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MicroDisectomy L5-S1 Looking for Support, Encouragement, and Feedback

bigboybackusbbigboybackus Posts: 25
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:54 AM in Recovering from Surgery
I am 3 1/2 weeks post surgery from a microdisectomy on L5-S1. I had middle and lower back pain and progressive sciatica on my leg left for 5 years. I had tried accupuncture, cupping, physical therapy, yoga, chiropratic, medications, and had over 9 epidurals. I am looking for support and encouragement for other members post-surgery.
My level of pain pre-surgery was 7 to 8 and I had middle and lower back pain 60-70 of the time. I had sciatica radiating from the left knee down the back of the foot 90 percent of the time.from other membersI just wanted to get feedback, suggestions, and support o post operative progress. I am able to walk for 45 minutes without too much pain. Prior to the sugery, I was in average physical health and about 15-20 lbs overweight prior to the surgery. Much of the weight gain over the years has been due to the lack of ability to due any exercise and the schedule. I have a job that requires a lot of plane trips and long car rides - which are not conducive to a back condition.
After my first pre op appointment, my surgeon was satisfied with my progress. I have back pain about 10% of the time (scale of 2-3) about 10% of the time now and I have sciatica about 30-40% of the time (pain scale 30%-40%) of the time, but it has improved ince the surgery. I guess the biggest challenge has been the limitations since surgery, getting to know my limits and abilities, and hoping that I would be able to get back into the "swing of things" sooner.
I am currently on pain killers (4 times a day as needed) which helps manage the pain, and muscle relaxants (3 times a day as needed). I have a follow up appointment later this week to determine the status and next step.
If you have any support, encouragement, or feedback, it would be greatly appreciated.
Big Boy Backus


  • Hi,

    I'm happy to hear that your pain has gotten better since the surgerym that must be a relief after 5 years of intense pain. I'm 2 weeks post-op after a Lumbar discectomy and decompression, so very much in the same place as you are right now.

    LIke you, I had this dream that I would be much further in my recovery than I am at this point. In fact, I seem to be more sore now than I was a week ago…maybe that's just because I'm starting to move around more…

    You mention that you still have pain in your leg and back which can of course be disappointing if you expected to be completely pain free. As far as I've understood it (from reading online, and what my surgeon told me) some pain is to be expected. Even though they have relieved the pressure from the nerve, the nerve has been under pressure for a very long time, and will need time to heal. (apparently those things are quite temperamental and healing can take a while). So I wouldn't give up hope, you may find that in a couple of weeks you'll experience less pain…or no pain at all :)

    I can understand that after 5 years of dealing with pain as severe as what you describe you must be exhausted. But it must be such a relief to see that the pain is already far better than before the surgery. So my best advise and encouragement would be to focus on that. Stay positive and you will heal faster. Many people feel look at me like I'm sick, just because I have to lie down most of the time…so I've come up with a little personal motto to keep me motivated "I'm not sick…I'm healing"….

    I wish you all the best and a speedy recovery, hopefully you will be completely pain free soon.

  • Thank you very much for your comments for your feedback and encouragement. I do like the expression that I am healing and not sick. It is hard on the recovery side and it sounds like that we are in smiilar positions.
    How long did you have symptoms? How has your recovery gone? If there is anything that I can do, please let me know.
    Big Boy Backus
  • Hey bbb,

    I'll be 2 weeks out of surgery tomorrow. I, like you, am still having the sciatic pain that inspired the treatment. We just need to be patient and give our bodies a chance to heal.

    I had backpain for 9-10 months before the radiculopathy kicked in. I went 5 months of conservative treatment with literally 0 response to any of it. I decided surgery was right for me because I'm young and live a very active lifestyle, and I still think that i was the right decision.

    Like you, I'm feeling better post surgery than pre surgery and my moblility has increased. I've been out walking a good amount and it seems to be helping my spirits. Gotta get outside and produce that vitamin d! My doctor also ordered up some physical therapy which I started today. It felt really good to be taking more active steps towards recovery.

    Stay patient. We'll all be back on the proverbial (who knows, maybe literal!) horse in no time!

    Best of luck in recovery, and keep us posted!
  • I can really empathise with you as I suffered back problems when I was younger than you (aged 20) and just as active as you. I am now 54.

    A brief description of my situation- I have had back problems for over 37 years. I damaged a disc (L4/L5) when I was about 20, had sciatic problems down my leg for a long time and had a couple of cortisone and epidural injections. Eventually my sciatica improved and went away. I have led an extremely active life as an athlete and after getting through my sciatica was a long distance runner and covered over 50,000 km in a 15 year period. I also competed at an elite level.

    After many injuries and more surgery (for shoulders, archilles tendon, knees etc) I turned to cycling.(road and MTB) While the sciatica went away, the lower back problems have always been there and in my case it has been a case of managing it the best I can with physio, chiropractic, stretching and regular massage. My spine is very straight, whereas the normal spine has an s- shape. This tends to lead to problems with the back.

    Fast forward to April this year, I was in a 24 hour cycle event and put myself in a situation where I placed too much pressure on my back each time I did my turn (I was in a team). A week later I was getting pain in my right buttock area (which I have had for 3 years or so anyway) but this was different. It was a stabbing pain and became worse. I tried physio and chiro to no effect. I had an MRI scan which showed a prolapsed L2/L3 disc. This is quite rare (only 5-10% of people have a prolapse this high up). I was given options by my sports specialist (doctor) and took the conservative options first. This involved cortisone tablets (prednisolone) but did not have any effect. After a week I decided to have a cortisone injection. This also did not work, so I was referred to a neurosurgeon. He said the location that I had my prolapse often caused excruciating pain. I said 'I know!' He asked me if I wanted to go away and think about surgery, I said no, I don't want to think about it, I want it done.' I considered that I had no other option as walking, standing and sleeping were painful.Keeping in mind that I saw the surgeon only 16 days ago.

    I had surgery the following week (24th June 2011) This was only a few days after your surgery. The procedure was a L2/L3 far right lateral microdiscectomy. I was in hospital for 3 days. It is now day 13 post surgery. I do exercises each day and I walk 1 km twice a day. (actually a bit more but I'm only supposed to walk 1 km a day) During the day the pain has been reduced to virtually nil. Sleeping is a problem as I can still feel the nerve when I am lying down. However I am changing my approach to pain relief. I have been trying not to use pain relief but in hindsight it's better for me to take the medication (Endone which is Oxycodone hydrochloride, and Diazepam) before I go to bed so I have a chance of getting some sleep.The pain upon waking up before surgery a few weeks ago was terrible!!

    From the time I experienced the nerve pain in my buttock to the time I had surgery was 7 weeks. I believe 6 weeks is the minimum time that surgeons would consider operating as they would look at conservative options first. Unless of course one has Cauda Equina Syndrome which requires immediate surgery.

    I'm glad I had the surgery and considered it was the only thing I could do. Had I waited a long time (i.e. longer than 6-12 months) there was chance that there would be permanent nerve damage and/or my recovery time would be longer. My right quad muscle before surgery was weaker due to the L2 nerve problem. After surgery there was an immediate improvement! I have read and read and read so much on the internet on medical sites about prolapsed discs and while most people (about 90%) improve without surgery, some don't and my distinct impression from reading all of the findings was that if you leave it too long, the chances of making a full recovery are significantly less.

    And I recall reading that you said it was hard to be patient. I am sure I am the world's most impatient patient!! 71 days to go before I can cycle again! It’s important to look to any small gains.
    I am doing my post op exercises very religiously, even though they are boring I know I must do them to improve.It's critical to take a methodical,professional and disciplined approach to enhance the chances of making an excellent recovery.
    While I have always exercised in the gym for my back doing stretching exercises, soon my core exercises will be a permanent part of my program after the initial recovery period.

    I will be going on a group cycle tour next January to Adelaide (South Australia) with lots of very tough hills and in March I will be doing an annual 100km MTB race. Both events involve a lot of pain but when I am in those situations I will be thinking back to the pain I was experiencing before surgery and I will be very grateful that I have the opportunity to get out there again and will very willingly put up with the pain which will only be temporary.

    Good luck with your ongoing recovery Vitale. I'm for my 1km (plus !!) walk now.

  • Hanza,

    I'm glad to hear that you are doing well post-surgery. So you said 71 more days til you can hop back on the bike?! I take it they're predicting 3 months til 100% recovery?

    I find your post particularly encouraging. One of my biggest fears is that 5-10 years down the road I'm going to find myself in a similar situation to this. The fact that you have been able to go 34 active years since the first onset of sciatica is really encouraging me. I mean seriously, that's more years than I currently have on this little rock of ours!

    I, too, am an avid mountain biker. Also an avid backpacker. It's a lot easier for me to see myself getting onto the trail with some camping gear and spending a few nights out there than it is for me to even rip 2 hours of singletrack. I feel like hiking with good posture and lightweight gear shouldn't be too bad, but riding as aggressively and hard as I typically do can't possibly be good for my back! I'm not one to pass up the jumps or drops, so I may have to rethink that strategy. What's your riding style? Sounds like you're a little more xc oriented if you're doing 24 hr races.

    I'm glad to hear you're staying positive. I feel like it's a huge part of the battle. These past 2 days I feel like I've made some seriously noticeable strides. I'm not sure if it's because of the PT I started this week, a change in attitude, using Ibuprofen rather than pain killers, or what but I've felt good! Like you I wake up with a lot of pain. This morning I fought off the urge to take the painkillers, went out for a 1.6 mile walk, and about halfway through felt really good! I must say though, I was totally bipolar throughout the walk. "Oh no! I've reherniated." "Woah I feel like I could run a marathon!"

    Anyways, throughout the rest of the day I felt really good and my therapist added another exercies. I've been walking 3 times per day in addition to the trunk stabilization exercises. My therapist actually drove past today while I was walking and stopped for a heckle.

    Best of luck to you in your recovery! I'd love to keep in touch and hear how you recover. I've got a post titled "Microdiscectomy Recovery Journal" in this board. You should start posting on there too! And seriously, once we're both healed we're gonna have to go for a ride!
  • Hi Vitale

    3 months is the time that the physio (who is also a qualified doctor) has indicated that one can get back to normal duties. When I go for my first check up next Wed I am going to explain my athletic background and hopefully he will allow me to at least ride on a stationary bike earlier than 12 weeks. If not, I will then ask my neuro-surgeon who I see an hour later! I am looking forward to getting more exercises and progressing to the next level of rehab.

    When I ride my MTB in the bush on training rides I have an adjustable head stem and I move it so that the handle bar enables me to ride in a more upright position. However when I do short XC races (1.5hrs) I move the head stem forward so I am in a lower position. Of course this places more stress on my back. Since I have been riding (15+ years) I don’t think I have ever had a ride when my back HASN’T been sore. I ride an average of 250-300km a week. But I am prepared to put up with this, as most of back pain goes away when I stop riding. I also do jumps and the drops but this will take a long time before I get to that stage.

    Just bear in mind that surgery is not a ‘fix-it and everything will be ok’ procedure. I have spent a lot of time at physios over the years but not as much in recent years. Physios, like surgeons can only do so much for the patient. It is extremely important for YOU to do all the follow up work i.e. rehab, exercises. Physios have told me in the past that many patients just do not follow up properly and work on developing their weaknesses.

    Even though I have suffered serious injuries over years and had surgery, I am happy that I have actually been able to get through the various problems I have had and still exercise at 54. It would have been very easy for me to quit when I had my first bad injury at 20, or at every subsequent injury. I still get a huge amount of enjoyment out of keeping fit. I enjoy pushing my body to, and beyond normal limits and I can do this by managing myself with gym work, stretching etc.

    The fact that you started PT this week plus a change in attitude is potentially a very positive factor. Never, ever under estimate the power of attitude. The mind is extremely powerful. At world class level, the very best athletes are likely to all have the same physical attributes as their competitors. The one who is the very best or world champion, is likely to be the one whose psychological attitude is better than the others. My 2 daughters compete at an elite (world) level in their chosen sport.They don't take after either of their parents!!- except in their attitude! One of them is ranked in the top 8 in the world. Physically she is just as good as the number 1 ranked athlete. What she doesn’t have is that absolute belief in herself. Comes down to psychology. So continue to see ANY gains, no matter how small as positive. It will enhance your recovery process!!Keep it up!!!!!!!!

    I will check out your Microdiscectomy Recovery Journal post!

  • bigboybackus said:
    Thank you very much for your comments for your feedback and encouragement. I do like the expression that I am healing and not sick. It is hard on the recovery side and it sounds like that we are in smiilar positions.
    How long did you have symptoms? How has your recovery gone? If there is anything that I can do, please let me know.
    Big Boy Backus
    Thanks so much :)

    I had my surgery 2 1/2 weeks ago, so it's still fairly resent. I'm still quite sore and have a bit of a bump at the wound, but I think that's only normal.

    Like you I can't wait to get back in gear, I hate just lying here, makes me feel a bit useless. So I try to do as much as possible, but at the same time I have to be careful not to push too hard. It's a bit scary actually, doing to much can cause harm...not doing enough can cause just as much harm...so it's difficult to know what to do. Are you also experiencing that?

    Hope your recovery is coming along nicely and that you're feeling better. This place is great though, because you know you're not alone!!! :)
  • Hi. I just wanted to post an update as I had a doctor's appointment late last week. My surgeon was overall very pleased with my progress as I still have pain in my back about 10% of the time and sciatica about 30% of the time.
    The doctor also told me to cut down my walking and physical activity from 45-60 minutes to 30-45 minutes. Unlike my friend who can walk 6.2 miles which is impressive, I am almost twice his age and not quite in the pre-surgical shape he is.
    I have been back to work since two weeks post surgery which has been kind of challenging. I have a job which requires travel by plane and car and have grounded since the surgery. The doctor cleared me for travel seven weeks after the surgery. In the mean time, it has been a little over a month, and I just take my medications, try to adjust my work to the best of my ability, and try to walk every day for 30-45 minutes.
    I can honestly say that once I was cleared to walk (about 2 weeks after surgery) I had been doing it religiously every day. Yesterday was the first day that I couldn't do it as I was in too much pain and physically tired - didn't want to push myself.
    I guess the challenge that I am still having now is desaling with the limitations, feeling frustrated not being able to do the the things that I used to be able to do (which wasn't much but enouch), and trying to be patient with those around me.
    I don't expect anyone to have the magic answer to me on this, but I guess any feedback, advice, or sugeesions are appreciated.
  • The fact that you say that you have been back at work 2 weeks after surgery and has been challenging seems to be somewhat concerning. Are there activities that you do at work that may be aggravating your back? And have you been doing strengthening exercises since you left hospital? I have been reading many of the forums and medical sites regarding microdiscectomy. My wife must think I’m obsessed because I have been doing about 4 hours a day of research since my microdiscectomy. (Day 22 post op now).

    People certainly recover at different rates and there are a number of variables that contribute to why some recover quickly and some more slowly. I too am impatient, being a 54 yr old competitive cyclist I am keen to get back into it a lot quicker than my conservative physiotherapist has recommended. I think the key is to reduce situations that may slow down your recovery, be positive about any small gains. In my own situation I was in good shape prior to surgery (apart from having a major prolapse in L2/L3) and I am very motivated to get well again. I would love to get out and do the activities that other practitioners on different web sites have recommended, but at this stage I’m sticking to my physio’s recommendations i.e. no swimming till 6 weeks, no riding on the road till 3 months (some sites say you can ride after 2 weeks!!) Try and look after yourself as much as possible and ensure your posture is always good.
  • BBB, How is the travel going? I am about 11weeks out and cannot imagine the travel for work any earlier.

    My Doc would not let me return to my job which also involves extensive travel until 12 weeks. I am doing PT and walking about 5 miles a day. Doing quite well.

    I am concerned with managing luggage and being able to tolerate the travel. Besides the work when I get there. Purchased light weight luggage. With a 10 lb lifting restriction seems almost impossible to do. I am thinking I will need to check luggage which is not as convenient.

    Hope you continue to improve. It is difficult to be patient.
  • BBB,

    Recovery is definitely very frustrating. Much more so than I had anticipated. It's up, it's down, it's all around.

    I've been cutting back on my physical activity as well. I was starting to be able to do more, but the pain level was pretty much the same. Now that I'm backing off and doing less, the pain level is a lot lower. Oh, sweet logic.

    Where is most of your pain now? Still in the leg? Are you starting to get your range of motion back yet? That's the thing that I'm finding most frustrating. I'm getting that weird stretchy feeling through my thigh which I had been associating with nerve compression, coupled with a sort of sharp sort of burning feeling in the calf. I don't get it.

    Anyways, it sounds like your doctor thinks you are doing well. That certainly has to be comforting. Just remind yourself that he's been doing this for X years and has seen many patients go through the recovery. The doctor truly knows best, so if he thinks you're on your way to recovery it's hard to disagree.

    Best of luck with the healing. I would love to hear how you do with the travel. I feel like I need to get out and engage my mind in something other than post op pain!!
  • Thank you very much for your feedback. I usually like to go in the pool with my kids (which is a great way of hydrotherapy). The work that I am doing has been very accomodating where I can lie down in my office, work standing up, and reclining when needed. So far, I think it is just being patient as you had indicated and realizing the progress that you have made and trying to maintain a positive attitude.
    Please keep up the good works, and really appreciate the kind words and thoughts.
  • Thank you very much for your feedback. I usually like to go in the pool with my kids (which is a great way of hydrotherapy). The work that I am doing has been very accomodating where I can lie down in my office, work standing up, and reclining when needed. So far, I think it is just being patient as you had indicated and realizing the progress that you have made and trying to maintain a positive attitude.
    Please keep up the good works, and really appreciate the kind words and thoughts.
  • Mas952:
    I have read your post and the timing of it was amazing. Here is the challenge that I am having. I have had challenges driving more than 30 minutes, as I have to stop and stretch for at least 5-10 minutes. If I sit for longer than that, at my desk, in a meeting, or even at home. My back stiffens up and burns, my sciatica acts up, and my left leg numbness increases from the left knee down.
    I am scheduled to make a 5 hour flight on Sunday for work. I have asked my doctor and he cleared me for the flight. I am going to get an aisle seat and be one of those people that walks up and down and up and down the plane.
    I have also tried to get a seat by the galley and try to talk to the airline attendants, and hope the flight is not bumpy and the airline attendants are supportive and kind. I let them know right from the first part of the flight that I have had back surgery recently and need some assitance for a frequent traveler.
    I had surgery 6 weeks ago and I am walking about 30-45 minutes a day as directed by my surgeon. I am also doing very limited stretching exercises on my back, leg lifts with very minimal activity.
    I have a very light computer bag that I am going to put over my shoulder. I am also going to go and buy a very light bag for the airplane tomorrow. There is no need to go cheap with a bag as the time, money, and energy for surgery needs to last a life time.
    I am a road warrior for work and am usually on the road about every 10 days for at least 2 to 3 days at a time.
    I am going to make sure and check my bag in until I am cleared by my doctor (for at least another month before I even think about trying to lift any thing.) I am also on the weight restriction for 10 lbs as well.
    If any of my fellow spine-health friends have any travel tips, recommendations, suggestions, or support, it would be greatly appreciated.
  • Vitale:
    I admire your physical activity and how you have been doing so well. I tend to agree with you that when I cut down the walking from 30-45 minutes as oppposed to 45-60 minutes, the level of pain has decreased.
    My level of pain has decreased overall which is good. The pain in the back has decreased to about 10% of the time as opposed to 40%-50% of the time. The sciatica has decreased as well from 75%-80% of the time to 25%-30% of the time.
    I will be honest that I am still taking muscle relaxants as directed by the surgeon and also have been decreasing pain meds as directed by my physician (From 4 per day to 3 per day for 2 weeks and 2 per day for 2 weeks). I have also been substituting the pain mediciation with ibuprofen. I will admit that the ibuprofen does not have the same staying power as the pain meds, but it helps out.
    The other part that is encouraging is that my doctor has been very happy with my progress so far. It has been 6 weeks, I am scheduled for a 5 hour flight in 2 days, and I am very anxious. I will make sure to let you know how it goes and please keep up the good words. Your recovery is very encouraging and please keep in touch.
  • I start back to travel on Monday. I also went out and purchased a light weight suitcase.

    The challenge is to pack very little and still have what I need. I will probably need to do laundry rather then pack for a week. I will also check my luggage. My flights are typically less then 2 hours, so I do not think this will be a problem.

    I am 13 weeks post surgery and my surgeon would not release me for work until now. He released me for 4 hours a day for 3 weeks and 6 hours a day the next 3 weeks.

    This is difficult since I travel every day. I have been fortunate since work has been accommodating me.

    Best of luck on your return to work.
  • There were some good travel tips on the website incuding bringing the doctor's note if you need to stand around to get get packs and stuff through TSA. You will be flying on Monday and I will be flying tomorrow. Please keep me updated on how it is going and I will be thinking of you.
    Safe travels,
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