Since I spent a lot of time reading posts on here during my decision making process, thought I'd post my experience with a herniated disc on here. Thanks to all who have posted I think it helps those going through the same thing.
My lower back pain started in late 2013/early 2014 with some tightness in my lower back. Nothing in my glutes or down my leg (yet). I thought it was just "getting older" as I'm now 39 and definitely can tell I'm not in my 20's anymore, ha! I consider myself pretty active, playing a lot of golf (bad for your back, I know) and hockey once a week plus running around with my two little kids a lot. Well, the tightness never let up and I decided to take the summer off playing hockey. Golf seemed fine as the tightness flared up mostly when sitting.
I met with my GP and he ordered xrays and nothing showed up but he recommended I meet with an orthopedist just to stay ahead of everything. I never set up the appt. as I thought it would just go away. I carried my kids a lot, lifted lots of heavy stuff for projects in my yard and it would always talk to me and then the tightness moved to my upper left glute as well. I mostly felt it after sitting for a while and getting in and out of the car. Picking things up off the floor required kind of an old man bend down but I could still do it. I was building a shed in my backyard and it really flared up a couple of time during that but always seemed to come back. Sometimes my neck seemed stiff too which looking back was probably all related to the herniated disc. I found a spine clinic instead of going to the orthopedist and set up an appt. He prescribed muscle relaxers, PT, and ordered a CT scan since I can't have an MRI due to an aneurysm clip in my brain from a surgery in 1989. I never went to PT or took many of the muscle relaxers as I was busy with my kids and it never felt too bad for long stretches. At this point I didn't know it was a herniated/bulging disc and just thought I was getting older and years of skiing moguls and playing hockey were just causing me some lower back discomfort which would subside with time.
After a flare up in Aug. I got the CT scan which reported a mild posterior midline and right paracentral protrusion at L4-L5 but no nerve root displacement. Makes sense as this probably contributed to my tight back and there was no pain down my right leg. At L5-S1 it said, "The disc is narrowed and has a broad-based posterior protrusion extending into each foramen. There also is a left paracentral extrusion versus focal protrusion, either abutting or possibly compressing the left S1 nerve root as it exits the thecal sac. There is at least mild bilateral formaminal stenosis secondary to the disc protrusion and mild facet arthropathy." Bingo, this was causing the tight feeling in my upper left glute. Here is the problem. I never read this report. My Spine doctor looked at the CT scan and said "it doesn't look too bad" .... or at least that's all I remember him saying. I wish he'd said something more to the effect of "you need to do everything I tell you since now we have a diagnosis that you likely have a small herniated disc or at least a large disc bulge". I definitely should have been put on some major lifting restrictions as I hadn't slowed down at all all summer. BIG MISTAKE. I don't fault the doctor since I should have read the report and I probably heard what I wanted to hear which was "it doesn't look too bad" and took this as a diagnosis of, "you'll be fine and can play hockey again straight away and ski season will be good". I was feeling pretty good and more flexible after some ups and downs over the summer so I started back up in my hockey league. First game was going great and then right before the end of the third period I felt something in my back and my whole back lock up and I was like, oh boy, that's not good. It kind of felt like the worst it had all summer instantly but I thought I'd just need to take a few weeks off and I'd be okay. Again, I had no idea I had a herniated disc as I hadn't read the report from the CT scan. I still just thought it was some muscle/ligament problems.
That week I carried my kid (25lbs.) a few blocks and then the big one. That next weekend I was carrying two of those big cinder blocks from Home Depot for a project in my backyard and the next morning I could barely walk. The pain down my left leg and in my upper left buttock was unbearable. I tried to tough it out but I had to lay down a lot. The only way I could get relief was laying flat on my back with my legs over the edge of the bed. I had to work on my computer then go lay down to get relief. It was brutal. I went to my spine dr. and begged for a spinal epidural immediately. He did it but no relief. I started on ibuprofen and vicodin which would help a bit but I was still minimally functional. I tried a second epidural a couple of weeks later but it didn't help much. Panic set in. What had I done and what went wrong? I found the CT report and read it and realized I should have taken it a lot easier and never lifted those cinder blocks. I spent a lot of time on Spine-Health.com and figured I must have really compressed the L5S1 and herniated the disc badly. My wife saw an article for cold laser therapy in the paper so I went to the clinic. Turns out it was a chiro clinic and they recommended a $5k package of PT, table decompression, chiro appts, and physio stuff, supplements, and some other stuff but it was over 6 months to a year and about 40+ trips to the clinic. I didn't feel like I had that kind of time and needed a quicker fix since the pain was debilitating and I needed to work not to mention get back to being a good dad and husband around the house.
I did research on chiro and decided against it (for now). About two weeks later I felt a bit better but was still pretty much laid up. I was intrigued by decompression since stretching out while laying down seemed to bring some instant relief but one can't be much of a human laying down all the time. Instead of the $3k decompression table treatments I bought a $300 contraption for hanging upside down. It gave instant relief but only last a bit as once I was upright and walking around the "death pain" down my left leg came back. I met with the spine dr. and he said it might be time to consult with a neurosurgeon. He gave me a referral and I set up an appt. The neurosurgeon said it was pretty straightforward, I had a pinched nerve at L5S1 and surgery would make it better but the data says after two years surgical patients and those that waited it out and proceeded with conservative measure had about the same level of relief. I felt like up to two years of being wiped out with pain was not worth it so I started thinking I may need surgery. I met with an orthopedic surgeon who was highly recommended as well and he said he wouldn't be comfortable doing surgery since the CT report summary said, "strong suspicion of left-sided L5S1 protrusion or extrusion affecting the left S1 nerve root". He didn't like the word "suspicion" (understandably). Basically I needed an MRI to get a full confirmation (he wanted to rule out a cyst or something else causing the leg pain) but the next best test is a CT Scan Myleogram. I agreed to schedule it and had one within a week. Here's the kicker, the CT Myleogram radiologist saw nothing wrong with my L4-L5 and his findings on L5S1 were only, "small left paracentral L5-S1 disc protrusion with mild left S1 nerve impingement". This report was after I really messed it up carrying the cinder blocks and didn't seem as serious as the one before when I never would have considered surgery based on my symptoms being manageable. I met with the neurosurgeon again and we went over the findings. He still thought I was a candidate for surgery if I wanted to go that route. He was super cool about me getting the second opinion and said, "hey, the more data we have the better although I would still have recommended surgery based on your symptoms, history, the other CT scan". I figure out why too, the CT myleogram isn't a simple no-risk gig. It took eight hours of my day and required some post procedure monitoring at the hospital since injecting dye into your thecal sac isn't a simple deal. A radiologist or anesthesiologist has to do it. Nothing bad happened and I feel fine that I did it. At least I now had some better images of the herniated disc.
The ortho dr. was booked for like a month so I didn't want to wait to meet with him (couldn't imagine another month of that leg pain.... I was ready to try anything). As a hail mary before the CT myleogram, I went to a chiropractor who did an "adjustment" Gonstead thing which seemed to make the pain in my leg worse and all of a sudden I felt some tingling under both my left and right foot. This freaked me out as I hadn't felt anything on the right side. I think he aggravated the L4-L5 protrusion from the first CT scan (without the dye contrast). I am praying no bad long term issues come of this. It seems counter-intuitive to have someone wrench on your back when you have herniated discs so I really regret going to the chiro. I was desperate and wanted to avoid surgery but you live you learn. I did PT for two months as well which didn't seem to help. I did the exercises but wasn't sure how they'd take the pain away. Seems like only decompression worked (i.e. hanging upside down on the $300 table thing).
I booked the surgery with the neurosurgeon who came highly recommended by a number of people I know who he had worked on or had friends/relatives he'd worked on. I was scared of surgery like anyone would be but excited at the prospect of getting better and he was pretty confident it would work. I had the surgery on Fri. and today is Mon. Check in was 5am on Fri, surgery started at 7am and I woke up by 8:30am. I was woozy but didn't feel a lot of pain. Could tell something had been done on my lower back. My left foot felt good. It was a couple of hours or so before I could stand up and I knew right away something had worked as my left leg felt great and when I coughed the shot of pain down my leg wasn't there. I could also snap my left leg back and forth which I hadn't done in two months. I was pretty excited but tired from the drugs and anesthesia. I walked the hallways slowly and was scheduled for release by 1pm. I walked to the car as I didn't want to do the wheelchair. It felt great to walk pain free. On the ride home though some a**hole cut us off and my wife had to slam the brakes which caused me to tense up and grab the handle by the seat. I was freaked out that it may have messed up the surgery that wrapped up six hours before but I think I'll be fine. That evening was good but not as good as when I first walked after surgery. I kept thinking what if that incident driving home caused me a set back or re-herniated. Day one after surgery was okay, took the drugs and laid around. Walked a bit. I should have slept with a pillow under my legs as when I woke up I felt a bit of pain on my left ankle. Just a hair of what had been there. Still worried that it was there because of the jolt in the car on the way home.
Day 2 after surgery felt pretty good but oh boy it felt like someone had dropped a bowling ball in the middle of my lower back. Took percoset pain meds and all the stuff they gave me when I woke up and pain went down. When I woke up I felt a bit of the dull sciatic pain down both my right and left leg. NOTHING like before though and it went away as soon as I got up and walked around. I felt no tingling or tightness type pain that had been there for two months. + no sharp pain in my left glute which was pronounced the last two months and off and on 10 months before that. Walked around my neighborhood and felt pretty good but got tired and had to go slow. Felt like an old man!
I would say it was progress.
Day 3 after surgery (today) woke up feeling good. Slept flat on my back with pillow under my knees which helped a lot. Lower back wasn't too bad. I took Tylenol instead of percoset since the percoset was giving my belly grief and two months of advil were too I'm sure. I can feel pain at the incision site when I roll on it in bed but it's not too bad. Walked about five or six blocks this morning to get a coffee. Worked from home a bit. I got tired this afternoon and took a 1.5 hour nap. I feel pretty much no pain in my left leg and can walk. If I move suddenly or turn just right I get a shot of pain in my lower back that I think it related to the surgical sight but none of the nerve pain down the left leg that was so debilitating. I can't really bend over yet to grab anything off the floor. One of the posts on here recommended I buy a "grabber" which I did that has been helpful picking things up. I also just ordered a thing to help me get my socks on unassisted. It's a big humbling asking your four year old to help you put your socks on.
I'm happy at this point I chose surgery but it's only day 3. For about 10 months I could bend forward to about get my hands down to my ankles and couldn't touch my toes. For the last two months after really messing up my back and causing the bulge to become a full blown herniated disc (this is my guess of what happened) I could barely lean forward at all. Also, when I sit and they have you do the kick your leg up test, I can hardly get my left leg up at all. My right leg could come up but not as far as it should (it could go up all the way before the chiro "adjustment").
My takeaways from this whole thing: If I had done the PT, stretching, lifestyle change (super careful with back), $300 home inversion table, no heavy lifting, lift with legs, don't bend forward picking things up) thing when this all started I wouldn't have needed surgery. Read the reports from your radiologists closely. Also, avoid chiropractors if you have a confirmed herniated disc (or only use one who won't do any of the twisting treatments). I'll try to do another update but wanted to share this as I read a lot of helpful posts. Good luck to all as I know it is mentally draining trying to fix something that you can't see and the symptoms are in a place other than the location of the injury. Also, they don't call things a "backbone" as an analogy for nothing. It effects EVERYTHING in your life. I'm hoping I can ski 100% again, play hockey, golf, and most importantly be a fun dad and good husband again. Day 3 post surgery, so far so good.