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Patience was the key!

farmhousefanffarmhousefan Posts: 24
Hey, all. It's been months since I've been back on this board.

I just thought I'd post an update that might make others new to sciatica feel a little more hope.

I herniated my L5-S1 six years ago. After a year of pain, I had a diskectomy. Was fine for two years, then it reherniated. Again, had a diskectomy. Again, fine for two years until May of 2009 when it herniated a third time.

At this point, the only surgical option -- I am told -- is spinal fusion, which I sure would like to avoid.

So basically for about the last year I've been doing all I can to heal on my own. My pain was very severe, radiating down my left leg to my foot. My toes were numb. I couldn't walk, drive, sit. Laying on my stomach offered some relief, but the pain has shifted around a lot over the year and now that in't a surefire way to alleviate the pain.

Anyway, currently I'm doing really well. During the day, my pain is about a 1 out of 10. At night things get more sore. After about 4 hours of laying down I get a lot of pain down to the foot. But last night I slept all night with very little pain for the first time in months. YAY!

Here is what has worked for me and my thoughts on all of this:
1) A disk is a ligament, and ligaments CAN heal with time and if we avoid reinjuring it. I think of it like asprained ankle... if I keep twisting the ankle I won't heal the ligaments. So I do everything I can to help from re-straining my disk. NEVER bend over at the waist. I pick things up from the floor by doing a lunge (taking care not to hurt my knees). I never lift anything heavy. I use a lumbar pillow EVERYWHERE (I take it to restaurants, the movies, etc.). I practice good posture. I take breaks from my desk job to walk around the office.
2) As far as exercise, what seems to feel good (meaning I don't get shooting pain down the leg) is swimming (very very slow and gentle) and walking. I do this as often as I can tolerate, and I go easy on myself if I'm having a flare up. Sometimes I just relax in the hot tub at the gym and stretch out my hamstrings.
3) Initially, the McKenzie Method exercises were amazing. I could actually get the disk BACK IN and have zero pain. Unfortunately, it would never stay in... I could feel it "pop" out and get searing pain down the leg. But I still feel these exercises are essential to anyone with sciatica. Working with a Physical Therapist certified in McKenzie was key.
4) Epidurals and spinal nerve root blocks have not helped me. I have a lot of scar tissue in there from the two surgeries. But they are worth a shot. Make sure you go to the best anesthesiologist you can find and get them done under flouroscopy (x-ray).
5) Icing feels good (I put the pack on my low back at the injury site), and warming creams/balms feel good on my leg.
6) Tramadol has helped me at night. I only need one pill when I feel the pain start up. I don't feel any negative side effects from it. I take no other pain meds, but I did just start Lyrica yesterday so maybe that will help, too.
7) Set backs happen. I've had several, and sometimes I have no idea what made the pain flare up. But usually within a week I'm back to where I was before the flare up, so I try not to panic.

Trying to stay patient, which is hard for me, is also key. It's been almost a year. Many people advised me to give up and get the fusion, but I'm doing really well. I hope that within another year or so I'll feel "normal." But having a little pain might serve as a reminder to BE CAREFUL about what I do/lift.

Good luck to everyone!


  • Good for you. Thank you for posting. You hit the nail squarely on the head. Patience is key. Most people cannot make it past the three month mark and are inquiring about surgery. You probably feel as well as you would have had you had a fusion.

    Hopefully another year of being very careful will allow the disc to heal completely.

    My husband ruptured a disc at L5-S1 about 17 years ago. Back then, most spinal surgeons were very slow to recommend a discectomy. He was told he was not a candidate yet. He did as you are doing and he has been able to be without major problems for 17 years. He does his back exercises faithfully -- every single day. When he has a task that he knows is not good for his back, like raking or shoveling snow, he paces himself, and then comes in, lays flat on the floor and decompresses the discs. It's a system that has kept him going with very minimal pain for all these years. Now I'm the one with the bad back!

    Keep it up!!

  • Thanks Farmhousefan, that post was really helpful! I'm in a rough period right now- I've had sciatica for 7 months. I'm worried about scar tissue forming after a discectomy, so maybe I'll just wait it out for a year.

    All your tips like lunging when lifting and using a lumbar pillow are helpful. I need to get one, but I didn't know that's what it's called- now it should be easier to find one. What's your method for avoiding sneezing too hard (that was my recent downfall)

    I'm glad you're doing better now, and hope you continue to heal.
    discectomy in June 2010 - success! No sciatic pain, just some remaining numbness in foot. And I get charlie horses a lot.
  • I am glad that you posted this positive story. It gives everyone hope. I have been following the same rules and have had good results and on some days great. I do like the McKenzie but like you found out it has a plateau.

    Recently I had another epidural and my doctor showed me the fluroscan (term?) and he could see that my L4/L5 had white lines and he explained those are tears and he asked if I was a golfer. I laughed cause I am very blue collar looking. I do cycle and life weights but no longer cycle.

    He explained that I can control my situation but since it has been a year it probably will not heal. He told me that surgery is out of the question as the place of my hernia is central and poor outcome with probably more pain and I would need a fusion. No way...on that! But I understand for some under the right circumstances should do it.

    He says I am a prime candidate for an IDET and may go that route but early on I could have had surgery but will never unless I am stuck in bed and can not walk. It has been more than a year now for me.

    I think the key for most is to deal with the changes in lifestyle. Most find it hard and really do not want to deep down inside. I know I still struggle with that daily. You want your old life.

  • Wow, thank you!
    I am recovering from revision MicroD on L5-S1 and fearing it is not working. I don't know if I reherniated but am not feeling an improvement.

    I have severe numbness in groin, back buttocks back thigh, heel to outer toe. My leg is weak too. I had the first surgery b/c I was fearful to lose bladdar/bowel control.

    When the 1st surgery didn't work, I waited while I searched for a new doctor. He believes that time can heal. In my case he said that he would wait one extra month to see if I showed any improvement but I was experiencing set backs so I went for the revision.

    But I am a worrier and wonder which direction I will take if this fails. He's already told me I'd have a choice to manage in my current state or fuse but we'll cross that bridge if we come to it.

    I just want to thank you!
    Your post is not only timely as I was having a bit of a "down" day but for posting your thoughts on why you approached your decision the way you did. It's very helpful to see patients that have gone with alternative approach being successful.

    It's just encouraging to see that with time, the body can heal in some cases.

    My surgeon said that many patients that lived for years with back pain, can heal. He said the reason is because the spine generally tends to adjust itself and will fuse on it's own if there isn't enough disc to keep the bones apart.

    Keep believing in your approach....you can always go for a fusion but to me it's worth trying other options. Your post will stand out in my head....patience!

    thank you so much!

    Congrats and best wishes for continued progress!
  • Glad my thoughts were helpful to y'all!

    Meesha, as for sneezing, I generall bend my knees and brace myself with my hands against something so I don't move too far forward from the sneeze. I think the knee bending helps a lot. Sometimes I even pinch my nose to try to stop the tickle and prevent the sneeze from coming!

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