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Will a 'extrusion' be reabsorbed by the body?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:39 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I am new to the club, I wish I weren't. I had a rupture of the L5S1 about a month ago. My symptoms felt like I had a gigantic cramp in both the back of my thigh and my calf on the left side. A recent MRI confirmed there is a "rather large extrusion" of disc material. I'll be having a surgical consult next week. I have been seeing PT for the last three weeks and have made some progress. The 'drop foot' is improving and the pain level is dramatically lower. I have numbness in my left foot and a siginificant limp. MY PT is telling me that, with continued therapy, over the next 6 months I have a very good chance of full recovery. I am very acitve riding mountain bikes, road bikes, hiking and am a farmer, I'd like to keep this lifestyle. This process, according to him, will include my body "reabsorbing" all or a portion of the extrusion. He is using ultrasound to help facilitate this.

Does anyone have any experience with this? Can the body really reabsorb extruded disc material? He is very much against my having any surgery and I'd like to believe him. I am doing my best to educte myself in advance.

Thank you very much for your thoughts,



  • I'm not a medical professional, but I'll give you some information from what I've learned (or think I've learned) and you can take it for what it's worth. E.G, it and a $1.50 will probably buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Reabsorbing, or realigning of the disc material will all depend on the nature of the injury to the disc. If, as in my case, the discs are torn through the annulus (tougher ring surrounding the disc) on both sides and all the soft stuff in the middle has squished out, then you've got about a snowball's chance in you-know-where of that material being reabsorbed. Small herniations have been known to diminish. There are also procedures (like one I was considering before I knew how badly my discs were damaaged) where they thread a tiny wire into the center of the disc and heat it with some current to cause the disc to shrink back into the disc space. I think any of these things would be preferable to what you would most likely face surgically -- a discectomy. The reason why? So many folks (me included) have found that by having that extruded piece of disc removed, the spine becomes a bit more unstable and further problems occur, eventually leading to the need for a fusion. Now, that said, I'm sure there have been a large handful of people who have had a micro-discectomy and have been super fine afterwards. I felt GREAT for six month, then wham. So -- If your PT is helping, I'd go with it. Surgery should always be your last option. If you can avoid it, do it.

    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • Welcome to the club, BeanMan. I wish you weren't here! LOL

    Anyways, I can tell you about my experiences...

    My first herniation (that I'm aware of at least) occured in Oct 2001 with my L5-S1. I didn't see a copy of my MRI report (I didn't know enough then, I was just a baby spiney at the age of 24) so I don't know if they classified it as an extrusion or how big it was. I was told that I herniated, after seeing a pain management doc who ordered the MRI. I had been treated with a Medrol DosePak (oral steroids), Flexeril (muscle relaxer) and Vicodin (narcotic pain med) by my PCP. My pain doc was confident that the disc would resorb and that 6 weeks of PT would help (and avoid surgery). With that herniation, it happened in my sleep. Nothing like waking up thinking you have a charlie-horse except I quickly realized it was in my back! I did not experience any foot-drop or leg weakness, only sciatic and lower back pain. The PT worked for me and I did avoid surgery. It seems that herniation did resorb.

    Herniation #2 happened in September '07, again, while I was sleeping! I was just waking up and twisted to the left while laying on my right side and *BOOM* I herniated another disc, only this time at L4-L5. Once I had an MRI in Oct '07, my PM doc immediately referred me to the neurosurgeon because my herniation was a large extrusion. I did also have an epidural steroid injection, which didn't work for me. This time I experienced foot weakness, (not full foot drop) as well as sciatic and lower back pain. This time I had a micro-discectomy in Dec '07. I had a nice recovery except for a fall 3 weeks post-op.

    Herniation #3 (my current issue)...I didn't have a moment I can point to, but I started having symptoms again in Sept '09 and saw my doc for the med cocktail (steroids, muscle relaxers, pain meds). Once I stopped the steroids, the pain came back and off I went to the pain doc. My MRI showed I have herniated again L4-L5 (where I had my surgery). I've had 2 epidurals this time. My pain was getting worse. I experienced a progression of my symptoms (foot & leg numbness) 3 days after ESI #2 and was started another round of steroids. Amazingly, my pain has DISAPPEARED! I don't know how long it will last but I am still going to see my neurosurgeon next Monday.

    All in all, nobody really knows for sure but the studies show that over time (I think 1 or 2 years?), people experience the same outcome. Those that have surgery experience relief faster. So yes, it does happen, at least for me it did and then it didn't!

    I will say though that this is only the beginning. Learn as much as you can. Arm yourself with the tools. I haven't been the best patient myself. You start to feel good and let your exercises fall to the wayside. Then life happens! I probably have picked the worse occupation for a spiney, I became a nurse in 2005 and I know this has a lot to do with my continuing back problems. (I had many visits to my primary doc since '05 for the med cocktail before my surgery...)

    Sorry this was so long, I hope it helps. :)

  • Thanks Christine and Farmgrrl for your comments. Keep them coming.

    Farmgrrl, you must be having some kind of dreams to herniate in your sleep!

  • I guess it just goes to show that it doesn't take much to herniate (twice!). I only wish I had a heroic story to explain it all LOL
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