Thought I would give an update. I know when I first discovered this site I looked at these type of messages to see what type of outcomes people had, since I was very nervous about having back surgery of any kind.
Brief background, I've had significant leg pain, cramping and numbness continuously since October or November 2006. Had at least one similar episode of leg pain in the past, that in hindsight was also disc related. At the time I just attributed it to muscle strain or hamstring trouble. And I've had foot pain and numbness for years that was diagnosed variously as Morton's neuroma and bursitis, but again it is likely to be disc related.
MRI confirmed a very large herniation at L5/S1 and did conservative treatment for more than a year. The first ESI helped a bit, as did subsequent ones, but they never stopped the pain, only dulled it. The first one had the most effect, with diminishing returns later. PT also helped some. Met with a surgeon in April 2007, but since I was (slowly) getting better, not worse, he didn't consider me a surgical candidate.
Earlier this year I "overdid" and had a major relapse of pain. This time surgeon recommended a microdiscectomy and I realized that conservative treatment wasn't going to fix my problems. And a second MRI in April confirmed that the herniation had not shrunk, and if anything was moving more into the narrow foramen where the nerve root lies. So things definately were getting worse, not better.
Had the surgery on May 19. Was going to be a couple weeks earlier, but I came down with a sinus infection days before surgery and it was postponed (that was frustrating).
Surgeon said it went pretty well, but there was a lot of scar tissue around the nerve (as he already suspected). Given the size of the herniation (he said it was a large tear with fraying of the annulus), I have a higher than average risk of re-herniation, so I'm trying to be really careful.
Following the surgery, virtually all my leg pain is gone, but I still have much of the foot pain and numbness when I walk. Every once in a while I'll get an electrical "zing" down my leg that tells me to back off what I'm doing.
Back to work at week 6 (last week), half time. Only made it 3.5 hours the first two days, and my sitting tolerance still is really low. Some people go back to work sooner, but given the size of the tear and amount of healing needed, my surgeon wanted to be pretty conservative.
Started PT last week as well. They mainly have me doing a pool program (water walking with specific arm movements) and some other home exercises for core strengthening.
I guess that's about it. While everyone's situation differs, I'm glad I had the surgery and even with my significant issues, I've gotten a lot of pain relief out of it.