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L5 is shot; L4 and L3 are not good

texan_176ttexan_176 Posts: 1
edited 10/10/2015 - 7:46 PM in Lower Back Pain
I'm 36 and NEVER had any health issues until about 6 months ago when I started having shooting pain on the outside edge of my left leg from the thigh to the ankle in a straight line. I am guessing this injury was created in 2012 when I lifted a heavy object and my back from the neck to the lumbar area locked up for a week. The muscles would not relax at all. It gradually went away and I was back to normal.

Then about 6 months ago I started having the leg pain so I went to chiropractor that a co-worker has been seeing for 10+ years. He examined me and incorrectly diagnosed it as a muscle condition. He gave me 15-20+ saline injections in the areas I was having pain. This gave me temporary relief. I started seeing a massage therapist and he did several techniques including electrical stimulation, stretches, using a butter knife like tool to on the area, etc. I was in severe pain after those sessions but the next day I would feel better. The pain did not improve for several weeks and I was worried it was perhaps some life threatening condition so I went to another doctor that sent me to an orthopedic surgeon. He took x-rays of the lumbar area on the first visit and told me the L5 disc was only 60% the thickness of a normal disc on the X-ray but that was only the thickness; I needed an MRI to tell what was going on.

I got the MRI and it turns out I have a massive 12 mm herniation in L5 that is causing compression on the nerve root on my left side. L3 has a 3 mm herniation that is not causing any symptoms. However, L3 and L4 are not healthy discs that look white on the MRI. They are dehydrated and shrinking. He told me I should do physical therapy for some time and if I was still unable to live my life normally the steroid shot was worth a try. He completely is against a surgery because he would have to fuse from L5 to L3 and at my age it is a really bad idea to "use them up" so rapidly.

So I have kept up with my exercise and have both good/bad days. However, when I am in trouble if I take 2 Advils and have a cup of black coffee 80% of the time the pain is under control within an hour and some of the time it is such relief I forget I have the problem. I read up on this and the caffeine apparently dilates blood vessels so absorption of the NSAID is more effective. However, long term use of NSAID has adverse effects on the liver and stomach. I use the Advil and coffee thing only at work. At work I also keep a small pillow behind my lumbar area for additional support. This also keeps the area warm which seems to help. On the weekends I try not to take any medication at all and I spend time on my stomach or back to relive pressure on the spine. Are there any other "tricks" like this people have had success with?

I am going to see a neurosurgeon to get a second opinion. The surgeon I saw mentioned there is a stem cell injection procedure that is still experimental that some people are trying. It costs $8-10K, nothing is covered by insurance, and nothing is promised. If it had a 50/50 shot I would go ahead and do it. I am about $2K into this problem with insurance and have nothing to show for it but taking a $6 bottle of Advil and $1 cup of coffee at times.

I am looking for any sort of advice on what I can do. What has helped you all?

This problem is starting to wreck my life. I can not concentrate at work at times and I have anxiety at times when traveling or going to a meeting with people where I will need to be seated for a few hours and can not move around. I am taking my first plane trip since the pains started later this month and I am sort of freaking out about that.

The therapist I am seeing has me doing core strengthening exercises. These are helping me but will require putting in months of time before I see relief as a result of the exercise. The therapist suggests an inversion table but trying a 10-15 degree angle to start out with. I suppose that is my next step to try something new.

Thanks for reading.


  • LizLiz Posts: 7,832
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    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
    Cervical stenosis, so far avoided surgery
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