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Me too!! Ruptured L5-S1 awaiting surgery - my experience

I am 45 yr old wife and mother of 3 teenage-adult sons living in Manitoba, Canada. My problems with back/sciatica first became intense about 14 years ago. I had difficult labor/delivery with my babies, which definitely played into this. I really only had bad flare-ups occasionally and just thought I had a 'bad back' like most people, but now think there was a bulging disc waiting for it's opportunity to rupture for a few years already. In March 2014 my back seized on me - the very worst i've ever had. The next few weeks were nothing short of torture. I took awhile before I could get in to see my GP, and then a few weeks of figuring out a pain management plan that worked...well, the morphine, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory only just took the edge off, but it was better than nothing. In Canada, testing, surgeries, etc. are covered by Medicare, but there is a loonngg wait for absolutely everything. At first, I could only get an MRI for July - 4 months after injury, until I got a last minute appointment for end of April, reviewing results a week later with my GP. At this point, 2 months post-injury, I had been going to physiotherapy and it was giving me some short-term relief but I was still seriously over-medicating myself with everything I could throw at it. My GP said I had 'a severe rupture' at L5-S1 that would not heal on it's own and would require surgery. Next step, referral to orthopedic surgeon, apptmt 3 months away. Again, I negotiated a consult with a well-reputed neurosurgeon for an earlier date, and he recommended a discectomy. I had done some research on my own prior to the consult, and felt if I was offered a discectomy I wouldn't hesitate to sign on the dotted line. Completed pre-op that same day so I was ready to go ASAP, they said by end of summer likely. Well, I finally did get a surgery date for October 29, but they called a few days before to tell me it would have to be postponed, likely into December. Disappointed, yes. But on some level I can understand that there are people out there with bigger problems than mine that have been waiting and had surgeries postponed too. In the meantime, I am still going to physio, which I believe is still helping. The biggest aid for me has been aquacise at local pool 3x week. Seriously, the best thing to keep your muscles toned and moving, when there is NOTHING else you can do without pain - water exercise! My physiotherapist was totally supportive when I told him I was doing it, and he said it would be very hard to make matters worse for my back in the pool. Pain-wise, it has become more manageable, and to some extent I believe I am getting used to it and not 'fighting it' so much anymore. The best thing for me medicinally has been gabapentin, prescribed for nerve pain. It takes awhile to work your way up to full dose, but I believe it is helping me alot. Otherwise, I also use muscle relaxant baclofen and supplement with ibuprofen as well. I got myself off of morphine as soon as I could (was using it probably 1.5 months) as it really messed up my bowels and my head. Also use heating pad for bad flare-ups. The nerve pain makes me tense, and then my muscles start to spasm and then the nerve pain gets worse...you know the vicious cycle. I know to keep muscles moving reduces the spasms and pain, but it's hard to find things to do that don't aggravate that compressed nerve. Aquacise has been the life-saver for me - something everyone with this issue should try if they have the means to.
I did follow through with the orthapedic surgeon consult in August, and was recommended for a spinal fusion (4-8 month wait). And then in September, I consulted with German spine surgeons who recommended disc replacement at their facilities in Germany with a $40000 price tag (2 month wait)...I feel the discectomy is promising for me, and much less invasive than the other options, so I'm sticking with it. I only hope I'm not in need of a 2nd back surgery down the line somewhere, that I wasted my time & energy with a discectomy 1st. It's a chance I have to take. I have connected with several people from these forums to gain as much insight through others' experiences as I can, recognizing that more people come on these forums to complain or look for answers to problems than to share positive outcomes. I hope I can be one of those with a success story to share!


  • I'm not sure what you're point is are you looking for an answer like what you've decided is the "right" thing to do?
    I have to agree with the aquatics! it's amazing!!!

    What I do not agree with are your comments about why people come here. Most of the time when people get better as they move along back into their lives they don't have time for the boards anymore which is a good thing. I know several folks who have just stayed to help others. Those of us who come back are usually the ones nothing else can be done for them medicinally. I would fall into that category, I don't sit and "complain" but share my experiences so as to at least help one person. I waited too long for surgery and it made mountains out of molehills. I don't want someone else to go through the insanity I go through. For example I had no idea a central herniation is one of the worst types to have..
    take care

  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    just sharing my experience, in hopes of connecting with others who might relate to my personal struggles with waiting for surgery to relieve pain and getting back to living! I'm glad there are those who stay to help/encourage others...I do find an overwhelming number of posters who are talking about failed procedures, or poor aftercare, which CAN color one's view of how successful/unsuccessful back surgery is. You're right, in that many of those who have success are back to living life and that's a good thing! I'm sorry that things have not gone as well for you, and while I'm well aware that my surgery may not give me all I am hoping for, I need to be optimistic. What surgery did you have? What is central herniation and why is it one of the worst to have? Do you have other procedures you are investigating?
  • lateral, paralateral, central, paracentral and the direction that the disc herniates dictates what structures in the spine are also effected. A central herniation is one that herniates into the canal and can cause compression of the thecal sac or spinal cord itself.
  • who do have an overdose of procedures and they fail. there are people who do need to complain and those that are down in the dumps. alot of us just need to stay in touch with people who get it.
    laminectomies/discectomies do very well generally. fusions have a 50/50 shot...
    i'm a lumbar fusion from l4-s1 with a spinal cord stimulator. i'm, a rn who'd give her left arm to pick up where i left off afterwards. i guess we all have different spoonfuls of things to deal with
    take care
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    and looking back on my original post I feel like "complain" might have been a little harsh...people looking for answers and support for various painful issues do sometimes need a place to put their frustrations too. And those who aren't going through it themselves aren't always sympathetic, so these forums are probably the next best thing for some.
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    I'm day 2 post-op and doing alright. My discectomy was yesterday am and I was home for supper same day. I'm managing pain much the same way I was just prior to surgery, no narcotics necessary since I left hospital so that's great. Pain is most noticeable at the surgical site, but the leg/nerve pain is still there, not worrisome tho. You hear stories of those who wake up from this surgery with 0 nerve pain and others with worse and in both cases in can be temporary as the body goes through the stages of healing. I'm drinking lots of water, not much is leaving my body yet and I'm bloated and uncomfortable but I know this is temporary too. Wearing TED stockings as advised but I think I'll try to go without tomorrow if possible...feeling quite optimistic about this procedure, just sooo thankful it was finally my turn, feeling like I'm finally on the path to wellness again!
  • If you don't mind sharing, what were your considerations in choosing discectomy over the disc replacement option you had ? Was it cost related, or for medical reasons?

    The reason I ask is because I too have had a discectomy, but now I can't do disc replacement down the road because a hemi-laminectomy (small part of spinal bone removal) had to be done in order to reach the disc. Apparently then, this disqualifies one from artificial disc replacement later on.

    The discs will continue to degenerate. They're not getting younger. If they wear out completely, it looks like one is only left with spinal fusion later on? I don't know. If you had any insights on total disc replacement would be great to hear it.
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    and what was offered to me close to home. The only disc replacement that was offered to me was from German spine specialists at a price tag of $40,000 for surgery, therapy & expenses for 2 weeks. I have only had a few words with the surgeon post-op, so I can't say for sure that it was only a discectomy...but if I recall, at my original consult with him, he did say that it was hopeful that IF a disc-replacement would be necessary down the road, that it would still be possible. I am well aware that this may not be my only back surgery, but I felt that to try the least invasive option recommended was what I was willing to go with at this point in time. Was your discectomy a failure, or are you concerned about what may develope down the road?
  • Thanks for replying! I think my whole operation and the recovery thus far has come along quite well, all things considered. I'm 5 weeks post op, all pain is gone, but I have tingling and some numbness in both feet, though I think they're very, very gradually improving. I'm glad you're doing fine as well.

    Good too that you have alternatives down the road should you ever need it, which I hope you never have to. For me, a lot of disc material was removed at L4/5 due to the largish herniation, so I'm wondering what's next. Yes, I have to work at strengthening the core muscles, but that gap between the vertebrae is sure to narrow, isn't it?
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    and I feel I am doing well. I was prepared for the worst, so I feel so very blessed that things are not what I expected - in a good way! I am walking most days, even though our Canadian winter roads out here in the country are very icy these days, but I wear cleats so I'm sure-footed; walking about a mile at a time and my pace is picking up almost daily. I'm not one of those lucky ones whose nerve pain is instantly gone following discectomy surgery, but I remain optimistic. The surgical site is healed over and looking good. I still get quite tired - today I slept in late making it a 10-hour night for me (some interruptions for meds & washroom) which is not normal for me. Yesterday I went to church, to my folks' for lunch and laid down there all afternoon; the day before, my hubby reluctantly allowed me to come along grocery shopping...so it has been a busy weekend for this recovering body. I had a set-back earlier in the week with what I believe to be a food-borne illness which had me violently ill for an entire night and not eating well for a few days after. It does not seem that the wretching did any harm to my surgical site, thankfully, but I was worried that night! Anyway, just reporting my post-op experiences, take care!
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    edited 01/06/2015 - 7:46 AM
    just checking in, not much has changed as I look at my last entry, other than I'm eager to get on with life, getting a little antsy! I sleep through most nights without waking from pain & needing meds, but by morning it is definitely needed. The nerve pain is still great but different than prior to surgery; I have more pain in my left foot on the inside of the heel - that's the one that gets to me the most at this point. My surgeon is very restrictive with exercises during the 1st 6 weeks: I can walk all I want, several times a day is best, but it's COLD like you wouldn't believe out here so I'm proud of myself for bundling up once a day! Elliptical is a no-no. Even stretching is not recommended; no physiotherapy until I've seen the surgeon at 6 weeks and he OK's it. Encouraged to do on-the-spot marching several times a day, and stair-climbing. I read of one person doing planks at 2 weeks post-op and just cringe! Re-herniation is directly connected to doing too much too soon after surgery, why don't people see that?! I think our tendency is to be impatient and because in some ways we feel so much better than we did, we push recovery too fast. That said, I do hope I get a timely post-op check-up date because I want to get back to physiotherapy and aquacise ASAP - it helped me so much with the muscle tightness prior to surgery.
  • I'm 4 1/2 weeks out, symptoms all still here.........outer 3 toes still stinging/burning--pain down left leg, feeling of "a flip phone duct taped to the bottom of my foot"bottom front 1/4 of my left foot.

    I have the step APP on my phone, have been averaging about 3,000/day.
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    slow but sure, I'd say. It's hard to see improvements day to day, but looking back to how things were weeks ago, or prior to surgery, it is noticeably better. I am walking 2 miles a day at quite a brisk pace with little to no pain. The pain is more noticeable when I am not doing anything or adversely, been on my feet too long. But, believing that the pain is part of the recovery instead of things getting progressively worse 'feels' different. The pain is also not entirely the same kind as it was before, also a good sign (I'm believing). I am slowly trying to reduce some of my prescription meds and the Advil that I've been popping for these past 10 months. The pain is not interrupting my sleep yet so I feel I can safely and slowly progress with weaning off of meds. I am able to sit a little better and longer than before, so I'm happy about that. My follow up appointment does not happen for a few more weeks; I'm a little impatient about that because I am supposed to wait to see the surgeon before resuming more intense activities or even physio, and 9 weeks post-op seems a little ridiculous. My husband & I would like to book a beach vacation in the coming weeks but I do want to get the surgeon's approval first. I'm sorry to hear things are not healing quickly for others either, but try to think back in terms of weeks and months as opposed to day by day, and hopefully soon you can recognize some improvements...and keep moving!
  • your progress. I going on February 2 for the minimally invasive procedure. I did well with the ESI, but it's worn off and things are so difficult as my foot is getting weak again...

    I gotta say I've been able to do a plank even with my disc ruptured...it is mostly an abdominal thing, not using the back muscles when done properly. But I won't be doing any until it's ok'ed by my surgeon....
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    I haven't posted in a while, which means I'm busy living life! I returned to aquacise 8 weeks post-op and have been visiting the physiotherapist every few weeks to help loosen up. I have 'discomfort' in my lower back and some mild sciatic pain down my left leg & foot, but compared to what I experienced before surgery, I am very relieved. I would say I am at about 90% of what i was before my disc ruptured in March 2014, and it likely won't improve much from there. My physiotherapist says that the scar tissue is 'sticking' a little which is the cause of my issues now, and we work on that with physio, giving some temporary relief of symptoms. I can DO almost anything I want to do, sometimes needing some extended recovery time, but really no pain while enjoying aquacise, walking, golfing, and some gardening. I'm very happy to be living life again and off prescription meds (about 4 months post-op). I will continue with physio and regular exercise as these are noticably helping with discomfort. I would love to say life is 'back to normal', but it's not; I could choose to be focused on the negative or choose to make the best of it and be happy with the relief I do have and not take it for granted! Perspective is everything!
  • hvillshhvills Suzhou, ChinaPosts: 726
    edited 09/17/2015 - 9:49 PM
    Dear Smartens

    It is good to hear you are doing well... just be careful not to over do it... I guess you know that your L5-S1 disc will never be 100% again and will always be at risk of herniating again. I also do swimming therapy and absolutely love it..!!! I swim every day 750 meters (30 laps) and it takes me about 30 mintues... which I think is not bad for a 62 year old [edit] like myself. The sensation of weightlessness on my bones and arthritic joints is absolutely to die for.... myabe we can be swim buddies.
    Harry - 63 year old male...
    PLIF L4-L5-S1 due to disc degeneration... May 23, 2013
    PLIF L5-S1 due to failed fusion and broken screw... Jan 19, 2015
    Microdiscectomy, decompression L3-L4 due to herniated disc... Jan 19, 2015
  • smartens162smartens162 Manitoba, CanadaPosts: 361
    I wish I could report better news, but a couple of months after my latest post, I experienced a severe back spasm that put me back almost to square one!  I was crippled for a couple of weeks, and as the spasm slowly released the familiar sciatic pain returned.  MRI about a month after the spasm began revealed scar tissue from disc to spinal cord covering and reherniation.  I was able to return to the pool after a few weeks, and got back to walking for exercise eventually, too.  Physiotherapy also helped me recover my mobility and flexibility, but I have discomfort 24/7.  Waiting once again to consult with surgeons on what to do next.  I am grateful that I do not have the unbearable pain I had prior to discectomy, but really hoping for something better than this down the road
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