I’m 50 years of age and in December I was diagnosed December with degenerative disc disease at L4-L5 and L5-S1 and am experiencing moderate to severe pain in my lower mid-back, but mostly, the pain is at the S1 joint. My S1 joint is misaligned and the vertebrae above L5 is also misaligned. I also have mild scoliosis and narrowing of the nerve canal. I think it's called spinal stenosis. Most days, the pain level is between 3 and 5, but depending on my activity level, the pain can get as bad as an 8 or 9. At that point, I have to stop what I’m doing and ice my back or apply this topical cream my doctor prescribed. It’s absolutely heaven (I call it my ‘back crack’); however, it’s really just a Band-Aid and wears off within about 30 minutes to an hour. I have a desk job and sit on my bum all day. I get up about every hour or so for short walks to help alleviate the pressure on my spine. I mostly encounter pain at L5/S1 when standing or walking. The pain usually starts after about standing or walking for 10 minutes or so.
I began a regimen of physical therapy twice a week for six weeks and learned all kinds of stretching exercises. For a while, I believe it was helping. But in the last few weeks, I’ve been experiencing twitching or muscle spasms in my left leg and moderate to severe ankle and arch pain in my left foot. This only happens at night. My ortho doc doesn’t seem to think the leg and ankle pain is nerve related. Sometimes further stretches will help, but overall, my sleep is being impacted. I had pain injections in February. I was relatively pain free for about two months. Now that the pain is back, I’ve scheduled another round for later this month.
I have visited two orthopedic surgeons and one neurosurgeon. One of the ortho surgeons and the neurosurgeon recommend Anterior and Posterior Lumbar Fusion Surgery. The other ortho surgeon recommended disc replacement. There are days when I want to jump on the operating table and say ‘let’s do this! I’m sick of this pain!’ Then there are days when I’m scared to death of this surgery. I know that it’s more for stabilization and that there are no guarantees that it will relieve my pain, but the surgeon I have chosen to stick with also said that he believed in this surgery and that he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t think it would help his patients.
In the seven months I’ve been dealing with this, I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed. I personally know two people who have had this surgery, with good to semi-good results. One co-worker told me her back pain is now gone, but she’s having leg nerve issues and is practically learning to walk again. But, with physical therapy, she said the leg pain is subsiding somewhat, but she knows there is no guarantee that the nerve will ever get better. However, she said the surgery was still worth it because her back pain is gone. Another friend has had amazing results. She said she has absolutely no more back pain and wishes she would have had the surgery sooner. She does, however, have ‘foot drop,’ but has not experienced a lot of pain from that. A third friend avoided surgery altogether through decompression therapy. I looked into it, but the treatment lasts 12 weeks for a total cost of $5K, which is not covered by insurance.
I haven’t read a lot of good news stories on this forum and that makes me not want to have any surgery, but I don’t want to take pain meds the rest of my life either. My physical therapist firmly believes that with enough muscle strengthening, I can regain stabilization and relieve the pain. At first I believed and over the course of the last seven months I’ve worked really hard. But I’m beginning to wonder if I can honestly put in the necessary work-out time to achieve enough muscle strength to make a difference.
I don’t talk about this much with my family and friends, because it’s just so overwhelming. I’m glad I found this forum and I hope that it helps me make a decision about whether surgery is right for me.
DDD, Lumbar Spinal Stenosis, SI Joint dysfunction, Grade 1 Spondylolisthesis at L4-L5
Facing possible Anterior and Posterior Lumbar Fusion Surgery at L4/L5 and L5/S1