I'm a 26 year old who discovered she had herniated a disc in July last year -- long story short, I realise I had symptoms for several years but put them down to long travel, uncomfortable mattress, etc, but in reality I think my disc had been bulging for quite some time. In July I woke up the day after a long flight and was in agony, visited a physiotherapist who helped me to stretch and suggested seeing my own doctor if the pain continued. Long flight back to where I was living and I was feeling ok.
I continued with sports, using ibuprofen to get me through the days, but in September I decided that I wasn't getting "better", even though I wasn't as "bad" as I initially was (pain was okish, but sports were difficult initially -- but post-game I felt great, so I thought it was just muscle tightness) -- at one stage I thought I'd dislocated my hip because sitting was so uncomfortable.
I went to the doc and she immediately referred me to a pain clinic, to a non-surgical guy. I had classic symptoms of radiating pain down my right leg, muscle spasms, etc. Also started a course of steroids.
Went to the pain specialist, he suspected herniated disc immediately from my x-rays and my straight-leg-raise (after only 20-30 deg from the table on the right leg and I'd be jumping up to stop him, left leg got to 90 with only some tightness).
He sent me for MRI, but started Physical Therapy immediately. The PT helped, it got me from being so "tight" in my muscles that I could hardly walk, to being much easier to get around, also taught me to log-roll when I got up from lying down to prevent more strain. Also had decompression (what I liked to call "the rack")
MRI confirmed a large herniation at L5-S1. Doc suggested doing an epidural to see if it would help, but suspected I'd need a surgery given the position and nature of the herniation. This is around September.
The epidural helped for a few days, but the relief was not complete and did not last. Doctor did not think further epidurals would help given the lack of progress. At this stage I had slight peripheral loss of sensation just above my knee on the right side on the outside of my leg.
Went to see the Orthopedic surgeon for a consult, he did more x-rays (bending forward/backward, etc -- those were hell to take given my leg being very shaky and bending being such a pain).
Worth mentioning that I hate pain pills, more than 1 a day made me incredibly quezy and sleepy and just didn't feel human -- to be honest I'd rather be in pain than being so zonked. I lived on ibuprofen -- this really helped me to get through the next few months.
Surgeon told me I was a good candidate for a micro-discectomy at L5-S1, and the chances of recovering the lost motion and pain reduction was 90-95% in my case -- but wanted me to spend a few more months seeing if my condition would improve on it's own. He was surprised that I'd still retained my reflexes despite the loss of range of movement. My strength tests (toe raises, presses, etc.) were pretty good too. These were good signs that my nerves weren't totally compressed yet.
In the following months I worked with a therapist who was a chiropractor who specialised in back pain, he mostly did muscle release work instead of back adjustments which helped since I woke up with knots in my calf and thigh almost every day. (I also continued to do my PT exercises at home) At this stage I'm leaning heavily to the side and limping constantly. Took both Bromelain and Glucosamine at this stage.
Long travel over Christmas to see family in Europe, spent a night in a soft bed and woke up in agony again, recovered pretty quickly -- used a lot of pain pills in the few days! Then was ok for about a week, and then for "no reason" I went steadily downhill -- had breaking pain to the point of constant crying even with painkillers and ibuprofen.
Returned to the US and went back to the Surgeon, scheduled surgery for 1st Feb -- this was a difficult decision for me -- away from home with no family to help me. Glad for good friends.
Before the surgery I tried to get my muscles to relax, I was incredibly tight due to the constant cramping -- my chiro did a lot of muscle release work in the days before the surgery (he initially disagreed with my decision to have surgery but came around and worked with me to help me prepared -- mentally and physically).
Surgery day - checked in at 5.30am - I was the first patient of the day. Surgery at 7.45 -- I waited until just before the surgery to have the anti-anxiety medication -- so I got to talk to the surgeon, etc, and remember what they said. I do remember being wheeled to surgery and talking to the anesthetist's helpers and I think they gave me a second dose of the anti-anxiety medicine at that point, or else it was just the anesthesia.
I woke up in recovery, around 11am, spoke to the nurse a couple of times and remember rating my pain at a 3 or so. Then I went back to sleep -- I honestly believe at this stage it was the sleep of the exhausted rather than still being 'under' -- it was the first time in a long time that I had no cramping pain and I think my body was taking advantage of being able to sleep!
Got to post-recovery around 12.30pm I think, a little longer than they expected since I kept going back to sleep. At this stage I'm definitely sore, felt like I'd been punched in the back a few times but no cramping or shooting pain like I was used to. I literally woke up and felt better.
Checked out that afternoon around 4pm -- they were willing to release me earlier but I was exhausted and stayed for a while until I felt good. I had no pain medication post-surgery -- I didn't feel like I needed it -- amazed me. (Actually -- I had a really scratchy eye after the surgery and I had a pain drop in my eye -- I think it was hilarious that I kept refusing the pain medication but kept asking them for eye drops!)
Felt great for the next few days, unfortunately I did get a bit of a rash on my back, not on the surgery site itself, but in a box around it -- spoke to the doctors office and the nurse thought I was allergic to something in the hospital or even might have an ice-burn -- it was itchy and red like a burn -- aloe vera with lidocane for the outside and liquid benadril for the inside was the treatment -- it went down pretty quickly but stayed flakey and a bit raised for a while.
I had my first 'bad' day 3 days after surgery -- felt just like I did pre-surgery -- but I found walking helped. So I started doing more than I had been, spoke to the nurse and she told me if I had several consecutive bad days then they'd see me, but initially there's going to be swelling and to expect some bad days.
I'm now almost 3 weeks post-surgery. I've taken about 5-6 pain pills since the surgery (total, not per day)! I feel great 90% of the time -- although all this lying down is starting to drive me crazy.
Starting from 0.5 miles per day -- I now walk about 1-2 miles in the mornings after I get up, then 1-2 miles in the evenings too -- this has really helped me, mentally as well as physically. I could hardly walk from my car to my office previously without limping and now I'm walking all the time.
I take days off from this schedule when I'm a bit sore, but these days are getting further and further apart.
My follow-up is next week, but I feel so good. My straight-leg-raise on a bad day is about 50 degrees, on a good day I can get to 90 (but it is tight, but not crazy painful).
I guess I was one of the lucky ones who woke up and felt better -- my surgeon had told me it could take weeks to feel the benefits but I'm so thankful it didn't.
I guess there can be a lot of scary stories about surgery and problems and I wanted to tell my story. I'm happy, positive and all signs are pointing in the right direction.
Today after a shower I was able to throw my hair forward over my face to wrap it in a towel and I literally laughed with joy -- this was something that used to be a reflex, I always did it, but had become something I had to avoid to stop the pain -- being able to do that again was just another bright point in my recovery.
My dull patch (where my sensation is low) is still a little dull, not so bad as it was, so I hope that recovers in the coming months.
Wish me luck with my follow-up, but I think I'm in good hands!
I want to find out if I should do PT or not, I guess my doc will know what's best.
PS. My surgery scar is teeny. I guess it's about an inch and a half, they told me it would be small, but I feel like a bit of a fraud with such a tiny operation!