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L5/S1 open discesctomy scheduled for July 26th, 08 - long story, sorry

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:19 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi all, I have been coming here for quite some time for information and stories to help me through my situation and have found this site to be very therapeutic.

I have finally come to a point where I have an open discectomy scheduled, and I wanted to post my situation to see what you might think. I put a lot of history in this post, so I apologize in advance for that.

I'm 31 and originally hurt my lower back about 8 years doing weighted squats at the gym. This injury lasted about 2 weeks and seemed to be localized in my lower back (no problems at all down my legs). I treated with a chiro (heat, massage, ultrasound) and eventually healed and was back at the gym off and on for the next several years.

My second injury was during a raquetball game when I kind of overextended to hit a high shot and I heard something pop in my back ... it didn't hurt right then, but I knew I was in for some hurt the next day. With that lower back injury I was again out for a few days and then back to it.

So on to the more serious injury ... last year my wife and I took it upon ourselves to finish our basement. We did a large amount of the work ourselves including one long day of my sitting indian style doing electrical work (hunched over). A few days later I was laid out for a good week with low back pain (I assume from being hunched over all day). Ever since that injury last summer I have suffered with what I would call mild lower back/hip pain. Nothing serious, but I would throw my back out very easily and basically just started taking it pretty easy (sedentary life). About 5 months ago I decided to start training for a 150 mile relay (about 13 miles per person) with some of my teammates at work and so I hit the treadmill and steadily worked myself up to 4 mile runs and thought I was doing great until I really hurt my right hip (so I thought) during a run. I had a chiro/physio at work who thought my SI was locked and he did some adjustment to unlock it which seemed to help for a few days, but the pain came back.

My father-in-law is an OBY/GN who has had some back problems of his own, so I kind of got treatment through him instead of going to a sports medicine doc right from the get go ... I got into physical therapy and was diagnosed with piriformis syndrome. The symptoms fit like a glove and the treatment was working great (though I at this point started getting the tingling down my right leg). After a couple of months I got about 95% of my mobility back and got the OK to start working out again. I started slow, pushups, situps, light treadmill jogging and was feeling great until July 5th 10:33am MST. Oh my gosh, the pain!! I was doing a back extension (I know, I'm an idiot) with no weight, just as a stretch mainly, and on my way up there was an explosion of horrible pain in my right lower back that shot down my right leg to my foot and brought me crashing to the ground.

I could not get in a position to alleviate the pain for almost 15 minutes and knew I had done something very bad. I was stuck on the basement floor all that day with occasional aching in my right leg that was very painful. I took some lortab and ibuprofen and applied ice all that day, but I just could not move. By 2:30am that night my wife couldn't bare it anymore and called an ambulance. A few hours later (and a morphine/valium drip) I was back home and sleeping. The next couple of days I stayed in bed and was taking percoset/ibuprofen and eventually the acute pain was over, though I could barely get around and sitting was misery. I had never had back pain like this ...

Next came the MRI ... the results were a massive (1.8x1.6x1.5) L5/S1 herniation. I was asked if I had bladder or bowel problems and the sports medicine doc seemed very concerned (it was a scary call). He said he wouldn't treat me conservatively until I consulted with a surgeon. My father-in-law happened to be friends with a very good neurologist who agreed to see me last week (normally a 4 month wait) and as soon as he saw the MRI report, he said that we needed to get the disc out and sooner than later. This guy is highly regarded in the area and two other doctors (one of whom had just done a hip replacement on my father a month or so before) had already told me that it needed to be taken out (the guy used to do backs before going to hips).

Here is my quandary, I'm in very little pain ... I've been taking it very easy, mind you, mostly bed and walking, very little sitting since July 5th and I've been on 800mb IBU 3x daily as the only painkillers. However, if I tweak my right leg just right I get shooting pains and I have some weakness in my right leg (can't do tippy toe walk or heel walk on right side) and sitting for more than 20 minutes hurts (which is a problem as my job is behind a computer).

Some family history: my brother had the exact same surgery when he was 19 and my aunt has had the surgery done twice, so I think I have a genetic link to a weak low back.

Anyway, all of the professionals are saying to get this taken care of now so that I can recover and go on with life (my wife is having our first babies this Christmas - twins!) so I want to be functioning by then so I can help out, and I fear if I do try conservative treatment (which I kind of feel I did with the physical therapist for a few months before the major incident) I am going to end up needing the surgery close to the due date and that wouldn't be good at all.

So anyway, for you 1 or 2 people who had the patience to make it this far (sorry again for the novel), am I jumping into this surgery too soon? I feel like I've probably had a mild herniation for the past year which would explain a lot of my past symptoms, and I probably caused a more severe herniation on July 5th which is large enough to concern the professionals. I just want to be done with this ... but now that the surgery is scheduled I'm getting the jitters. Does anyone who has gone through a discectomy have any suggestions?

The doc says I'll be good as new in 1 - 2 months and if I keep up with his stretches/exercises and lose a few pounds I will never see him again (and trust me, at this point I will have no problem doing 20 - 30 mins of exercise a day for the rest of my life if it means never feeling that pain again ...)

I think mainly I'm just venting some of my frustrations with this massive post (been cooped up for too long, I guess). Thank you in advance for any responses.


  • JJ! And congrats on the news of twins! If two surgeons have told you that you need the surgery, I would tend to think that you do. One thing about waiting too long is that you are risking permanent nerve damage. Get the surgery over and done with so that you can go on with your life and looking forward to the twins. Put this all behind you. Good luck and please keep us posted with your progress.
  • and welcome.Surgery is a very personal decision.You should put in account how bad the pain;how the condition interferes with your life,etc.To tell you my personal opinion:I don't think herniated disc gets any better with time.I've dealt with back pain for 10+years.It started once a year,and had gotten more and more frequent.I lived with it up until last year.After the fifth flare up, i got enough,and had MicroD.
    Still,it's only you,and your wife that must make the decision.
    I say both of you b/c you'll need help after surgery.Believe me,it's not easy for our spouses,either.
    Don't worry about the long post.We've seen much longer ones. Congrats on the twins,and good luck with whatever decide.

  • Hi jj,
    I am another one that is for surgery sooner rather than later. I do realize it should be a last resort, and for me, I reached that point.
    I dodged a bullet(permanent nerve damage) by having mine done when I did. It had been about a year of the nerve being compressed. I could have ended up with foot-drop had I waited any longer. It was starting to take hold.
    For me, "Get busy living or get busy dieing" applied.
    I am back to living now.
    And I just take one day at a time. As a spiney, I have to always protect my back now and it is a way of life.

    Congrats on your twins! I dream about one day having twin daughters. Keep us up to date on your situation.
    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
  • I am pre-fusion still and haven't had any back surgery yet, but my brother in law had a very similar story to yours and he had emergency discectomy L5-S1 last year. He says it was the best thing he ever did and his back felt better than it had in 10 years. He was 33 at the time. He went back to work (self-employed, so could take it easy) a week later. I am a Post-partum nurse, and I know those twins are gonna keep both you and your wife very busy. If you have your surgery now you will likely be recovered by then, so makes a lot of sense. Good Luck, Sue
  • have tried the alternative route already.
    I would never say jump into surgery but if you are having pain in your legs then the nerves are involved and this is a bad sign.
    What you need to look at is your quality of life. :sick: If you do nothing till after the babies are born then how will you cope helping your wife with twins?(and you will need to help). At the moment you are on pain killers but they will probably be adjusted eventually so you dont becaome an addict. Can you and your wife go out and hade fun?

    When I decided on my surgery, I had had ongoing problems for years. I didn't have a lot of pain but I could only stand or wealk for 5 minutes before my feet and legs went numb. This stopped me from going out as I always had to think how far will I have to walk, where can I park etc. SHopping was impossible. Infact life was fine as long as I only pottered around the house and didn't go out at all.
    At 47 I decided that I wanted a life again! Nothing was going to help except surgery so I went for it.

    It is a big decision and only you can make it.
    Best wishes
  • Thank you everyone for your replies. It is reassuring to hear about your experiences.

    My brother who had the discectomy at 19 and again at 27 (to clear up scar tissue) is now telling me that the best treatment he ever had was a cortisone shot. I guess at age 32 he was in pain and it was recommended to him that he should get a fusion. The neuro's assistant suggested he try a cortisone shot first, just to see if it would help, and he said that 3 hours after the shot he felt better than ever. He said he was able to start doing core strengthening shortly after the shot and has never looked back (he's now 44).

    Has anyone had any luck with cortisone with a massive herniation?

    Man these decisions are something else ... I'm about to go dust off the old magic 8 ball ...
  • To further confuse you, thousands and thousands of people are walking around with herniated discs and present no pain or symptoms!
    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
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