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Am I insane to consider surgery?

Long time lurker here, but this is my first post. I am considering discectomy on at least one disc, but I need a sanity check here from this experienced community --

I am 40yo, athletic and active. I'll spare the details except to say that I have several disc herniations in lumbar spine as well as some herniations in cervical spine. I also have a torn labrum in at least one hip. For a variety of reasons, I strongly suspect that my biggest problem is a large herniation in L5-S1.

I won't attempt to itemize them here, but I have tried just about every imaginable non-surgery treatment possible over the last 5 years to attack pain and compensation injuries in about a dozen body parts from feet to neck.

Here's the rub...

Through an insane exercise and strengthening program, I have gotten to the point that I now live my life 95% pain-free. I can run, lift weights, and do just about anything (except sit for long periods) without any real pain. HOWEVER, there is one thing I simply cannot do without severe pain that causes me to run for the Vicodin every time---play tennis. So, just don't play tennis, right? Problem is that tennis is sort of my life's passion outside of my family. So the question.....

Is it absolutely insane that I am considering discectomy surgery for the sole purpose of potentially being able to play recreational tennis without pain? And, if not insane, would it change your opinion if I added the fact that, given the variety of disc and other issues I have, there is a pretty decent chance that the surgery will not fix the problem (either because we attack the wrong disc or the wrong body part altogether).

Thanks for your thoughts.


  • I don't know about insane. I've had two microdisectomies, and not only were they quite easy to recover from, they did an awesome job of taking away my pain.

    That said, I think you already pointed this out--you've got other problems. I would only consider a microdiscectomy if your quality of life (other than tennis) is severely impacted. In my case, I couldn't get out of bed, that's how bad it was. Here's the deal with this surgery--I think you might need it down the road. But if you have it now, you're taking away disc material, and that will put more pressure on your other discs to compensate.

    So I'd wait. I think it really sucks that you can't play tennis, and I feel for you, but that's just what happens when we have back problems. I'm only 24, and I'll never be able to run again. I used to be a rock climbing instructor and it fueled me both physically and emotionally. I can't do that anymore, and I cried about it for a while, but then I found other passions. I found a love of yoga. And I'm a writer. And a mom. I just think of all the things I CAN do, and I try to stay positive about it.

    Save the surgeries for later when you'll probably need them more.
    Alyssa Auch
    24, mother of 3, two discectomies at ages 17 and 23.
    Currently battling more disc pain.
  • LizLiz Posts: 7,832

    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
    Cervical stenosis, so far avoided surgery
  • PinkellaPPinkella Posts: 211
    edited 05/25/2014 - 1:02 PM
    I to use to be very sporty, Aerobics, Zumba, running, cycling, Body combat. I cant do any of these since having arthritis in my facet spinal joints. Its effort just to walk down the road.Im in constant pain.It took me a while to come to terms with the fact I will never do these sports again At first I felt robbed off part of my life,but eventually I came to terms with it and realised getting the pain under control and been able to return to work was far more important than taking part in sports.
    I think its all about putting it into perspective...
    I think you are lucky that you are still able to take part in sports...and that your exercises help with your pain.

    I would never have an op which carried risks. if it was only so I could play tennis or in my case run or take part in aerobics.
    If it was for pain relief and a better quality of life in general then I may go for it,would depend on the risks with that surgery.
    Spinal Surgery can sometimes make the pain worse, a risk with any spinal surgery. So I think maybe you should be mindful of this..
    It doesn't really matter what my opinion is as its you that has to make that decision and be happy with what you choose to do.
    I would ask your surgeon whether he thinks the surgery is worthwhile? or whether its better left alone.
    I think you are doing really well with your sports considering your disc problems...
    Make the decision that's best for you and your health.No one can tell you what to do .It is your decision and I for one would never judge you on your final decision.

    Facet joint Arthritis L3,L4,L5,DDD.
  • what test have you had done to diagnosis your herniations? one has to have a plethera of tests to diagnosis a herniated disc. i had an mri, x-rays, diseconomy, nerve conduction tests, and a test for arthritis along with a cat scan. i had to see a neurologist who also tested me in his office and along with all of the tests, a diagnosis of herniated disc was made and also the decision to have fusion surgery. it is a long process to diagnosis and too many people post here who say they have sciatica or a herniated disc without any test given. lots of tests are given to make sure the diagnosis is correct. so yes i used to be very active, i used to run 10 miles a day for 12 years, play tennis, surf, and play football. i would say it is up to your pain doctor and neurosurgeon about playing sports if indeed you have herniated discs.
    I have 4 fusions from L5-3, the latest last May '12 where they fixed my disc that broke.They went through my side this time. I take 40 mg of oxycontin 4x a day and 4 fenatyl lollipops 300 micro gms 4x a day.
  • kbiggerkkbigger Posts: 22
    edited 05/28/2014 - 12:42 PM
    That this isn't a decision for you to take lightly. I had the exact same issues as you, except I had leg and back pain more frequently. I had a torn labrum, that I had operated on with an orthoscopy. When the surgeon went in, he found arthritis, and also did a microfracture. I was on crutches for 6 weeks, and after coming off of them, a week later, my back started hurting and my foot went numb. That was just the start. As time progressed, I started getting pain in my calf area, and major flare-ups in the back. After 6 months of therapy, I had a microdisectomy 4 months ago. My leg pain is gone, but my back pain is still there. I see the surgeon in 2 weeks to decide what to do. He had mentioned a fusion. It has been a domino effect for me. I sometimes look back and wish I never had the first hip surgery, which lead to the severe back and leg pain. So just be certain you know what you are getting yourself into. Mine was a work accident, so I had to do what my work wanted me to do. I am not able to do 90% of the things I did before my accident, and since my surgeries, I struggle constantly with trying to find the new "norm". Before all the surgeries, I was ready to try whatever it took to get back to my "life". Now my life is totally different. Just a heads up to make your choice wisely. Not trying to scare you or anything, because everyone is different, but you need to remember what you have, not what you dont. Best of luck to you.
  • sandisandi Posts: 6,343
    edited 05/28/2014 - 5:25 PM
    There are risks, and with spine surgery, those risks can have disastrous outcomes if not taken into serious consideration.
    The reality of spine surgery is that it is not done to ease pain- it is done to correct an anatomical problem or a nerve compression problem. There is a saying , one third will remain the same, one third will get better and one third will wind up worse than prior to their surgery.
    I would strongly encourage you to visit with at least two surgeons for evaluation and treatment options, and make sure that you do every conservative option for treatment prior to considering surgery.
  • I think one should go easy, before taking part in any type of outdoor sports. I would recommend you to consult a good doctor before taking the decision.
  • Hi....Iv got oustioaritis of my lumber spine , and have now developed numbness in my groin ,
    does anyone know of any foods that help with this illness , my doctor seems to think iv got
    a pinched nerve an thats what is causing the numbness , thanks.
  • sandi said:
    There are risks, and with spine surgery, those risks can have disastrous outcomes if not taken into serious consideration.
    The reality of spine surgery is that it is not done to ease pain- it is done to correct an anatomical problem or a nerve compression problem. There is a saying , one third will remain the same, one third will get better and one third will wind up worse than prior to their surgery.
    I would strongly encourage you to visit with at least two surgeons for evaluation and treatment options, and make sure that you do every conservative option for treatment prior to considering surgery.
    Sandi that may be the case in The USA but is certainly not the case in England.I work in Physiotherapy and have treated many patients who have had spinal surgery for pain reduction or elimination of pain..in some cases the surgery has made a lot of difference in patients pain levels ! The out come is variable as we know with any spinal surgery...
    My spinal surgeon has performed spinal surgery for many different reasons pain been one of them and he is regarded as one of the top Spinal surgeons in the country and is know for his outstanding success rate in spinal surgeries...
    It's partly about researching your Spinal doctor,I did this at work as we have access and knowledge about the top surgeons with top success rates in England through work..
    Treatment,care,attitude,knowledge ,success, can differ from one doctor to another and also from country to country , that is clear from this site..It doesn't mean anyone is wrong....

    Facet joint Arthritis L3,L4,L5,DDD.
  • I am known for straight talking so please don't take offence {just benefit from my almost 18 years of pain and 3 major operations spinal} first you should stand a very GOOD chance of a positive outcome considering your physical fitness and it would be your first surgery and as long as you have no underlying diseases and you chose an excellent consultant I don't see why if ALL ELSE FAILS go for it .BUT !!!! please remember even though things have come a long way since my first spinal and over the pond your medical guys and girls are around 10 years ahead of the uk you are not guaranteed a problem free result .all spinal surgery carries risk from mild on going pain to paralysis .that's why its mega important to make sure you don't cut corners when choosing a consultant .I was ok after my first L4/L5 laminectomy but that lasted around 6/7 years then the pain came back and I needed more surgery .that was a disaster and from 2007 I have been in decline it took a few more years until I found a consultant prepared to try to sort the mess out from the second surgery and eventually I found a guy highly recommended when he saw my MRI scans he told me that I would be in pain for the rest of my life and the ALIF fusion [big operation] was to stabilize my spine and for no other reason it would not get rid of pain .but that was in my case .. you are a totally different story ....personally if I were you and armed with knowledge from sites like this one and considering your relatively pain free .I would NOT have surgery .but its your choice please read as much as you can and make your own mind up .not all people end up like me {unable to work/wear normal clothing on my lower body due to nerve damage /unable to have a social life /sex life .have problems with sleep and need 24/7 narcotics to control pain .good luck in your choice ..please don't rush in to anything
    1997 laminectomy
    2007 repeat laminectomy and discectomy L4/L5
    2011 ALIF {L4/L5/S1}
    2012 ? bowel problems .still under investigation
    2014 bladder operation may 19th 2014
  • sandisandi Posts: 6,343
    edited 05/30/2014 - 5:51 AM
    I am not disagreeing that some patients do in fact, wind up with pain relief, but relief of pain is not the purpose of the surgery, at least here. Surgeons tell their patients that they may get pain relief, but that it is not the "basis/reason" for the procedure.
    I know people who have gotten tremendous relief of the pain they had, and others who have wound up far worse.....Mindset plays a huge role in recovery, as does working hard to recover, and the physical therapy and following the restrictions and activity levels post op....having a great surgeon who really is working hard for you , is also something that helps to lead to a successful outcome.
    I wish that all of us wound up in the category of doing much better and getting substantial pain relief.....
  • This started with a post from 'Rose' who states that they have done everything conservative & now live 95% pain free. Isn't that a success story? I haven't posted on this thread because I thought the answer was in the question "Am I crazy?" isn't the answer YES?!?

    Would you recommend anyone who can be so pain free (with a sporting restriction) to have surgery?
    Osteoarthritis & DDD.
  • sandisandi Posts: 6,343
    edited 05/31/2014 - 7:27 AM
    and I wouldn't recommend having surgery if anyone is pain free......but that's just me.
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