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Stiffness-muscular, disc or scar tissue? Numbness - residual or new? Confused!

ld9731lld9731 Posts: 4
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:57 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the long post - I'm just lost at the moment and don't know which direction to take my healing.... (I might break this into two posts later as it's really two questions - but I thought I'd take a chance and see if someone else had a similar experience)

I had a microdisectomy at L4-L5 at the end of May this year (2011). I had left hip pain and dual leg light numbness (on/off) for four months before - then during the month of may my left leg became extremely painful - and they had to get me in for surgery 5 days before schedule as they were worried about nerve damage.

I recovered fairly well - was walking, most of the pain was gone - some residual, but not too bad. In August - about 2.5 months after my surgery - the general numbness came back in both legs (feels like the leg is half asleep) - and I also get a lot of stiffness in my lower back itself. The doctors said it could be the scar tissue building and it would recede eventually.

The numbness-tightness is worse with sitting and walking - basically feels best after a hot bath. After walking about a mile - my hamstrings and calves start to tighten up.

The stiffness - I'm not exactly sure - but I think when I do too much I get stiff - but also when I don't do enough? Confused! Sometimes I get some pain that feels like a bruising - but it's mostly stiffness.

I had a second MRI recently - and while there is some scar tissue, a few minor bulges - nothing that would really explain the numbness clearly (ie: if it was new). Overall the MRI looked okay...

So my two questions -

1) The stiffness in my lower back - how can I tell if it's the discs (rest/ice/anti-inflammatory) or if it's muscular (heat, stretching, walking).

2) The numbness - any suggestions on what to do about that? It basically limiting my recovering - unless I ignore it and work through it. But I feel like the times that I've pushed too far I end up sore, stiff and in some pain. If it's residual, am I harming myself by walking when I feel numb?

Anyway, if anyone can help - I feel like my healing plateaued in September....and my doctor (haven't talked to the surgeon) is stumped in a way



(L4-L5 microdisectomy May 2011)


  • Welcome to Spine-Health. Not sure if I can help you, but here's a couple of suggestions.

    How much walking are doing each time you go out? If you're walking longer distances, you might want to do lots of short walks during the day. My understanding is that healing from microdiscectomy takes at least 6 months. I had a laminectomy/discectomy in 08 which wasn't successful.

    Sitting and standing puts a lot of pressure on the lumbar region. I'd avoid sitting for anything more than 30 mins at a time (less if it gets painful). You could get up and walk around and do some stretching, but no twisting.

    Are you doing any gentle stretching exercises? Perhaps a good remedial masseur could help you?

    Whatever you do, don't overdo any activities. I'm 2 years out from fusion, but I still can't sit for long periods and need to get up, walk and stretch, which I'm going to have to do in a moment.


    XLIF L2-4 20.8.15
    ALIF L4/5 2009
    Laminectomy/discectomy L4/5 2008
  • Hi Trish,

    Thanks for replying!

    As far as the length of walks - my PT suggested the same thing (more frequent/short duration walks). A short walk for me is around .75-1 mile, a long walk for me is 1.4-2 miles - but I also live in a hilly area - so I only have a few flat walking routes.

    I'm doing some gentle stretching - mostly in the legs, I do some slight modified childs pose (that's when I notice/feel the tightness).

    Two years....wow. I'm impatient that's for sure - so that's probably part of the problem.

    - Lisa

  • Well, I think Trish asked the right questions.
    I will agree it can take 6months to become more stable. I, too, have a lot of the symptoms you describe in regards to feeling bruised and stiff. For numbness I never got feeling back so not sure what to tell you there.

    I have not gone back yet to the doctor as I was hoping not to. But as I near the 2 year mark post 2nd surgery, I plan to.

    Anyhow, I have been told a little scar tissue in the wrong spot is worse than a lot of scar tissue in the right spot. Since you can get some relief, do you find the PT exercises they taught you help?

    I find if I start to consistently do the PT stretches, I start getting relief from the symptoms.

    Good luck
  • Thanks guys----

    I'm just wondering - how do you make it through a typical day? I'm lucky in that I am taking six months off work - and don't have any kids - but I'm sure others must have to get back to life/responsibility, etc

    My friends don't really get it because I seem ok - ie: I can sit for a while and not feel it that night, but the next day - ugg, sore and stiff.

    It feels like I'm stuck in this little zone of acceptable activity for my body...sigh. :)

    - L
  • It can be frustrating - do too much or too little and it impacts you. My husband had a discectomy at L4-L5 20 years ago. Depending what he's doing or if he is overdoing things or driving long distances the numbness starts to come back. He re-starts his PT exercises and after a bit he's ok again.

    Do you have arthritis in the area? Regardless of age, with the issues you've had, it could be. I do and I am stiff when I get up after sitting a while, and if I do too much.

    I wish you all the best.
    4 level ACDF C4-C7 5-2-11, laminectomy & discectomy L4-L5 1/26/12, ALIF L4-5, L5-S1 12/10/12.
  • Frustrating indeed - I feel like I need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the factors.

    Karen - I'm 40 and I don't have arthritis, but I have been sort of diagnosed with fibromyalgia (I'm still hoping it's some obscure food allergy) - which complicates things as it tightness my muscles - which pulls on my back, etc.

    I have a wonderful PT that I just started working with - we do some gentle core strengthening, massage, and I have some nerve threading from before that I do. She said I've got a lot going on from a muscle tightness-imbalance angle - and it will be some work to unwind and retrain my body. (Played soccer for 20+ years - ie: soccer walk, turned toward kicking leg and several knee injuries).

    I'm curious about the PT that everyone mentioned above - but my guess is that there is another topic for PT specifically.

    This forum has been my savior since April of this year - although right now I am still confused about what's is actually happening when I get a flare up? Is it mainly inflammation? If my disc looks ok - I'm confused about what's going on in there. :)

    Hopefully I can pay the advice forward for someone else once I make it through this year!

    Hope you guys are healing well.

    Oh - and I'm also starting meditation - trying to mentally heal myself. A girl can dream...

    Thanks, lisa
  • Wow, I can relate to you. I don't have kids and feel that is a blessing in light of my back issues that went south when I turned 40. I took several weeks off after my revision microdiscectomy and started/stopped/started exercising for 8 months or so.

    There are weeks where I have learned that the dull pain is just me getting older (42). And then weeks where I wonder if another level of my spine is giving out. So I take it week by week.

    Bad weeks, I enjoy a glass of wine so I can sit through a 1.5 hour dinner on girl's night. Luckily my huusband is great and understands. Just having him know how I am makes a big difference on me getting through my bad days. I could not sit by with life going on around me so I have worked my way up to exercising 4x/week. This means 3mile walk or my no impact cardio class for 1 hour. It means stretching and lots of water. It also means that I m typically too tired to do all the other things I did before like volunteering and working out twice a day but I smile at each of my 4 work outs because it sure beats being in bed and if I hurt later t least it was because I was out trying to live life.

    It is a roller coaster.
  • Taking six months off work will help you concentrate on healing. In 08, I had a laminectomy/discectomy which didn't help because I found out later from my current neurosurgeon that it was the wrong procedure for spondylolisthesis. I had 3 months off work and couldn't cope with the pain because of all the sitting and computing. I stuck it out for 6 months and retired earlier than what I'd planned. However, your situation is different to mine. I then went on to have a fusion in 09 and it was a good decision.

    Your friends won't be able to understand your chronic stiffness and pain because they've never been through it. They've probably had back ache/pain over the years which has resolved itself. We do look fine on the outside and because we're trying to do everything to help ourselves, we tend not to let on to others how we're feeling.

    Have you checked out the Fibromyalgia section on this forum? There could be something there that can help you. I hope you don't have it, but perhaps your physio can help you more with this??

    Has your physio given you work to do in the pool? That could help, especially in the hydrotherapy pool and perhaps you could have a spa afterwards and relax in the sauna or steam room. The leisure centre where I was going has all of that, and it was wonderful.

    Meditation's a good thing too. I like doing Tai Chi breathing exercises.

    Because you've been very active, you're doing everything you can to help yourself. Continue to work in with your physio and hopefully you'll be a "new you" in another few months.


    XLIF L2-4 20.8.15
    ALIF L4/5 2009
    Laminectomy/discectomy L4/5 2008
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