My symptoms before surgery.
I think I ruptured the disk when I was 17 lifting weights. Felt pain running the next week. Back got better with time. In my 30's I would have intense burning lower back pain for a week after I did hard physical work. At 40 I developed shooting leg pain - worse while sitting or driving. This lasted for a few years but went away. At that time I saw an Ortho back surgeon, had an MRI and he said there was slight bulging but did not see the need for surgery. Prescribed lidocaine patches and PT.
At 45 the pain became nearly constant but no longer "syadic" or radiating lag pain. Just intense local burning. Visited a chiropractor. No help. at 48, the pain was very bad. Eating 500 Ibuprofen per month.
Around this time I had a kidney stone and the doc gave me the cat scan data and the software to view it. While looking around I discovered that there was no space between L5 and S1. Doc said I was not ready for surgery, gave me another MRI and the 2 rounds of facet shots. No help. I asked if disk replacement was an option. He said I was too far gone but would fuse instead. A month earlier he said I was not ready for surgery. I fired him.
By this time I could only walk with great care and would frequently collapse to my knees to relieve the sudden stabbing pain in my lower back.
New Ortho Doc at Yale New Haven ordered a discogram to get a better look at the problem. Yeah they hurt. Tip, give the doc a running pain level as she starts pumping in the fluid. That way they will be able to stop it sooner. Pain will still rise but not as high. They are trying to confirm that the pain you feel at that point is the same as the pain you are trying to have cured.
Discogram showed L4-L5 perfect big fat and happy. L5-S1 nonexistent. The fluid showed up as a very thin uneven line completely unconfined between to vertebra that were in contact.
Doc told me he would try a disk replacement (ProDisc) if the surfaces cleaned up. He predicted 2 1/5 hours and home in 2 days. That was not to be. He got in there and found that the disc space opened to a larger space than he had ever seen. He had a cop car drive the biggest disc made in from NYC while I was on the table. That didn't fit. So, he to a chunk from my hip and whittled to wedged columns to go in the space stabilized with a plastic doohickey.
He added 23 mm to the gap and I got noticeably taller, about 1/2" (the space is tilted). He spent a lot of time whittling so I was out for 8 hours.I was walking that night though my guts didn't wake up for 5 days so I had to stay in the hospital for 6.
Back pain was completely gone in 1 month. No hip pain from the donor site what so ever. Doc uses a more time consuming method but it allows him to harvest or more viable chunk with little post op pain. I have not been allowed to do anything for 1 year, though I was back at work ( engineer) in two months.
At 3 months I had more mobility than I did pre-op - though I was not supposed to bend or twist. But I could wash my face in the morning without kneeling or resting my elbows on the sink. I know I WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THAT. If I did push a little too hard, I would get occasional mild (2-3) nerve pain. The incision pain was the worst part for me since you cannot use you abs at all until they heal.
At the end of the month the doc will clear my with no restrictions. And I can run again!!! I have taken a few steps and have not been able to run that well for 10 years. Doc examined all L verts and hips and knees and said genetically I have great joints and have not injured any of the others, so running is not what wiped me out. It was a very old injury to that one disc.
Anyway, I feel great. Oh yeah, this is my advice on picking a surgeon. Ask the radiologist when you are getting you Disco-gram who does the best work with the least complaints. Also, ask OR nurses. They all pointed me to the same two doctors.