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My fight against my herniated disc

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
I am new to this forum and this is my first post. I am 28 years old and a computer nerd plagued with bad posture from sitting at a desk all day. I believe my injury occurred in October of 2008 and by April of 09 it got so bad that I finally went to the doctor - My PCP sent me to physical therapy thinking it was a muscle in my back that was causing the issue. I went to PT for 2 months and got some relief but was nowhere close to normal. My PT gave up on me and sent me back to my doctor.

Before I went back to my doctor I went to a chiropractor for about a month. He was able to relieve some pain but it still wasn't enough for me. I went back to my PCP and sent me to an Orthopedic Surgeon who took one look at me and said, “You have a herniated disc.” We got an MRI to confirm and sure enough it is a bulge in the L5 pressing up against the S1 nerve? This was confirmed in early December.

Up to this point I describe my pain at around a 6 or 7 out of 10. I can walk around with a slight limp and sleep fine, sitting for long times is painful and getting in and out of the car hurts. Going to the movie theatre is out of the question. I still feel I am better off than most as I am still pretty mobile and active and can usually deal with the pain. Laying down will make things feel better. Before my back issues I used to be a runner and into Jiu-jitsu, these I can no longer do but want to get back into it someday (Maybe skipping the running).

I had an injection 3 and half weeks ago and felt instant relief. I felt almost no pain and was walking completely normal like my old self; it felt so good it almost brought me to tears. After about 2 weeks the pain came back a little bit but nothing like it was before. I am going to the gym and doing stretches and feel like I am heading in the right direction. I am nervous that the injection is just masking the issue and that I am not actually getting better and that it’s just the medicine.

I feel my options are to get the microdiscecotmy or just keep exercising. Will either option get the pain to go away and put me back to normal? I’ve read to many bad stories about the surgery that I am really hesitant to do it, but a part of me wants to feel that normal feeling I had with the injection so bad that I am willing to gamble it. Will going down the exercise and stretching routine get me to a point where I am satisfied? I have read stories about people doing things like the McKenzie workout that have helped. Maybe I should try PT again, this time focusing on a herniated disc, instead of a muscle spasm. I am afraid if I try fighting it off, that if I wait too long it will only make it harder to fix with surgery. So far I am up to a year and four months.

The orthopedic surgeon I am going to was recommended to me from a friend who got the surgery with no problems, and I really like this guy. Should I get a second opinion from a neurologist anyway? And how do I tell him that I want a second opinion. My dad had this surgery twice, once by a ortho surgeon and one by a neuro surgeon. The first one done by an ortho surgeon was unsuccessful and the one done by the neuro surgeon worked. Any suggestions for me would be greatly appreciated.


  • You story matches most including myself just mine happened from trauma. IMHO I would not consider the surgery until the last option especially if the epiduiral helped so much. Honestly most folks go for a series of these shots (most 3) as long as they continue to help.

    I have been fighting this for now a year and I believe I am closer to the end than the beginning. You need to keep up with the PT and make lifestyle changes like more standing, plenty of walking and continue PT. Also plenty of ice, ice, ice!

    I also find it hard to believe that your surgeon will operate on you unless you are pretty much bed ridden. As long as other treatments are helping most will not touch your case. It all depends on also the MRI results meaning the severity of the herniation.

  • My second injection is this Friday and the third in another 4 weeks.

    I would like to get information on the PT side. Are there physical trainers that specialize in this type of exercise besides the typical PT rehab? Currently I ride a bike at a gym for 30-40 minutes and do a couple of stretches that I was doing when I originally went to PT for a suspected back muscle problem. I would love to work with an expert is this type of injury to point me in a better direction. I am going to look into swimming the next couple of weeks.

  • What should be happening but alot of times does not is that your doctor should advise your PT of your condition and than the PT person should be planning your therapy accordingly doing exercises and stretches that will help with your condition.

    Unfortunately I have found this not to always be the case and would look at this site for some simple exercises to help with a herniated disc. They are easy to find through the menus. Print them out and if you are not confident bring them to PT to make sure you have correct form.

    I would also add that I would try and make other life style changes like standing more and such. I am also surprised that you can still ride a bike as that is usually difficult for most. I would really do more walking.

    good luck...

  • I recently received my second injection and it didn't go as well as the first one. This one was more painful and 2 days after I was incredibly sore. I am also getting sharp shooting pains down my leg which I wasn't getting before. I feel like it really set me back a bit. Before I went in, I would give my pain level a 2-3, now I am at a 4-5. This is probably my last injection. I have a consult with my Dr on the 21st and am going to mention I want to give PT a second shot and get a second opinion from a Neuro. I am concerned about how my left leg and left side of my back may be suffering from the pain/weakness in the leg and the fact that I do most of everything with my right side.

    The bike I was riding was one of the exercise bikes with the back support. I have since stopped using that and just been walking on the treadmill. I feel this is a better more natural motion for my situation. I am currently considering getting into swimming.
  • JJPotter,

    That stinks that your 2nd injection backfired. How are you feeling today?

    Your path is similar to mine. However, I'm only on month five. I have my first injection scheduled for February 16 and I'm so hesitant. I have no health insurance, so I really don't want to fork over $1800 for a temporary fix. Of course, my Physiatrist wants me to do the injection, but my holistic chiropractor does not.

    I am still able to work, enjoy my family and close friends, and I haven't missed a wink of sleep. My pain is level 7 out of 10. I'm always in pain (unless I'm lying down) and can't do basic things like grocery shop or take my dog for a walk. Usually I can get some chores done on the weekend b/c I get lots of rest.

    I've always been so active and never thought something like this would happen to me. I'm just waiting patiently until my body heals itself.

    Good luck to you all.

    Kathryn, 39
    The unfortunate owner of an L5/S1 fragmented disc compressing my right S1 nerve root. I'm on Gabapentin (lowest dose) for nerve pain, a million supplements, including Bromelain and Ginger root for anti-inflammatory properties, plus I drink packets of gelatin.
  • I've heard that herniated disc can heal by itself. As others said, hold off on the surgery as long as you can.

    Even though I had microdiscectomies, I only had them because I ran out of options.

    Currently, I am mostly pain free.
  • Your situation sounds a lot like mine. Im a computer programmer and also have bad posture. If your disc hasn't healed itself in 8 to 12 weeks, then it probably won't (from my research). At that point you can take NASIDs, do PT, and have your injections. Sounds like you've done all of that. Since you've done all of that, I'd be surprised if your doctor didn't give you the option of surgery. It all depends though on how much pain you can live with. I lived with mine for 3 years and just had a microdiscectomy two weeks ago. It's taken two weeks but Im starting to see some results. The doctor didn't promise anything since the nerve had been compressed for three years. When you read about the case studies done on discectomies, make sure you understand how long the people have endured the hardship of sciatica and also make sure you know if the study was done on micro or endoscopic discectomies. Both impact the results. Generally speaking (from what I've found) people who wait less time to have the surgery have a better success rate and people who have microdiscectomies have a better success rate. All in all though, the success rates of disecetomies are very good.
  • I also had the same experience that the 2nd epidural made my situation worse or about the same for a couple weeks. This can happen but epidurals are considered quite safe and on the long term will either do nothing or get you some relief. There are rare cases. Most doctors will tell you that an epidural will not heal you but instead is suppose to allow you to continue to do your PT. In the end the PT combined with other lifestyle changes are your long term solution. I believe a combination of PM, PT and lifestyle changes are your best long term bet.

    I am infact going to get my 3rd epidural on Thursday, it has been a long time since the 2nd and this doctor is trying a different style of epidural. As most I am always a bit nervous as you never want the really bad pain to come back but you have to take some limited chances in our situation.

    I disagree about the 3-6 weeks of conservative treatment before a doc will advise surgery. It is usually much longer unless in the case the MRI is just screaming out surgery. I have seen the normal wait time about a year especially if they do not see the nerve having too much compression.

    Also if you do have the surgery there is no gaurantee the pain will end even of the nerve is uncompressed and you must continue PT and a new lifestyle or down the road you will be back on that table. In the end at this point we are unfortunately into fixed lifestyle changes we need to adhere.

    I have found that you never forget this pain even when it calms down so that helps you to remember!


  • within 18 months but maybe sooner because I had the MRI later but I'm still in pain from the mild DDD I have. Good luck with PT and pool therapy and hope you heal soon. Take care. 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
  • I'm also in IT, I'm a server admin. Bad posture whole nine yards. I herniated my disk 8 years ago and it never healed. Over 6 years I had countless epidurals, PT a ton, I tried it all and my disk did not heal. So I opted for a Laminectomy and disectomy because my disk was also pushing into my back bone. Had the Discogram and the disk was still in good shape. So 2 years ago, I had the surgery, when the doctor was in there after he did the Laminectomy, he said the disk was moving so well that he decided against the disectomy.

    We'll I was still in pain, the doctors weren't helpful they kept saying, YOU SHOULDN"T BE IN PAIN. and I'm sitting there going, then why am I? So more epidurals and PT. Till the doctors didn't know what to do because the MRI showed, that I shouldn't be in pain. Also on a side note my original doctor left the practice 2 weeks after my laminectomy, which I freaked, it turned out the other doctors and him were not getting along money wise and they let him go, wasn't from malpractice, he was actaully a neurosurgeon that specialty was children, he got a job at a childrens hospital. Sooo 2 weeks after my surgery i'm talking to a totally different doctor that didn't do the surgery.

    So I gave up and took the pain for 2 years, but I also switched insurances thru my work, the previous surgeons was thru my MMO. I wanted to go to my mothers boss who was a Orthopedic surgeon but my MMO wouldn't cover it, so after I switched I went to him. :)

    So they did a new MRI 4 months ago, and I'm thinking, hoping the surgeons screwed up and should have done the disectomy. We'll my new surgeon said Nope they did a good job actually but your disk L5-S1 had DDD Degenerative Disk Disease and is shot basically. So he gave me the talk about doing PT but also said if its not going to heal after 8 years then its not. So thats when I decided to get the fusion, which I'm on the 11th day Post op, the pains finally gone, I pray.

    I always wondered if the previous doctors BS-ed me and when he was in there noticed the disk was shot and why he didn't do the disectomy, or if he had would have been any different.

    All in all I wished I had waited to go the surgeon I wanted to go with to begin with. My surgeon now is one of the best in Atlanta. What I tell people, do your homework and pick a good surgeon if you have to go down that road.

    Sorry I was a bit wordy. ;)
  • jjpotter said:
    I have a consult with my Dr on the 21st and am going to mention I want to give PT a second shot and get a second opinion from a Neuro.
    My advice is to do your own research. Don't rely on your doctor to refer you to a good spinal neuro (or orthopedics) surgeon. My GP's (my local doctor here in Oz) referral didn't sit well with me, so I researched via the net (we have some damn good forums here in Oz) and discovered what I think are two of the best Neurosurgeons in Sydney and have gotten referrals to them (appointments are next month). When I asked my GP for referrals to these two neurosurgeons, he only said that he'd "forgotten" about them.........

    Do your own research and if you're still not happy, then do some more.... You'll live with your back for a long time, if you get a surgeon that bodges up your spinal surgery, you'll have to live with that for a long time too.
  • Hi!

    So sorry to hear about your condition. But I wanted to say that there is hope. I herniated a disc (L5/S1) last September - total agony, loss of feeling all up and down my right leg/foot and off work for two months - but now (touch wood) I have been back to a pain-free existence since mid January.

    I did masses of swimming (well jogging around in the pool) and used a TENS machine. My PT did lots of massage work on my SI Joint area and we developed a training routine designed to develop core muscles (the plank and bendy-type things on one of those beach balls). Now I try to go to the gym 3 times a week if possible and use the bike (with a backrest) and - in particular - the cross trainer. Apparently that is really good because it is like running but spares you the repeated impact that you get on a treadmill. I go swimming after my gym session too. I wouldn't go for the surgical option unless nothing else helps.

    Good luck and hang on in there!

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