This forum was and is super helpful to me as part of my micro-d recovery so I thought I'd share my story.
Although I long had back pain, I always assumed it was just ordinary back stiffness/nothing to worry about. One day, while traveling for work, I bent over to pick up a t-shirt and when I stood up, I had shooting pain in my left leg and numbness in my left foot. By the time I reached the hospital, I had numbness throughout my left leg and I couldn't put any weight on it. 15 hours later, the doctors in the ER finally diagnosed me with a severely herniated disc. L5/S1, but the herniation was migrating upwards to L4. I managed to make it home (thank you lie flat bed and pain meds) and saw as many doctors as I could.
I saw five back specialists in all - three surgeons, one non-surgical specialist and a neurologist over the the next three weeks. While the numbness in the leg quickly receded, it remained in the foot and I couldn't dorsiflex/was walking with a cane. All the doctors recommended surgery because of the size of the herniation - they were doubtful something of that size would recede through PT and were concerned that I was one twist away from uncontrollable pain. Strangely, despite the size of the herniation, I had no pain after the initial injury shock.
I had surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in March of this year. When I woke up , I had *more* numbness than I had before the surgery (not quite what it was at the first incident, but more intense from the knee down). The doctor sent me for another MRI to rule out an immediate re-herniation or spinal fluid leak. It came back clean. I got the dreaded "the nerves get inflamed during surgery and it will go away" talk. It was deeply disappointing. I was very active before surgery and had the micro-d to ensure that I could recover my leg strength/dorsiflexion and the idea that I got worse off (even if it was temporary) was frustrating.
I am 9 months out from surgery. It has been a bit up and down, but I usually describe it as slow, but gradual improvement. I was on a cane after surgery for almost 7 months. Part of it was because the numbness persisted, part of it was because I suffered muscle atrophy in the left leg because of the nerve issues, and part of it was my inability to dorsiflex at all. I never had foot drop = it was more of the foot slap. Random episodes of never pain, mostly on the top of the foot, arch and big toe would come and go. I still occasionally get it, though it rarely lasts and I don't take anything stronger than Tylenol for it. The number is mostly gone, but there is still some around the ankle and the top of the foot.
I started PT for my leg at the two week mark and for my back at the 6 week mark. Regaining my leg strength was a tough task. At worst, I probably had 50% strength in my left leg compared to my right. I am now probably at 90%, and I continue to improve. I stopped using my cane two months ago, but my dorsiflexion has still not returned. Still like a foot slap, but I can now curl my toes up more so the walk is a bit more natural. I keep working on it. Finding the right shoes and insoles makes a huge difference.
I went back to lifting weights and cardio at the gym as part of my PT at around the 4 month mark. By "lifting weights" I mean I started with 10 pound weights (for comparison, I was curling about 40 before). My gym routine is now pretty much back to normal except I still moderate the amount of weight I use, and I am very protective of my back. There's a lot you can even do without weights. Cardio consists of incline walks and elliptical, though the walking is a bit tough given the dorsiflexion issues. I worked closely with my physical therapist to make sure I wasn't overdoing it - I asked for permission for everything!
I am a maniac when it comes to core work. I'm going to give my spine all the support it can get going forward.
I read over and over again on this board that nerves take a while to heal, and it's true. I have gotten mixed messages from my doctors on how this applies to people. My surgeon says it is still too soon to tell if my foot slap will go away, that it could take up to 2 years. My neurologist is less optimistic - he says if it doesn't come back within the first 6-8 months, the odds of a full recovery go down. But he's encouraged that I am still showing improvement, even if it is gradual at times,. I'm just to keep doing what I'm doing and hope for the best. Honestly, there's not much else I can do. If it turns out the foot never completely heals, I'll be good with that. Given how badly my disc was herniated, I'm glad to get it out of my body. (Three of the doctors saw my MRI and said "wow" when they saw my initial injury). My last MRI (last week) came back clean. Most people can't even tell that I still have nerve issues.
My hope is that I can play sports again like I used to - which means being able to run in a way I still cannot. Good to have goals
Happy to answer any questions you all may have. For those of you still in recovery, good luck and keep your spirits up.