work, I drove him and carried his briefcase for him into his office. He spent part of the day standing, as it was more comfortable. He had some pain when sitting and he couldn't walk normally. He kind of walked side-ways like a crab. I don't think he could swing his leg through like a normal walking movement. He couldn't put on shoes and socks -- I did that for him for quite awhile.

    To this day, he does his back and core exercises regularly. He exercises six days per week, keeps his weight well within the normal range, uses good body mechanics and is careful when he does an activity that he knows has the potential to cause him problems -- like raking or shoveling snow, for example. He gave up playing hockey and skating as it was really hard on his back. I truly believe if he were not such a disciplined person, he would have had additional problems and would have had surgery by now.
  • I love this tread. I am actually having a flare up today (first in 2 month) and feel a little down. Bad news I do not know what to do - do I lay down a lot, do I walk.... I am looking forward to vicodine and flexeril for the night (first in 2 months).... I could use some cheering up.
  • I'm guessing flareups are going to happen for awhile. I think back to other injuries I had. I really messed my neck up in my 20s. I think back and I probably had a buldge. Wasn't bad at first until I saw a chiro in Orlando. She told me she was going to adjust it and I honestly didn't know what she meant. With no warning she snapped my head. I never went back. For 5-6 years after that I had flare ups for no reason. All healed now. The body is an incredibly slow healer, but it leaves no scar tissue. Amazing when you think about it.

    I just popped 2 ibu's before going to bed. A little sore and I need the sleep. So sleep tight and I'll keep you in my prayers.
  • it 6 am, i am up. i have a toddler who gets up early - back pain or not. Did not sleep much, but the pain is better. i have trouble sleeping recently, even went to a doctor for it few days ago, but did not wanted to try my newly prescribed ambien with the other drugs i took. i also possibly have fibromyalgya, so it is hard to distingwich which pain from which condition. I also have neck/arm issues... i spent yestarday mosly in bed, got up few times to do back extensions, did not take my walk. However, in the evening had to go to school to see my older child performace. so, good news that pain is better even after sitting for 2 hours durung the performance. I also have a goal to sit with cross legs, actually simply sit w/o discomfort and have normal sex. My husband is very patient with me but I know he is not happy....
  • I have been told that crossing your legs is not good for your back, because your back will be out of alignment. You always want to maintain good posture and body mechanics and strength your core muscles (back, stomach, buttocks, thighs).

    Sounds like you are making good progress. Great hear that!
  • Yesterday morning I woke up with no pain. Actually scared me. You get used to pain. I moved around in my bed to get the pain back but it was gone. Had a little hip pain this morning, but it went away quickly when I walked my dog.

    I still don't have full mobility yet. Can feel pain in upper left butt and upper left calf if I bend too far over. I still have to take 1 200mg ibu about every 3-4 hours because my sciatic nerve will start to ache. I don't want to lose any progress I'm making.

    I'm 2 months into this and I expect my recovery to take a full 6 months. Then I'll be on parole for at least another 6 months. Never want to go back.
  • Still improving but continue to deal with pain. What's interesting is how the pain has changed. Originally it was explosive, throbbing, consistent pain down the left thigh and calf. Two weeks ago it isolated itself to the outside edge of my thigh and calf. Today the pain is mostly the bottom of my calf and my ankle. It almost feels like the aftermath of a very badly sprained ankle. With the pain moving around it makes me wonder if my extrusion has broken free and has moved. Very weird to follow.

    I still take regular ibuprophen to take the edge off. I hope someday soon I wont need it.
  • I am at my 6 month. Feeling better, my main problem is tighness in the back. Especially when I try to do pelvic tilt. Leg pain is indeed feel like sprained ankle. Sometimes it is just a skin-level pain - hard to explain. I did not had any meds over the last week but I do lay down every 2-3 hours for 5-30 min on my tummy. I am going to spain in 2 weeks and fricking out - how I am going to survive it? I want to enjoy it!
  • Is yours a disk problem at L5-S1? Are there other issues?

    I wondered if you had looked into the McKenzie method of physical therapy? He has a number of books out that are on the order of "self-help" books. He does a lot of exercises with the back in extension. One of his premises is to get the pain to move up from sciatic pain into the back, and he claims that by doing all his extension exercises several (many?) times per day, this will be the result. You can find a web page about Robin McKenzie and his theories if you are interested.

    It is probable that there are changes in your herniation. There would be chemical changes that might effect the pain, as well as changes when the material dries up or otherwise moves off the nerve. Inflammation can increase or decrease changing the pain....The idea is that one day it will completely move off the nerve and you will feel good again.
  • L4/L5. No other issues (thank god!),

    Weird how we measure progress. Ever lose weight and not notice it but one day you look into a mirror you haven't looked into for over a year and realize, wow!

    About 5 weeks ago my girlfriend spent the night. I was in pain but determined. haha. I took 2 hydrocodones and lots of ibu's, but when we tried the spoon position, OMG, the pain shot through my back and down my leg. I had to lay flat on my back for 15 minutes for the throbbing to stop. Last night, same senario, but no hydrocodones, only a couple ibu's. Spooning for the first 10 minutes or so, a little pain. After 10 mins it started to hurt, but not too bad. Just changed position and the pain subsided.

    One thing I've learned is to keep the sciatic swelling down. If it doesn't hurt, I don't take ibu's. But if it hurts, I take as many ibu's as necessary. I don't want to develop sciatica apart from my back injury. Ibu's are my friend!
  • I haven't had surgery and I've been off work for 15 months. I've had 5 Epidurals 3 sets of facet joint injections and 64 trigger point injections. I've tried accupuncture traction and lots of meds. I just started Cymbalta 2 days ago. It makes me really tired but I feel less pain with it. I'm still awaiting a Neurosurgeon appt. If offered I would have surgery 25 months of pain hasn't been great. I'm supposed to go to my cousin's wedding in Sept. I would love to sit through that. I hope your herniated disc heals on it's own. I thought I was getting better also but the pain just keeps coming. 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
  • From what I've read online, little is known about the back. Some people have the smallest buldges and are in terrible pain, while others with full herniations have minor discomfort. Some with major extrusions get an MRI in 6 months and it's completely gone. I'm guessing the majority of us fall somewhere in between.

    My NS told me it came down to 2 things. Are you getting better and can you tolerate the pain. Pretty unscientific, but it's the best they've got.

    I'm so glad I got an MRI. It gave me something to focus on. I knew exactly what the problem was. For 10.00 I got the full MRI and software to view it. It's not just a snapshot like an xray. You can travel through your body in 2D slices and see every part of the injury. Let's you see the enemy.
  • Great topic, it's good to see that there are people out there that don't opt for surgery. Seems like most message boards focus on surgery or post-surgery. Well here's my story

    I am trying the non-surgery route. The past few years I have been having bouts of lower back pain, I never had an MRI done during these episodes but usually some rest, muscle relaxers and pain medication would clear up the problem.

    Two months ago I was feeling pretty good, no back pain and then one morning I woke up with a pain behind my left knee. After about a week it was hurting all the time with such intensity that I couldn't sit, walk, stand or lay down. I went to the doctor and he said I had sciatica, gave me some pain medication and sent me to Physical Therapy. I didn't understand at the time that sciatica was a symptom not a cause. After another week the pain got worse and spread into my left calf, ankle and foot. I could walk only a few steps and had to go down to the floor and lay there for a few minutes, I was miserable.

    I went back to the doctor and he ordered an MRI which showed a herniated L4/L5 disc that was pressing mainly on my left sciatic nerve (a little on the right too but I had no symptoms at that time on the right side). The doctor also had me setup an appointment with the surgeon (4 weeks away).

    During the 4 weeks waiting for the appointment with the surgeon I started researching herniated discs. I continued my physical therapy and 800MG of Motrin during this time. I also discovered the McKenzie Method and checked out some books on it from the library. I slowly incorporated the back extension exercises into my daily routine along with addressing my posture problems. About three weeks of the exercises and I started to notice a real difference. I was able stop the medication, I could walk, stand and sit for longer periods, in general I was starting to feel better. I still had pain in my left leg/foot but it was not as intense, there were even periods of being pain free.

    I finally saw the surgeon but when I went in I already had by mind set against it surgery but what the hell I waited 4 weeks to see him so I went expecting him to say I need surgery but to my surprise the surgeon did not push surgery, he thinks I will continue to improve and said to come see him in 3 months if I still having pain that effect my "quality of life".

    It's been a total of two months since the pain first started. There are days where I have almost no pain. I still occasionally take Motrin, I am still in Physical Therapy and I am continuing the McKenzie exercises along with lots walking.

    However yesterday I had my first setback and the radiating pain has returned in my left leg/ankle and now even some in the right leg/ankle. Needless to say I am pretty depressed and feel like I am starting over but I try to focus on the fact that I was progressively getting better and I am still better today than 5-6 weeks ago.

    I also keep reminding myself that it took many years to ruin my back and it will be a long process to heal it.

    Anyways I have never posted to a message board before but I found your topic while surfing the web and it brought me some hope.
  • Hi and welcome. I just want to say that even 6 months after the scary episode I have set backs every week or two. Good news that I takes 24 hours of rest to clear them up. 4 month ago after set back I t took a week or two. So do not be alarmed too much!
  • I haven't posted in a month. Guess that's what happens when you get better! About 5 days ago noticed a profound difference. Sleeping wasn't a rollercoaster. I guess it's the difference between not being sure if you're going to hurt in the morning and knowing you wont. For the last 5 days I haven't dreaded sleep.

    And today, for the first time in 3 months, I've taken only one 200mg ibuprofen (around noon). I'm not in general pain. It only hurts if I bend over and only in the back (putting on socks, etc). To give it a number, I'd say I'm 65% better. No more explosive pain. No more numbness. Just little isolated pings in the calf and top of foot.

    What's weird is my sciatic nerve feels warm. A good warm. And my left leg feels good when I rotate my foot. That feeling you get in the morning when you first stretch.
  • hi i am new to the world of sciatic pain. it seems there is no one way to deal with it. i have a herniated l3-l4 disc, and 2 other bulging discs. my journey began in february 2009. so far i have had 2 epidurals and am having my third in about 1 week. i also had a course of oral prednison in march. it helped but the pain came back as soon as i went off. now i am taking ibu in all crazy amounts. any suggestions on how best to take ibu? also throw in a tylenol every now and then and valium as a muscle relaxer. i do have a tens unit but am not sure how often to use it. the pain in unbearable in the morning. i was feeling great for about month but have been back down the dark side the past week or so. am currently going for pt. sometimes i wonder if that makes it worse. should i be stretching even when in pain? i am so confused. help...
  • Hi and welcome to the website -- I've been suffering with severe sciatic pain in my left leg from herniated disc L4/L5 since October of 08 - had 3 epidurals and am now going for a second opinion with another ortho doc recommended by my primary care physician. You didn't mention if your doctor has put you on something like Lyrica for nerve pain or tramadol (for pain). That's what I'm on right now. And yes, I've had several prednisone packs before my three epidurals. If you have questions about how to dose yourself with the ibu my suggestion is to check with your pharmacist (I find mine so helpful -- he's my "go to" guy) or your doctor. I've heard it can cause ulcers if taken for too long in high doses.

    I feel your sense of frustration with trying to cope with pain, pain meds, tens, exercise, heat, ice, massage, chiro, acupuncture -- it's quite the merry go round! I've had a flare up this past week that's had me bed bound for the most part and I know how it gets to your emotions -- To answer your question about exercise (stretching) while in pain -- I did some specific sciatic stretches - gently -- while in pain and it didn't hurt me -- I, like you, can't for the life of me figure out why some weeks the pain is manageable at about a 4 or 5 and I can have a little normalcy to my life and then it flares up and I feel like an invalid.

    I find comfort switching been heat and ice on the parts and pieces of me that hurt --

    Take care and hope your're feeling better real soon!
  • One thing I've learned is to appreciate improvement but never claim victory. I haven't had explosive pain for about a month now. Some nights I can sleep on my side, other nights I can't. My overall pain range is about 1-4 vs. 4-10 about 2 months ago.

    I use as much ibuprofen (200mg) as I need. I now take one before bed, one or two in the morning, depending if I'm riding my motorcycle to work. Two around 2pm so my ride home is comfortable. And that's about it.

    I've figured out one neat stretch. I lay on my stomach (on carpet for friction), tuck my elbows under my chest, raising my head, then slowly pull forward while completely relaxing my torso and legs. I concentrate on feeling my low spine stretch. It usually pops once or twice.
  • Well i have had my third esi today and so far i can't see any help from it the last 2 the relief was immediate..... i popped some vicodin because i just need some time without pain. last night was awful with out anything. i saw on orthosurgeon about a week ago. he said no surgery. my pc dr wants me to see a neurosurgeon so that will happen in about 2 weeks. thia has been going on since february and i can stick it out if there is an end in sight. i really don't like to take the meds. but maybe i should just take them and get relief rather than try to take very few and not have the relief i need? my pt said that it didn't seem to be helping me so we put that on hold. i do walk on my treadmill 30 minutes a day. if the weather ever gets warm i will try swimming too. i guess i am just really depressed today because i was hoping for more relief than i have gotten today. it is nice to see that people actually improve though without surgery and that taking meds is not so awful....
  • You know what I'm suspecting? The best thing to do is take ibuprofen (master this), walk, don't lift anything, and just accept the reality of doing nothing for 6 months. I'm really suspecting that stretching is bad. pt and inversion are bad. I'm suspecting that stretching is good injury prevention, but after injury it just inflames and prolongs sciatica. Just a suspicion.

    Tricks I've learned:
    If my leg is about to throb, look down.
    If I have to sneeze or cough, stand and push my hips forward.
    Forget speed walking or running. Slow walking is my friend. Great time to bond with my dog.
  • I've been told (by PT and other research) that stretching (particularly hamstrings) can indeed inflame sciatica.

    As you said, it's great before the sciatic inflammatory cycle begins, but can make things worse once you are already in pain.

    Exercise (gentle walking or, even better, walking in water) is good as long as you aren't in excruciating pain. In general, my PT lady says just changing position throughout the day can help (sitting stinks... for me and many sciatic patients, any forward bend -- which includes sitting if you think about it -- is the worst).

    The PT I've chosen (McKenzie Method certified) doesn't do any agressive stretching. So far, big changes just from her educating me on posture, how to get out of bed, up from the floor, in and out of the car, put on my socks, etc. And I always considered myself pretty knowledgeable about this stuff... am a part time yoga teacher (well, I was!) and a very active (hike daily and swim 3 x a week) person. But I'm learning a lot about how to get a flare up (when the pain goes up above a 4, which happens all day long currently) and then stay out of it and keep things at a 0 or 1 to 2.

    Good luck!

  • I agree that stretching when you are in acute pain is not good, I tried it and it always seemed to make it worse (or when my PT would try streching me I always felt worse after) . However once the constant pain settled down I think that light stretching has really helped me. The last couple days I have added some hamstring stretches and I must admit that I think it really has made a difference, I feel almost normal again. I still have a little pain when walking or sitting too long but it's tollerable.

    I think every person is different and needs to listen to his/her body. That's the most important thing I have learned the past 2 1/2 months is to slow down and listen. If I am starting to feel pain I stop what I am doing. If I am sitting and start to feel stiff or pain I get up and move, if I am moving and it starts to hurt I sit down or lay down.

    I have a little "emergency" routine that I do when I start to feel like I am going to have a setback. For me it's a few minutes of extension exercises (Mckenzie method) followed by 5 minutes of laying on the floor with my feet up on the couch followed by 15 minutes of ice on my back. And depending on how I feel afterwards I may take some motrin. Usually if I do this I feel much better and knock on wood it's been working.

    Some tips that I found help me
    * Avoid bending forward at all costs
    * when I have to pick something up I go down to one knee keeping my back straight
    * I Fixed my posture sitting, sleeping and walking(Mckenzie Books helped)
    * I am careful when I sit or strand up especially getting in and out of the car
    * I use a rolled towel behind my back when sitting at work or driving in the car (again Mckenzie trick)
    * Ice on my back seems to really work for me
    * Always look up and do a quick back extension when I have to sneeze or cough

    For some easy stretches that have helped me look up books by Robin McKenzie and Pete Egoscue.

    Hope this helps someone.

  • For me the trick was realizing they weren't the same thing. My protrusion is definitely better but the sciatica was persisting due to my 'get it fixed' attitude. It's like developing pneumonia after the germs are already gone.
  • seems the 3rd esi has kicked in. whew. at least a little relief for a while. the last one lasted about 6 weeks. Hope this one lasts as least that long. i can stretch now without too much pain. i guess i just have to be careful not to overdo. am going to a neurosurgeon for another opinion on monday. the ortho surgeon said no to surgery. that is all well and good but that doesn't help the pain. i am taking 2 aleve twice a day and have vicodin for any pain that the aleve doesn't get. i spoke to a radiologist i work with about herniated discs and sciatica. he had this situation a few years ago. he opted for no surgery. did light stretching, lost weight, strengthened his core muscles, and did lots of extensions and watched his posture, no bending. said it took him 6 months to feel better and a year to be back to normal. now it is just a be careful game for him. that was very encouraging. i am curious what the neuro guy will say.
  • Can't speak for everyone, but the natural way is working for me and I had a hell of a protrusion. The hardest part was not letting it get the best of me. Many times I thought, "I'm just getting this thing out of me!" so I know what everyone is going through. A living hell. I look at everything differently now.

    Week 1: Why does my butt hurt?
    Week 3: I really need to see a doctor.
    Month 2-3: Living hell. I'm permanently broken.
    Month >3: I can sleep pain free! I can even ride my motorcycle to work! I just can't overdo it.
    Month 4: ?
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