I have a microdiscectomy scheduled in a couple of days for a (10mm in AP diameter, 17mm in transverse diameter) large disc herniation at L5/S1. This was finally scheduled after months of screwing around with insurance companies to get the ball rolling. When I initially had this diagnosed, I was in so much pain and dying for surgery. However, because I was forced to wait and live like a hermit for the last 2 months, the pain has substantially improved and now I am thinking I should attempt to let this resolve rather than spend a lot of money on surgery/risks.
Some background: 30 years old in good health and physical shape.
First hurt my back weight lifting around 8 years ago. It was pretty bad for about a week, and resolved, though I never felt 100%. Maybe 90% of what I was physically capable of.
4 years ago I threw out my back again doing squats at the gym. This time it was way worse than the first time and I couldn't even crawl out of bed for a few days, took about 2 weeks to be able to walk around normally, around 1.5-2 months till I was back in the gym. I should also note in retrospect I was stupid about becoming physically active again and didn't give my body the rest it needed for all of the times I hurt my back.
Ever since the injury 4 years ago, back was always feeling off and I went through intermittent periods of back pain, stiffness, etc, but nothing horrible. I could never squat/deadlift what I used to and was always using very light weights whenever my back was involved.
Summer of 2014 I hurt my back pretty bad again after jumping over a fence. I landed fine and didn't feel anything, but the next day I was in pretty bad pain for a couple of weeks.
This summer I moved my back in an odd way and caused my back to go into an extreme spasm and I was screwed up for about 2 months while studying for my bar exams. This injury felt a bit different as afterwards whenever I would do sit-ups or put pressure on a weird part of my back I could feel nerve tension running down leg. Eventually recovered from this as well, but still never 100%.
After bar exams, took a trip overseas and got into a moped accident and threw out my back again. This time the pain was completely different - not back pain but extreme pain running down leg, couldn't walk or stand up straight, nerve pain, tingling, etc.
I had never seen a spine doctor up until this point. Other GPs had said my symptoms weren't bad enough to warrant MRI, recommended just physical therapy. I went to see a spine doctor, ordered MRI, MRI showed really large herniation, he recommended surgery and thought it would take up to a year for me to recover without surgery, if I recover at all. Surgeon seemed to be pushing surgery pretty hard, but still said its elective at this point since I didn't show major risk of nerve problems since I didn't have weakness, etc. yet. I e-mailed my MRI to a pain doctor who agreed to give his opinion for free and he agreed with surgery for the size of the herniation and my symptoms.
I was totally on board with the surgery idea because my life basically stopped. However insurance problems prevented it from going forward, and here I am now. I'm considering going back to the gym for light exercise, I can walk around mostly normal although standing for long periods of time can be difficult. I still get pain and stiffness if I sit in the wrong position, but for the most part the pain is not heavily affecting my life at this point.
The biggest dilemma I'm having is this - despite the fact that "this" episode of back problems has improved, should I consider the fact that I've had intermittent back issues for up to 4 years now? The pain hasn't been a constant problem for me, but it waxes and wanes on a regular interval and I keep hurting it. I'm afraid if I don't take this aggressive approach, that I'm just going to keep hurting it. I'm a very physically active person and I don't want to give that up but I am really tired of throwing out my back 1-2 times a year every year. In addition to this herniated disc, the disc is severely degenerated (looks like an 80 year old person's disc according to my surgeon), but my other discs are in pretty good shape. If you consider that "no signs of improvement in 8 weeks" as a factor suggesting back surgery, perhaps the 4 years of back issues should be the relevant factor rather than simply improvement in the latest episode?
Has anyone that has had issues like mine ever been able to resolve this permanently? Or should I go for the surgery to hopefully resolve my back issues for good? Also forgot to add that for some reason a part of my left toe is experiencing numbness, even though all the pain is in my right leg.