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Is Surgery the Answer?

Tigerpaws17TTigerpaws17 Posts: 2
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:57 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
First off, I am a long time reader of this forum, but have never posted anything. After a year of back pain, I am looking for advice from those who unfortuently have experience with this.

Background: I am a 29 year old father of 2 (ages 1&4) and a career firefighter. Last October I began to have some lower back tightness (right side) and for a few weeks just thought I pulled a muscle. Then came the "electrical" type shooting pains down my right leg and into my foot. I have no idea what I did to hurt it, but with having 2 young kids and a career of lifting heavy things as a firefighter...take your pick! Initially the pain was never horrible, it was just muscle tightness and the occasional shooting sciatica pain. Then, one day I woke up with a dull ache in my right testicle/scrotum (sorry for the visual). I immediately realized that this dull ache would only appear if my back was flexed as when sitting down. So I went to an orthopaedic surgeon who sent me for a MRI. I was diagnosed with a "small" disc buldge at L5-S1. I tried physical therapy and 2 rounds of spinal injections and nothing has worked. My surgeon suggested trying another injection or doing a microdiscectomy. I dont want to waste money on another injection and DO NOT want surgery... so I have been stubborn and just "dealing" with it.

Even from the beginning of this, I have not been really disabled by the bulging disc. I can still do everything I need to do, but just have to be careful. There have been a few instances where I have "threw my back out" and have been confined to my bed for a week recovering. But after every incident, I heal but never to 100%. Now, my signs/symptoms are bilateral. Pain, is still not a big factor, but main issues are my constant lowerback pain/tightness when flexing (more of an annoyance) and the sensation problems in my legs/feet. as of late, it feels like someone rubbed the cream "icey-hot" from my lateral knee to my ankle and sometimes on the soles of my feet. This might last a few hours to a couple days at a time. Also it feels like sometimes my right leg my seem weaker (or just heavier..if that makes sense). After driving for a long distance, it seems like i struggle with pressing/holding down the break pedal.

So, basically, I have had this for a year, and obviously it seems to be slowly getting worse. I am so glad that the pain is not horrible as long as I am careful. But pain aside, what worries me is the tingling, icey-hot sensations I am getting now, and the possibility of my right leg feeling weaker.

My question is, am I harming my prognosis by putting off the inevitable? Is it possible by me being stubborn and putting off surgery that my nerve could become damaged beyond repair? Ive heard so many horror stories about back surgery NOT being the answer. Im scared that having surgery may make my problem worse and cause me to have to quit my job as a firefighter. At least as of now, I can still do it.

I know this is all stuff I need to discuss with my surgeon, and I plan to. Just thought Id ask for all of your opinions and experiences. Thanks for all the great info!



  • The great thing is that you are not having horrible pain, that is a good thing! In my opinion, you have a pinched nerve doing the zapping, and tingling.

    I waited a very long time to have surgery. I hurt myself in 2006. I had injections, all different things. I finally had a microdiscectomy. I just had a spinal fusion last month. Did it work? I don't know yet. It is too early to tell. I know that I did this so that I would not suffer from pain anymore, will I? I have no idea.

    Is your disk herniated or degernerating? It is a very personal decision, it was a very hard one for me to make. I hope that you can get some help with this. Do you have a opinion from your doctor?
  • thanks for your response. My last visit with my surgeon, he pretty much told me I could decide between another spinal injection or just go ahead with the surgery. And he did say in his opinion the injections wouldn't work because the first 2 didnt. But he also said that I should do everything possible to avoid this surgery, especially being so young. So after 2 months of "deciding" I chose to do another injection...and it didnt work. Since I last saw him is when i started to get all of the weird tingling/burning sensations. So we havent even discussed that yet. I should schedule an appointment with him to update him on my progress (or lack there-of) but I just dont feel like paying $45 for him to tell me, you need surgery. I guess I am just in denial...lol Its just I get on these forums and see everyone talking about how much pain they are in and disabled, and I'm no where near that, so it makes me skeptical. Of course, I would get a 2nd opinion before doing any surgery.

    In my MRI (in march 2011)it showed my disc had bugled, but hadnt herniated...? thats how the doctor described it. But then he said with my increased symptoms it might have torn open and began to leak since then. I am curious to get another MRI done to see how it looks now.

  • Hi there,
    Sorry you are having to make this very hard decision.
    For me I did all I could to avoid, and so did my doc.
    And I am glad to hear you have a doc that is taking things slow. Shots did nothing for me either, but worth a shot(hehehe)

    I could not take a baby step with out screaming pain,by time I went for mine my hubby carried me to the car.

    For some people they can live all their life with bulging disc or discs, others it's crippling pain.
    For me my fusion was going to happen and I waiting as long as I could.
    That was in 06 and I was really good for long time, I messed up lifting and doing things nobody having fusion should do. So now I live in chronic pain daily.

    Any surgery anytime a body is cut open there are such big risks, you have to just weigh the good or bad.
    Have you had another opinion, and have you had another mri since the first one.
    Have you done pt or water therapy as you see hence my name I love the water.
    I hope you don't take all the negative stories from surgery there are good ones, as mine was the best for me, I just am stubborn and thought I'm good as a 20yr old, and did a job and jobs I had no business doing.

    Nobody can give us the right or wrong answers when comes to our bodies.
    Please get few different opinions, updated mri, and really make a list all the things you must consider before surgery, recovery, how will effect your family. And you have to make a list of ???for your interviewing diff. docs, such as what could happen if you don't have surgery, you can search here in forums I know it's posted a list of good things to ask...my brain is just frozen at this moment.
    Please keep us posted
    and all the best to you
    neck,bone spurs pain started 04, back issues and fusion l4,l5 06~hardware removed.
    good few yrs. 09 pain sharp, numbness feet,legs, diagnosed fibro, neurop. legs.lung issues.
    daily goal do good thing for someone.
  • I personally believe it is time for surgery when your pain is bad enough that it is drastically affecting your life.

    It seems to me that you are ok dealing with the pain.

    For me, mine started out like yours. I was able to deal with it and the really bad instances that sent me to bed only happened a couple times a year. My disc continued to herniate more and more (I assume) until finally it was laying directly on the nerve and I had constant extreme pain. That's when I went to the surgeon.
    ACDF C4-5 June 23rd, 2011

    Another surgery in the near future. I am 26 years old.

    Current Meds- Norco 7.5/325, Cymbalta 60mg, Gabapentin, Adderall 20mg
  • Hi there,

    Did you try Physical Therapy? I only ask b/c it helped me for years. Was I 100%, 100% of the time? No, but I was 90%, 90% of the time as long as I remembered the PT stretches and exercises when my flare ups would happen. And, occassionally, I would get prescription NSAID to help inflammation go down.

    That being said, surgery is a very personal decision. And, in my personal opinion, surgery will mean you are never 100%. So, if you think surgery will get you to 100%, the doctors are fooling you. Most will tell you there is a 95% success rate but success means you will get relief but if you aren't careful with your bending, twisting, lifting and keeping your core strong, you are still quite susceptible to injury.

    Have you considered a 2nd opinion?
  • Tigerpaws17

    Sorry to hear about your back pain, I am also a firefighter around your same age. I have a thread posted on this forum that goes into greater detail about my story. First thing's first, you mentioned that you hate reading all the horror stories on here. That was my biggest problem and it did nothing for me other then screw with me mentally and stifle any progress by causing additional stress. It is very important to educate yourself and to hear different stories but there comes a point where it turns detrimental. Keep in mind people that have great experiences and return back to full health 100% are not going to come back and post on this site. They move on with their life. That's why the majority on here seem to have negative stories, they are the ones most likely to return.

    Anyway, your situation has a million different variables. To many to cover by typing them all. Feel free to send me a personal message and i could call you if you'd like. I spoke to someone on here when i was first going threw this and it helped immensely.

    In short, i had a microdiscectomy about two years ago. Keep in mind it was from a huge rupture so i really had no choice. Bulging disc's are far different and do have the ability to "suck back in". I went back full duty three months later, had a few good months here and there and then the Chronic low back pain started. Felt really bad, like someone had torn my back muscles off my spine. This would happen after Training, pulling hose, rescue drills involving victim removal, crawling with air pack... that kinda thing. I was promoted to driver/ engineer right before the first injury so keep in mind my daily work load was not as bad as everyone in the back seats. But even with the promotion i still had pain, it was the training that would do me in. So it eventually kept getting worse until it recently re-herniated. Very, very painful. At the moment i cannot walk or stand for more then a few minutes. I will be having a minimally invasive TLIF fusion done by an excellent doctor here in Florida.

    So your situation is different. You have a bulging disc. Something like that is very subjective. I have known people that have had bulging disc's that have gotten better over time and they went on to win competitive power lifting competitions. For others it has led to a rupture and subsequent surgery. Given everything you said, this is just my opinion keep in mind.. I would not have surgery. Your disc is intact at the moment, having a discectomy will then breach the protective outer layer leaving you with more potential for re-current herniation and probably faster degeneration of the disc. Studies have shown that most bulging disc's do get better. Now obviously if you are continuing to put crazy weird pressure on it that might be harder. One thing to think about might be trying to change your work load. Im not sure how your department is set up but if you are able to seek a driver/engineer position or anything that doesn't require you to be as physical, and at the same time try and rehab you may see great results. Just a thought.

    So those are my thoughts, try and adapt your life around your situation as best you and try to avoid surgery. However, keep in mind that it may get worse and rupture or something else requiring surgery. If that's the case just try and stay positive. I have talked to a few people that have had spinal fusion and are in really awesome shape, weight lifting, exercise daily and lead physical lives. So it can happen. Also, if you follow the UFC, Tito Ortiz and Nate Quarry both had spinal fusion and are back fighting. They prolly shouldn't be, but they are fully capable.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling on and on, ive been stuck inside on a couch for about a month in a half. It might be possible im going insane/very bored. Hope some of what i said was a help. Like i said feel free to contact me if there is anything else i can do.


  • I think you should wait. You could walk every day, that should help. Aerobic exercises that give oxygen to the discs. I would have waited for my surgery. I think is true the pain should be very strong and disabling to decide for surgery. At least that is how I see it. I read a book from a surgeon and he recommends aerobic exercises: walking, standing bike...

    Surgeries should be the last option. It does work for some, but why have surgery if you maybe could heal with time. In this sight you can read about alternative treatments and also of how some disc resorb (I am not sure if that is the way to write it) I have three herniated discs in my lumbars, this is very common, some people are symptomatic, others aren't. I had pain for years and then it went away, and now I have every now and then but not disabling. I have a friend that had his leg numb for month and then he got better, he is now pain free.

    I know every case is different. Hope you can get better without surgery and continue your life!

  • Hi

    After 3 surgeries in the past year I would tell you to wait if at all you can. Unless you have bowel or bladder symptoms the chances of permanent problems are almost nil my neurosurgeon told me. He also told me that disc problems do heal themselves over time for many people.

    If you have spinal instability, as I did, it's different. My disc above my fusion is not in great shape, but I am going to stick with exercise rather than face another surgery.
  • I had 4 levels that needed to be fused, most Drs refused to do anything, and then I found one that said sure, I can fix that, no problem.

    3 surgerys later, I am totally disabled, finding out after the fact, that 4 levels are almost NEVER done.

    I wonder if I had gone to Dr much sooner before I had 4 levels go bad I could have gotten relief sooner with much better results.

    Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

    (this was a long story short)
  • Have you tried traction? Try it, it might buy you some time. Look into the Saunders Hometrac. It's only a couple bills for a used one on eBay. I bought one and it saves my bacon all the time.

    also read www.chirogeek.com
    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
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