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AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
Hi, my girlfriend has been suffering from sciatic pain for about 6 weeks now. She is 26 years old and has a history of back pain. When she first injured herself she was laid up in bed for about a week with some back pain but intense pain in her left calf. The doctor diagnosed her as having an inflamed L7 disc that was pushing up on her nerve (i think that's what it was).

After about a week she had was able to stand and walk for short periods without pain, but she was still unable to sit. After about a week of walking she re-injured herself (she believes it was a short car ride in a small car where she had to sit) and was only able to lie on the ground for another week.

From that incident she was laid up again for about a week and a half. She slowly tried to incorporate walking again. She was able to, but with some weakness in her leg.

She was mobile again for about another week until last night where she was struck by intense back pain and leg pain that ran all the way from the foot to her glut.

The pain is so intense that the 2 vicodin she took was only enough to dull it slightly. After a few hours she the pain subsided and she tried to turn over onto her back, but the pain returned more intensely. She is now on her stomach on some pillows afraid to move. We have been icing it and currently there is only stiffness in her back.

Has anyone experienced this? Has anyone had pain flair up out of the blue? Mostly she doesn't know what caused her to regress and she's afraid to do anything else that might cause more harm.

Thanks for listening


  • Unfortunately your girlfriends story is all too familiar with many of us. Has she been to the doctor recently? When the doc diagnosed her initially, was it just via an examination or did he have her get xrays or an MRI? Does she have insurance that will allow her to see the doc again?

  • She has insurance, thankfully. She has a doctors appointment tomorrow in which he will go over her MRI she got a week ago.

    Right now she's seeing an orthopedic doctor. So far he has prescribed 2 packs of oral steroids and pain meds, as well as PT.

    Her condition isn't consistent though. She gets better for a week, only to have an attack and lay her up again. For the most part the doctor tells her to just rest and not move. But he also tells her to walk around if possible to she doesn't develop weakness. His best advise so far has been to just keep it neutral and rest.

    I'm considering looking into a spine specialist for her. She doesn't seem to be getting better (although she does for short periods).
  • I'd say, based on my own experience, that it's very positive that she can get to points where she is relatively pain free, even though it's recurring.

    My guess is that her herniation (by the way, i don't think there is an "l7" disk... the lumbar disks end at L5) isn't so far out that it's pretty easy for the swelling to subside and she feels better.

    But then maybe she isn't careful enough once she's feeling better and reaggravates it. REmember, the sciatica is just a symptom. So even if the symptom goes away the injury is still there.

    I'd say find some books on the McKenzie Method... a very gentle approach to both alleviating the pain and then taking care of the back to heal and prevent reinjury.

    And tell her to be patient. This could be a long haul. It's frustrating to hear that, but many of us have been in pain for months before something finally works.

    Ice works for me. Walking in the pool also keeps me mobile. Sitting might feel ok but according to every doc and PT I talk to it's murder on my back. Laying on my tummy and gently pushing up with my hands under my shoulders to "extend" the spine helps (but not when in the middle of an acute flare up). No pain meds do anything for me, but I do take a little Ibuprofen bc it helps with swelling. The hot tub at the gym (without the "bubbles" on) feels good.

    Hang in there and don't let her do any lifing or bending.

  • Is the orthopedic doctor an orthopedic spinal surgeon? Spinal surgeons should be either neurosurgeons or orthopedic spinal surgeons who have had fellowship training in the back and spine and should devote their practice to these issues.

    People can have a "situational sciatica" which comes and goes. There can be a flare for a couple months and then it can go away for years.

    Any issue with the spine takes a long time to heal. Getting better for a week means very little with back injuries.

    She may have something constricting one of the spinal nerves that rubs against the spine at times, but then not at others. You will have some answers when the MRI is interpreted.
  • Hi! I'm new to this site, but not to leg and back pain. Had L5/S1 discectomy 2/1/07, revision of same 9/17/07 and L5/S1 fusion on 3/26/08. Pain persists, even though I've undergone extensive PT (land and aqua). Do lots of stretching and walking daily. Went back to work part time in February (I'm a teacher), but pain continues to worsen. Now in other side of butt. Ice, ibuprofen and vicodin get me through every day (and night), but just barely. Quality of life stinks big time. Surgeon says "scar tissue" and "you'll get better eventually," but I'm a non-believer at this point. Any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.

    FYI...I consulted w/7 different docs prior to surgeries...neurosurgeons (2) w/back specialties, chiropractors (3) using different modalities, orthopods w/back fellowships (2) as well as tried massage and accupuncture, all in the hopes of avoiding surgery.
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,832
    That can come up with a number of different treatments for her. Since this is basically new to her, now is the best time to address it.
    Your first spinal/back problem can be as painful as your 100th episode... But the main emphasis right now should be to head of additional problems and address what is at hand
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • Hi, sorry your girlfriend is having problems. I can relate well to the pain involved.

    I had varying back problems for a number of years prior to actual sciatic symptoms. At the moment I have ruptured a disc and am layed up, actually typing this from bed 3:45am my time. My pain was initially in the left but now I have major problems in the right (same disc involved). When I did have the left issues it happened very much like your girlfriend, I would get layed up badly then for a week or so be mostly ok, then have problems again. Through physio I managed to get the left side good, for awhile it would still give me a stabbing pain directly after sitting (particularly after car) but eventually the pain subsided completely. I thought this was a good thing but in hindsight I should of seen a spinal specialist at this time. When my right side went the first time at the start of this year I had a CT scan done and although I was suffering on the right and not at all on the left anymore the results showed the left was actually in much worse condition. Now I've entirely ruptured the disc on the right and although the left causes me no pain now I feel it is part of the reason and has contributed. Had I got the left sorted out better early maybe I wouldn't be in my current state. It's good that you've got the MRI done early and you should see a specialist to interpret that for her so she can get pro-active about fixing the problem now rather then later even if the pain does subside.

    The MRI will give you some answers as to what's actually wrong but it won't necessarily relate directly to pain and mobility. I've learned from my first CT scan and discussion with specialist that sometimes a small issue can cause a lot of pain and a large one not so much and vice versa.

    In the meantime, It's probably an individual thing but I have found heat more beneficial then ice for actually alleviating the pain. I've been told the heat doesn't really penetrate far enough to help the nerve but it does relax the glutes a bit and it sort of distracts from the pain. At the moment I'm using heat packs allmost 24 hours a day.

    Anyway,I'll cross my fingers for you the MRI results are good and I hope she can get the pain under control and her life back on track.

  • We went to the doctor's office to take a look at her MRI and get more pain medication. The MRI showed what looked like a rupture in her L4/L5 disc (there was dark discoloration on the disc) and material spilling out the disc going down her spine. We scheduled an epidural for this week and we're going to go in for a surgery consult. The doctor gave her a prescription of percaset and lyrica.

    Currently, she does not have any pain, although 90% of her day she is either lying on her back or her stomach. She gets up to walk for short periods. It looks like she can walk for at least 30mins before the numbness/tingling in her leg turns into pain. After lying down for 5 mins the pain goes away.

    So... here's my questions (cuz i always have them)

    If she doesn't have any constant pain does she need surgery?

    I'm worried about nerve damage. There seems to be at least some nerve compression happening even though she isn't in a lot of pain. Is there a possible danger of permanent damage if she doesn't get the surgery?

    Her last attack happened while she was lying on the ground. It seemed like she wasn't doing anything at the time. Can a disc just flare up/inflame itself for no reason? and will surgery help this?

    There seems to be a lot of different types of discectomies. What are the pro/cons of each procedure?

    If you got this far, thanks for your time. I know there isn't any medical advise people can give. I'm going to be sure to ask her doctor and surgeon these questions, but I was hoping for any anecdotal advice any one can give.

    We're at the surgery or no-surgery crossroad and its pretty scary.
  • When you guys go for the surgery consult, ask the doctor straight up about the chance of permanent nerve damage via surgery or by leaving it alone. Also, what kind of quality of life is it, if she has to lay around all day in order to keep from having a flare up? Life is here to be lived and enjoyed, not to become overweight and out of shape by inactivity. Write down all of your questions and then ask them back and forth between each other and come up with a bigger list for asking the surgeon.

    A discectomy to remove the material from around the nerve root should provide some good relief. It is a fairly routine procedure and most heal up from it without any further issues.

  • For what it's worth, my PT (who is my angel and has completely relieved my pain for 5 days and counting after being at about an 8/10 for weeks), if she can get to zero in terms of pain, there is hope for avoiding surgery.

    Have you researched the McKenzie Method at all and considered having her see a PT registered in this?

    Hey, I know I sound like a fan club for this stuff, but I've had two diskectomies and really thought number three was coming, and all of a sudden I'm pain free. Crazy. All she does is get me on my belly and ask me to report on my pain (where and how severe) and makes minor adjustments to my position until I'm at a zero. Then I do 10 press ups (critical to use only my arms... no back muscles should be engaged), then rest, then another 10. I am to do this every hour.

    Again, I can't tell you what to do.

    Also, the terms "herniation", "bulge", "rupture" etc. are all tossed around a lot and many are innacurate. My understanding is a true "rupture" where the nucleus of the disc squirts out is extremely rare and usually requires emergency intervention. Make sure this is really what's going on... if it's a herniation (also called a bulge) there is hope that the disk can be eased back off the nerve with the right movements.

    I can also tell you I had a great result after each of my two diskectomies. I elected to not have a "micro" version of this surgery... the only benefit, as I understood it, was a smaller incision. Frankly, a scar is a scar. Who cares. My scar is about 2 inches long and is no biggie. My neuro surgeon said, from his perspective, why limit a surgeon's ability to move his hands/instruments or his field of vision? The recovery was easy to... never had a lick of pain and just relief! (But of course I've reherniated twice... even if you guys opt for surgery, PLEASE look into body mechanics and making major adjustments to posture, ergonomics at work, driving, proper lifting/squatting, etc.... this would have made all the difference in my life).

    Best of luck to you both.
  • Thanks for your replies.

    She does go to PT, but i don't know if the PT is registered in the McKenzie Method. I did pick up his book for her and she has been doing the exercises described inside. I think a person who could coach her on the method would be helpful.
  • Just be very careful with any type of back manipulation (PT, chiro, etc.) when you have spine issues. Don't do ANYTHING without discussing it with your doctor/surgeon first - permanent disability and/or nerve damage could be the result if you don't.

  • I agree on making sure her doctor/surgeon clears her for PT. I've been told not to do it due to risks involved. Mine is a true rupture though, the contents have fully come out the side of the disc (was only a bulge at start of year and still has bulge on other side of disc).

    I'm in the same boat with the surgery or not decision, seems highly recommended in my case but the surgeon hasn't said it's an absolute must. It is a scary prospect to deal with. Would love to hear what you decide or if anything is helping a lot without the surgery. Take care.

  • She got the epidural two days ago and she seems to be responding well to it. There is no more pain in her leg and she seems to be able to freely stand and walk. There is still a tingling in her calf and foot. She also still has weakness in her toe. She has another epidural scheduled for next week and the week after that she has a consult with a surgeon.

    One of my concerns is that the epidural will only give temporary relief. She is also afraid to sit for long periods of time because she does not want a re-injury.

    Her doctor has said that epidural or no, it would take around 4 months for the disk to "heal". She will forever have a weak disk, but hopefully a normal life.

    I think ideally, we want to wait for her to be healthy enough for PT so that back exercises and strengthening can help protect her weak disk. Right now she feels its too soon.
  • I could be wrong, but I thought the difference between micro and open discectomy also included the cutting of muscles. I believe that in micro they simply move the back muscles to gain access to the disc without cutting them, while in open discectomy they cut right through the back muscles.

    I have had open and am considering micro, so any clarification on this will be helpful. I know that the open discectomy took months of rest and rehab, where I have been told a couple weeks of rests followed buy 4-6 weeks of rehab for micro.

    Thanks for the help.

  • are you sure about the location of the pain ?you mentioned an L7 in a normal spine it stops at L5 some of us have an L6 {me!} is the pain in her lower spine ? because the normal sciatica pain comes from L4/5 and S1 .i have never heard of an L7 .anyway i hope that she gets sorted out .
  • As you may know, they say that most disc herniations will heal on their own over a period of a few months, whether there is treatment or not. Obviously, not all do and your girlfriend will have to decide when and what to do about her back.

    I was 24 when I injured my back by bending over for appx about 20 minutes shoveling grain with a big grain scoop. Didn't stand up until I was done and then I couldn't stand straight and could barely put one foot in front of the other one for the next 2 weeks. Never went to a doctor because I already knew I'd damaged my lower back and didn't think there was much that could be done about it. The acute pain did eventually go away but I've been plagued by lumbar problems ever since. Looking back on that injury now (age 61) I'm not sure I did myself any favor by not seeking treatment. Over the years have had endless battle with pain and trying to get a decent night's sleep. In recent years have had sciatica, feelings of rocks in my shoe, pain in my lower leg and the inability to stand straight or walk normally when getting up out of a chair. Cannot stand stationary for more than about 5 minues at a time, must shift weight from foot to foot. Would all of those years of pain been alleviated if I'd gotten treatment at the time of my injury? Who knows, but if I were your girlfriend I'd keep trying everything to get this injury satisfactorily resolved and if surgery is the only way to do it, then I'd go for it.

    Keep us posted on how she's doing and give her our well wishes! :)

    2009 Foraminotomy C6-72010 PLIF L4-S1Multi RFA's, cervical inj, lumbar injLaminectomy L3-4 and fusion w/internal fixation T10-L4 July 17Fusion C2-C5 yet to be scheduled
  • I think that you are a wonderful boyfriend by trying to get information for your girlfriend. When you are in pain (or just not well), we need loved ones who are caring and helpful. Having someone who cares and wants to help makes going through this painful ordeal a little bit easier. Thank goodness I have my husband who has been awesome.

    As for your girlfriend, I think she will know when it is time for surgery. I tried every thing before I decided to have my surgeries. At the end, no amount of pain medications, physical therapies, and injections could alleviate the pain. The quality of my life was ....... well

    I needed a drastic intervention to get rid of my pain.

    I wish her well.
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