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Uncertain about Microdiscectomy L5-S1 Left

Hello All! I try to stay away from forums because the sad stories hurt my heart and hopes, but still, I value the opinion of those who know the nature of this injury and of the surgery. Most of my friends don't know the statistics about microdiscectomies nor how herniated discs heal. So, I write this post to get educated feedback, as I decide whether or not to have my quickly-approaching microdiscectomy surgery--February 27.

I am 40 years old and developed this injury in June of 2014 from overuse---running, weights, spin, a four-year-old, guitar playing, kickboxing, gardening. Like most athletes, I thought I could just "work it out." The story of my MRI confirmed, L5-S1 Left is long and strewn with a number of bad physical therapists, chiropractors, and semi-helpful acupuncturists. My symptoms went from bad to better, to excruciating, to better. I have had three epidurals--of ranging success. I was ultimately kicked out of McKenzie-oriented rehabilitation because my pain-level did not better--although my range of motion and strength did improve--so they say. None of their stretched helped me. The back bends helped until I received a painful and damaging "massage" from the head PT, that sent pins and needles and fire up my leg, when I left the table. Did I mention I was sexually harassed by the first specialist I saw? Yeah, it's been a long, painful, and humiliating struggle. Right now I do pilates (not what you think, small movements and light, standing core) twice a week, walk an hour a day (1.8 miles per hour) and I take Naproxen, about one Norco per twenty-four hours, and a medical marijuana candy before bad. (This candy has turned my sleep around. I don't stay up late enough afterwards to feel 'high,' but I go directly to sleep.) I have been sleeping like a normal (though drugged) person, lately.

This is where I am at. I trust my surgeon. I don't think I need a second opinion about the surgery. He advised conservative measures, back in October, and not surgery immediately. To me this proves some trustworthiness, plus a good reputation. When I saw him in December, my foot was numbing on the outside and I had considerable leg pain. Surgery was set for two-months from then.

Today, my foot is not numb anymore. I have a ton of searing butt, thigh, and back pain--when I sit and when I rise from laying down for a short time, after a massage, for instance. I do not sit at all around the house. I stand or lay on my stomach in the living room. I have stopped driving because of the butt and back pain. I haven't worked (I'm an adjunct professor) because I am scheduled for surgery, and also because I cannot drive and it is very difficult to grade essays on my elbows on the ground. Sometimes, I can ride in the car, uncomfortably, but I feel okay--sometimes tears roll down my face and I beg my husband to get me home, as I use my arm to push my left buttock off of the seat.

So, here I am. It is eight months after my initial injury and I ask, am I healing, or am I just not living? I mean, I have read instances when a person cannot walk and yes, microdiscectomy is the answer. But I can walk. Sometimes my pain-level is 0, but is it because I am not living? I do little stretching--some nonstatic, stretching in the private pilates, but the McKenzie stuff was brutal on me--made me fire and needles. I do have leg pain, but it comes and goes.

Here is what makes me think surgery is a good idea: 1) I'm not functioning. The quality of my life is bad. I'm depressed and isolated. I can't take my four-year-old to school. I am either standing or laying flat on my stomach. No driving. No playing guitar (I'm in a band called Dear Darkness.) 2) Drugs. I feel queasy and shakey--especially in the morning, after all my night drugs. I have been on Naproxen for eight months. I feel toxic. I don't have the energy to put on makeup nor do my hair. 3) I cannot sit--period. It hurts like hell and if it doesn't right away, it will soon. I can't bend. I can barely lift anything. I feel as if I have lost my life.

I ask, since the leg pain is way less than it used to be? Am I healing, or am I just feeling pain less because I barely do anything and I'm on drugs?

Here is what makes me think surgery may not be the answer: 1) Less leg pain. 2) Sleeping through the night. 3) I shaved my legs yesterday and it didn't hurt. I feel no worse for it today--as far as the drugs will have me believe.

So, I am no longer laying on the ground, begging God to kill me, because of the pain, but I am now begging God to kill me on car rides.

There are moments in my day when I think, "Yes, I need this surgery SOO badly. It hurts pretty freakin' bad, still, after eight months." But there are times when I am pain-free, like now, standing at the computer with a bunch of residual drugs from last night (marijuana candy, half a Norco and a Naproxen four hours ago.)

What do I do? Am I getting better or am I just avoiding the pain? Should I lessen the drugs and up the activity to test myself out? Am I isolating myself because of the fear of pain--although the thigh, butt, and back pain of sitting is very, very real.

I find myself wishing I was just a little bit worse or just a little bit better. It sucks to add this uncertainty to the depression, isolation, and drugged feelings I already have.

So, I ask, those of you who have had successful microdiscectomies, how did you know it was the right decision to make?


  • LizLiz Posts: 7,832
    Welcome to Spine-Health

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    If there are any questions, you can always post them here, send Liz or myself a private message or contact Ron rdilauro@veritashealth.com

    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
    Cervical stenosis, so far avoided surgery
  • Coltsfan78CColtsfan78 Posts: 182
    edited 02/08/2015 - 2:23 PM
    Well, I can definitely relate to the way you describe trying to do things laying on the floor propped on your elbows....and no longer being able to drive or ride in a car. To me, that was not living, it was surviving. It was misery and in my case, nothing at all even began to take the edge off so I also wasn't sleeping.

    I will go ahead and make the disclaimer right now that I am not necessarily a "Success" story, but I'm also not anti-surgery despite all that I went through last year. The first microdiscectomy was like a miracle. I went from riding hunched over in a wheelchair, propping myself up with my left arm to ease the pain, to be able to walk out of the surgery center. (They made me ride out in a wheelchair, but I could have danced out). I felt wonderful and lived again for about 6 weeks, and then started to notice some familiar pain down my leg....which led to my repeat microdiscectomy. After the second one, I never completely got rid of symptoms, as by that time I had some nerve damage. Then 3 weeks later, I ruptured the same disc for a third time and was advised that I needed a TLIF fusion. I trusted my surgeon and I knew that I had exhausted all of my conservative options, so I did the fusion.

    I won't lie. It wasn't a fun surgery, but it's not as bad as some make it sound either. The first 6 weeks were rough, not so much from pain as from discomfort. I also woke up from surgery with impaired function in my left foot/leg, so for me I had a lot of adjusting to do. Ever since then, I've walked with a cane and a limp. I had one more surgery to remove a bone fragment and the hardware on one side in the hopes that it would help my lingering nerve symptoms, but it does not seem to have helped.

    All that long history to say, I still would do what I did again, with the exception of maybe looking into help sooner and being more demanding with my (lousy) primary care doc. If I had known how easily permanent nerve damage could occur and how painful that is and difficult and expensive to treat, I'd have pushed harder to get treatment sooner, but such is life.

    Surgery isn't always the right option or the best option, but there comes a time where it may be your only option. I fell into that category and I don't regret it. Yes, I walk with a cane/limp at 36 and that stinks, but it's WAY better than existing like I did prior to my first surgery, being irritable and exhausted and in excrutiating pain, unable to take care of myself, let alone my family. I'd rather move on with my life at a slower pace than ever have to deal with that again. Obviously, no one can judge your situation except you and your surgeon, but I wanted to share my experience so that you could get a real-life perspective from someone who just walked this road a short time ago. Whatever you decide, ask plenty of questions, do you research and follow the post-op instructions. Best wishes to you as you decide.
    Left leg radiculopathy/sciatic pain
    L5/S1 microdiscectomy - May 30, 2014
    L5/S1 microdiscectomy - Aug 14, 2014
    L5/S1 TLIF - Sept. 24, 2014
    Left-side screws/rod removed along with bone fragment Dec. 29, 2014
  • edited 02/09/2015 - 3:10 AM
    Coltsfan78, Thanks for sharing your story! It sounds like you are content. I think it's kinda cool to walk with a cane, but then I'm a weird artsy-type person and walking with a cane tells the world that you have a story, to me.

    I'm so glad your post wasn't about a negative experience. Did you reherniate the disc after the first microdiscectomy because of doing too much too soon, or did it just happen?

    This morning I made my own coffee. I got up, went downstairs, rinsed the pot out, ground the beans and, yup, made my own coffee--although I was on half a Norco and in the tenth hour of the Naproxen I took before bed. So, for me, making coffee, immediately after I wake up, is a big deal. I used to have to pace, like an injured animal (which, essentially, I am) for at least half an hour, before I could stand in place for even ten seconds.

    Could it be that not having anyone f'in with my back is allowing it to heal? The only things I'm doing right now are walking, small movement, gentle pilates, and massage once a week. Before it seemed like someone was always strapping me into a machine of some sort--traction, Repex, Medex.
  • In short, I had 5 months of leg pain and couldn't work for more than 1-2 hours a day. I had an MRI and the disc was clearly pressing on the nerve; injections weren't going to dissolve it. So I took the view it needed removing.

    The downside is the initial 6 week recovery no lifting bending or twisting, but as in most cases like mine immediate pain relief. I has mine about two weeks ago. Don't stress Microdisectomys are bottom of the list in terms of severity with respect to back surgery and there is a 90% success rate., but recovery must be respected.

    BTY Andy Murray was in the Australian Open Tennis final last month and he had a microdisectomy last Spring
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