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L5/S1 free fragment removal -- post op anxiety

Two weeks ago tomorrow, I had a broken disc free fragment removed that was pressing on my L5 nerve root. I had a laminectomy in Dec 2011, which was successful until this past Feb when the L5/S1 was bulging again and causing nerve pain. Then, on 6/20, I awoke unable to sit or do anything other than lay on the floor in terrible pain. That must have been when the disc broke. I didn't sleep much or eat much for that week as I was only able to lie on the floor. In fact, I lost 10 lbs in one week. My surgeon did an MRI showing the disc fragment and suggested surgery since I was in agony.

After the surgery on 6/27, my pain is much less (although I still have some nerve pain…I know this is just the nerve healing). My incision is very small (about 2.5 inches, so minimal pain there). The issue I am facing now is anxiety. Everyone tells me how fortunate I am and how minor my surgery was in the big scheme of things. And, they are right. However, I still don't feel "up to par" and I have difficulty sleeping and nightmares of the pain returning. Also, because I had "outpatient" surgery, I am working from home and finding it increasingly difficult to keep up, which is also increasing my anxiety. My workplace tells me to only do what I can, but the emails haven't stopped and I find it difficult to turn off my brain in order to rest.

Has anyone else experience this type of anxiety following what many consider a "minor" procedure? I also have a hard time communicating to anyone who wasn't around during my week of agony just how bad it was. Not that they would understand, but still…I guess I'm wondering if anyone has experience anything similar.


  • 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
  • I am sorry, I did not know about the FAQ and it appears I have posted in the wrong forum. Feel free to delete my post. My apologies.
  • Some post op anxiety is perfectly normal, and especially when we are faced with what was most likely one of the significant events in our lives, and it seemingly came out of nowhere.
    You will get a better grip on things, but you can't spend all of your time focused on what was, but rather on what is, now and in the future.
    We all understand the pain of a sudden herniation and not being able to do what we normally do.......but you also have to balance that fear of it recurring with knowing that you have and are doing everything you can to prevent it from happening again.
    Follow the post op restrictions and activity levels, and when you are cleared, if your surgeon feels it is necessary, he may refer you to physical therapy to work with the therapists to strengthen your core muscles etc.
    One day at a time, one step at a time.
  • I could have written your post. I had an emergency microdiscetomy on my L5S1 on May 27. I had been bed ridden for a week after collapsing at work. I was heavily medicated between that date and the date of my surgery. I had been trying to heal my disc with non surgical methods for 6 months but the pain was just getting worse. I was supposed to have the surgery in July but I started losing control of my bladder, hence the emergency situation. I also lost 15 lbs in 2 weeks.

    The anxiety was all consuming after the surgery. Fear of the pain pre op, fear of rehernaiton was all I could think off. Combine that with an unintentional cold turkey wean off my pain meds and I was a mess.

    Having dealt with depression and anxiety before I realized I needed help. My husband and my kids were great and so supportive but they are not professionals. I started seeing a therapist to help me deal with the anxiety. I am not adverse to anti anxiety medication, but I want to try non medication means first.

    I do have to say time is helping. I am 6.5 weeks out from my surgery and each day gets better. My husband has noticed that my emotional episodes have decreased. I am becoming more mobile and am out more enjoying the sunshine. I am going to my kids' sporting events again. Some days the fear can still grip me, but I can slowly talk myself out.

    One day at a time. :)
  • Thank you, Tina for your reply. I am two weeks post op so it is good to hear how well you are doing at 6 weeks. I have a return to work date looming of 7/21, but I'm thinking of seeing a therapist in the meantime to get some help for the anxiety. I did have a better night of sleep last night and have been walking a lot, so I know that will help also. Best wishes to you as you continue to recover. Thanks again.
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    for myself, I am on gabapentin for the nerve pain (I am a few weeks away from scheduled discectomy at L5-S1) and it does have a nice side effect of making me care less about 'stuff' in general. I know this because I am prone to anxiety with stressful situations - I am now unemployed due to my situation and preparing for surgery, plenty of fodder for the anxiety prone mind - and I'm doing OK.
  • I can't imagine this.. or 100 different things that are more horrible than this. Then you meet someone and kiss the ground. (well... If I could get back up again)
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