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Post-op numbness & weaknesses -- L5-S1

Hi all -- great resource and community you've got here, and have spent a fair amount of time familiarizing myself with the site.

My story: my lower back has been getting progressively worse for the last six months. Started off as what I thought was a light muscle strain, which morphed into a sciatic annoyance, and eventually sciatic discomfort (butt down to bottom of foot) before I got my first MRI. MRI #1 revealed a bulging disc at L5-S1, and slight bulge at L4-L5. After physical therapy, chiro, and "decompression treatment" didn't alleviate issue, my surgeon ordered an epidural, which provided some relief for about two weeks. Note that I had full strength and sensation up to and past the point of the epidural. Three weeks ago I had a coughing fit, and it felt like someone stabbed me in my lower back and raked the knife down the back of my left leg. The searing pain lasted about four hours, and was instantly replaced by extreme numbness (from butt to heel of foot, including outside of left foot) and loss of strength in part of my leg (unable to raise myself up on my toes using only my left leg / foot). A trip to the ER confirmed that I had an acute herniation at L5-S1, and the attending physician prescribed a steroid pack so I could make it through the remainder of my vacation. A little over a week later, my orthopedic surgeon looked at the MRI and performed a physical exam based on my weakness, and recommended surgery.

So, I had surgery this past Monday (5 days ago). There's been no improvement in terms of either numbness or weakness. For those keeping track at home, I was "getting by" with the numbness / weakness for just over two weeks before surgery. I've read and heard enough to know that recovery from a microlaminitomy & microdiskectomy takes awhile -- months not days. But I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't scared that I may have permanent nerve damage. I'm an otherwise healthy & fit 40-yr old male, and am struggling with the psychological elements of this. Would love to hear from anyone that had a similar experience -- positive or negative outcome -- so I can manage my own expectations. I'm keen, also, to hear of anything else (treatment, diet, supplements, exercises) that have helped others. I don't want to overdo it, but I don't want lie on my back and just hope for the best all day either.

Thanks for your time.


  • I had similar symptoms to what you had pre-operatively - a herniation with pain and numbness down my left leg, altered sensation in the ball of my foot and toes and inability to use the gastrocnemius muscle to lift myself on my left foot. I was told this made me a surgical candidate in the hopes that I will eventually regain use of the large calf muscle. I was warned ahead of time not to expect my foot to improve at all and that I should learn to live with it. So far if I try and lift myself I might be able to squeeze a paper underneath the foot but bear in mind my herniation was in March and surgery wasn't until Aug 21st. My husband had emergency surgery some years ago for cauda equina syndrome and he still has residual weakness in that calf and limited ability to lift up on the leg. On the good end of things, the nerve pain in the butt and down to knees is gone and I am making good progress.
  • I should also tell you that in my husband's case he eventually went back to playing hockey and canoe tripping. He has always led an active lifestyle.
  • Really appreciate the feedback, and glad to hear that your pain issues have subsided and that your husband has resumed an active lifestyle. Very interested to hear if there are others out there with similar experiences. I know this is a question of months -- not days -- but in the back of my mind I'm trying to determine what the game plan looks like at various time / healing benchmarks. Running in the background of this, my wife is pregnant and due in mid-March, so I'm obviously interested in doing everything I can to promote the healing process.
  • Thanks Smiles1, very helpful to read of your experience thus far. I hope you continue to make progress as additional weeks turn into months. I've been mindful that surgery is theoretically only recommended when all other conservative options have been exhausted. I'm also aware that numbness & weakness in a limb is usually a bigger red flag than pain by itself. Since the pain from my herniation 3 weeks ago only lasted several hours before being replaced by extreme numbness down the back of my leg / foot, and weakness in my gastrocnemius muscle, I've been that much more scared that the surgery performed one week ago has not done anything to alleviate the numbness & weakness. I am extremely concerned about the prospect of permanent nerve damage, and am trying to understand what kind of a "window", if any, I have before there's nothing more that can be done.

    I'm inclined to get a post-op MRI so we can determine how the surgically repaired section of my spine looks. Curious, too, if it's possible to ascertain if a nerve is healthy or damaged based on an MRI film. At this point, it's clearly a wait & see approach to see if the surgery addressed everything and did so early enough in the nerve compression timeframe. I'm just trying to understand how "normal" it is to have zero relief of numbness & weakness immediately after surgery -- for better or worse, pain management was not a factor in moving forward with surgery, mainly because I couldn't (and still can't) feel anything.

  • I know exact what you are saying. I had extreme pain in the lumbar area. Went to physio. Got better. Was 100 percent back to life. Woke up with numbness in my right foot and calf and foot drop. My foot wasn't moving at all. I had surgery to remove the largest disc in the L5 area he'd ever seen.
    Now I'm in physio. But as I got stronger after recovery I've been biking and walking and stretching with those terabands for my leg. Physio is working on my core.
    One of the moves for homework was the child's pose (yoga) and after I did it my foot was numb and hurt in a different way after all of these days. Today it's back to "normal".
    Please share your surgeon's thoughts. Mine is very non-committal on the recovery of nerves. I think it's a bit of a crap shoot. My surgery was July 20th. My nerve was crushed for 21 days.
    Because my gait is off I hurt all over from walking. I think I'll be fitted with a walking aid... an AFO. Right now I need a cane outside but manage without around the house.
    This is all new to me. This may be a game changer.. but my kids don't care I'm not perfect. I'd rather it be me than them. Please remember your mind can be the most powerful tool in recovery. The body may not listen today... But there's always tomorrow and there's hope for you. Congratulations on your pending arrival!
  • McinnB - I'm sure your physician made you aware of this, but these spinal procedures are not designed to take away the pain. The whole idea behind them is to stabilize the spine and take pressure/compression of the spinal cord/nerves branching off the spine. Some benefits that may come of it are that once the compression/pressure is taken care of there is the hope that those nerves go back to business as usual and you have little to no pain. Everyone's recovery is different but just so you can get some background on me, I had an Axialif fusion on my L5/S1 disc less then 2 months ago. My surgeon went up through my tailbone to do my procedure so I don't have the typical post or anterior incisions as everyone else. I had nerve pain going down my right leg before they did surgery. Now I don't really have that issue anymore, but I do have weakness in that leg. I also have muscle crapping that goes along with it in the calf and thigh. I can only sit in chairs for short periods of time too. Its does get better, but it will take time. I think I final started to feel more normal by week four. But you need to follow you surgeons orders. You don't want to over due things and set yourself back. Hope that info helps you.
  • Using the search box will pull up several hundred threads regarding this very issue.
    Nerve recovery can take up to two years post op, depending on the extent of the nerve damage and what type of nerve is involved.
    MRI imaging is not going to show nerve improvement this soon post op........it can take weeks and months to see where the nerve function and reduction in pain is going to be.
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