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Please Help! Post Op pain is WORSE than pre-op!

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,670
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:38 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hello...I am new to this forum and am looking for someone who may have some advice. For the past 18 months, I have had what I considered to be severe sciatic pain in my left buttock area and down my left leg, as well as some numbness down the outer side of my ankle. Most of the pain occurred upon standing or bending, etc., but it was definitely enough to keep me from doing many of the things I love in life. A year ago I had an MRI that confirmed a slight L4/L5 disc herniation. I tried all the conservative measures (chiro, PT, 5 steroid injections) and after a year and a half of no relief, was encouraged by my primary care doc and the orthopedic surgeon to go for the micro-discectomy. The surgeon who performed it last week is the chief of the Spine Surgery dept., and has done this for 20 years with great success. Everyone said I was a great candidate for success based on my age, fitness level, location of pain, etc.

Anyway, I know it's only been 6 days, but, the pain I am experiencing post-surgery is 10x worse than what I had before surgery. Not only is the pain itself more constant as opposed to intermittent, it is much more severe and my left foot and ankle are completely numb. I spent 7 hours in the Emergency Dept at the hospital on Saturday b/c the doc on call said there could be blood pooling in the area causing the increased pain and numbness, so I needed to have it checked out. Of course they didn't find any cause for alarm, but sent me home with Prednisone and Percocet, which are only providing some relief from the pain. They did not do an MRI at the ER.

The surgeon has called to check on me, and said it is too early to be concerned about re-herniation, but I am worried. Is it normal to have the pain get so much worse before it gets better? He said it's not unheard of, but, people I know who have had this done have had almost instant pain relief. My husband and I almost got into a car accident on the way home from the hospital the day of surgery, so I'm wondering whether the swerving and hitting the brakes hard to avoid the car coming into our lane could have jarred something out of whack in there?

If anyone has had a similar experience, I'd appreciate hearing from you! Should I push for another MRI to confirm that all is well, or just wait it out? I can't live on this much pain medication with 2 young kids at home!

Thank you!


  • I was about to give you my "you are very early in recovery" speech before I saw the part about the almost auto accident on the way home from hospital...in my mind that kind of changes the equation.

    Many people think it is OK to ride in cars after surgery, or after a week or two of recovery, but it is less benign than it seems. If you really analyze what the body does when riding in a car, you are less stable than if you were driving. At least in the part of the country where I live, it is nearly impossible to find a "smooth" road. There are bumps, potholes, and even when the pavement looks OK, there is the little swerve to avoid a runner or cyclist, or Canadian geese, etc. So the soft tissue, particularly the muscles that support the spine are gripping and tensing in an effort to "guard" the newly traumatized area of the spine (i.e., surgical site). Even in minimally invasive surgeries, there is a certain amount of stress and trauma. Inflammation is usually unavoidable, etc...and the area would just like to be left alone to recovery. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Sitting in a moving vehicle is more stressful to the spine than if the person is reclining at home, on a stable surface.

    In your case you didn't even have a chance to find out if the surgery was going to resolve your pain problems (had they operated at the right segment--the pain generator?) before your spine was thrown into a new situation with a certain amount of force exerted upon it. I certainly don't know specifically what techniques were used on you, and what could now have gone wrong, but I think if I were you, I would pursue this.

    Did you tell the surgeon about the car trip home? It is sometimes difficult to get a clear MRI right after surgery -- even several weeks later can be problematic. But I would certainly keep on top of things.

    In the meantime don't overdo it. Try to walk several times each day -- not far, but enough to stretch out the spinal nerves so scar tissue has less chance to attach to the nerve. Avoid bending or twisting at the waist, reaching up overhead or to the side; no pushing or pulling (like don't decide to push some furniture or a carton somewhere across the room)no vacuuming, sweeping, raking leaves, anything with a twisting and pulling action, even be careful getting dressed...people rupture discs taking off a boot or shoe while standing.... Drink lots of water, get plenty of rest and do what you can to get the inflammation down. Ice 15 minutes on every hour, (or as often as you can) during the day. Limit the amount of time you spend sitting. Get up about every 20 minutes and walk around a bit, or lie down. The first three weeks are very important in this regard. Sitting puts 30% more pressure on the spine than standing, and lying down is best to reduce the load on the discs, preferably on a harder surface like the floor or floor with yoga cushion!

    Sorry this is so long. I know you are very stressed as you expected to come out feeling much better like your friends did. Unfortunately there are no guarantees where spine surgery is involved. Your outcome is different and you'll be better off to accept that and work to find solutions. Your case will probably just take more time. Try to be patient and maintain a positive attitude. It really is very important in your recovery.

    Please post with questions and concerns. There are lots of wonderful people on the board who are happy to share their experiences!!

  • Hi Gwennie...Thank you so much for your thorough reply...for some reason, I did not even think about the near-miss accident as a factor until today, so, I will definitely mention it to the surgeon. I have my 2-week follow-up with the Nurse Practitioner on Tuesday, so they may order another MRI at that point. I am trying to follow all the right recovery procedures, but I may be over-doing the walking thing, and I did push the vacuum around on Sunday. I've been in the car every day to take my son to preschool as well. They said I could drive the day after my procedure, but with the narcotics, I don't feel comfortable doing so. My Dad is here from Michigan and has been the chauffeur this week, as well as the chef and cleaning crew, etc. I am thankful for his help and my husband is a great help as well when he gets home from work. The kids are doing their part too, so, I am getting a lot of rest.

    Thank you again for your advice and encouragement. May I add you as a buddy?

  • Hi,

    I will recommend not being in the car that much too soon. I would also mention the near accident to your dr. at the 2 week follow up. Glad you remembered that.

    I had my surgery 3 months ago. I did get significant leg pain shortly after and was concerned but apparently it is not uncommon. They told me call with any concerns so I did call them a few times. At week 6, I wasn't where I expected to be or the doctor expected me. They put me on prednisone to help reduce the inflammation from surgery which they felt could be contributing to my slow recovery.
    They said if in 4 weeks I was till in same place, they'd send me for another MRI.

    And today I went for a 2nd MRI (week 12).
    I still have same numbness, good deal of leg pain, back pain. I'd say I'm a bit better b/c I can walk further than before surgery but am not progressing. Post Surgery they will have to do a contrast MRI. I had 2 parts to MRI today - regular and then with dye injected which I guess helps reduce the scar tissue from the image.

    Key - follow doctors order. Walking is good, bending is bad, lifting is bad, twisting is bad. Too much time in car is not good b/c your body is reacting to turns and curves, etc.

    Stay connected with the doctor.
    I will tell you that based on what my doctor said (my surgery was gratifying and I should feel a lot better within 6 weeks) and what I felt, I did push for MRI at my last appt because I had read that with micro surguries, fragments can be left behind. Since I'm not where I expected or where dr expected, he did say it made sense to get an MRI just for peace of mind.
  • What's this about VACUUMING? Did you know that's one of the worst things you can do for your back? I remember that after my microdiscectomy, I was told no vacuuming for six months! Do tell your doc about the near accident -- the others are right -- that may have had an impact on your condition. Also, when they remove that disc material that has been pressing on your nerve, you can experience substantial nerve pain as your nerve tries to "regenerate." This may be the pain you are experiencing now. I hope they are able to get it under control for you, that you have no further damage, and that your recovery will go smoothly from hear on out.


    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • I am 11 days post surgery - I didn't have a herniation, but I had a synovial cyst at the same site, L4-5 with a laminectomy. I had the same symptoms as you pre-surgery and I too am having worse pain since the surgery than I had before. Severe pain and cramping in my left thigh & calf, with pain in my ankle. Cramping in my leg so bad at night that I was literally screaming. I have tried a prednisone dose pack, adjustment of pain meds and also a seizure medication, Trileptin which is supposed to calm the nerves in my leg.
    I also am very frustrated and had an excellent surgeon who does not know why I am still suffering. I had my leg symptoms for over a year before I got treatment, he thinks possibly my nerves have been so irritated for so long that they will take longer to heal.
    BUT - vacuuming? NOT GOOD. I was not allowed to drive the entire first week after surgery. I don't have kids, so I imagine you do not have much opportunity to rest. But try, please. Too much too soon will only make you heal slower.Take care.
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