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Question @ microdiscectomy for herniated disk & other options?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:19 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi. I am completely new to this board so I hope my question is not too basic or posted in the wrong place.

I guess my basic question is - are their alternatives to surgery for a herniated disk?

I have a L4-5 herniated disk. The Specialist that I saw today recommended a microdiscectomy. I wasn't surprised by this recommendation. But, from my discussion with the Dr and GP, there did not seem to be other options.

Perhaps I should say other options for my situation. The Dr said that sometimes a disc is herniated and doesn't bother the person or that as "things shrink" (my words. He likened it to a grape turning to a raisin) the pain may go away over 6 wks or so and during that time you can get injections for pain mgt. But that was not my case (since it's been longer time). Also he wouldn't necessarily recommend surgery if I were alot older and sedentary. He went by ability to do what I have to do and what I want to do. Also some reduction in movement and level of pain. (I have 3 yr old twins for which I am primary caretaker and (used to) exercise, etc.)

I appreciate any thoughts. I've listed more background on my situation under my signature. I wasn't sure what facts were necessary to offer your thoughts. Thank you again.


In May I suddenly started getting severe pain down my left leg. I originally didn't even associate it with my back. To make a long story short, I saw a GP who identified it as sciatic pain and prescribed methylprednisolone, 9 motrin per day and cyclobenzaprine. The Dr sent me for an X-ray then an MRI and the MRI showed a disc herniation at L4-L5. My Dr then sent me to a specialist of the lower back and neck who is a surgeon but one noted for not pushing surgery. He talked to me for some time re: the pain that I was having. He examined my ability to move my legs, calves, toes, body side to side, etc. We reviewed my MRI and looked at drawings of a "normal" spine and he explained a herniated disk.


  • Hello Marly and welcome to Spine health.

    You are not wrong in trying to find some alternative treatments rather than surgery. That should be a last resort.
    Your idea of seeking other opinions is the golden rule, as different doctors have different preferences and solutions. Once you consulted with several spine specialists (minimum two) maybe you should discuss their recommendation with your PCP, particularly if you have a good relationship and with him/her and whom you trust. Also, do as much research on this subject as possible, her, going to the various links, in the library, etc. Knowledge on the subject will be your best ally.

    Good luck and let us know what happened.

    Kin :) :) :)

  • I can understand your wanting to find out all you can before having surgery. I agree with Kin that you should try to find another surgery to get another opinion on this. Conservative treatments usually include things like physiotherapy and epidural steroid injections. If neither work, then it may be time to consider the surgery. You need to find out how bad the disc herniation is because my primary concern would be whether or not it is putting pressure on the nerves and potentially a risk of damaging those nerves. If it turns out that is what's happening then I'd be wanting things to move along a bit quicker!

    Good luck whatever decision you come to, and please don't be scared of asking any questions, no matter how basic you might think they are. If you're asking it, you can bet at least 10 other people will wanting the same questions answered! We are all here to help each other. Take care, Spicey :)

  • I had surgery in January for a herniated disc at the same site you are having trouble with. My surgeon said that 80% of ruptured discs resolve themselves within 3-6 months, but ones that haven't started to improve by then might take years to mend. As I had had the problem for 6 months by the time I saw him he was sure surgery was the best option for me and I was happy to proceed with the op.

    I know this doesn't really help you one way or the other, but I was glad to have the microD as I felt I was out of other options. I am the full time Mum to a baby and a toddler so I understand your desire to be healthy again as soon as possible.

    I am really pleased with the results of my surgery and 6 months later am feeling pretty much normal again.

    I think the surgery question is one everyone here has asked them selves at some point. I think the second opinion idea is a good one, but in the end you have to trust your gut instinct. What are you feeling at the moment?

    Take care

  • Hi Marly, welcome.
    Usually people try conservative treatments first and save surgery as a last resort.
    Sometimes they work, sometimes people spend lots of time chasing them. In the meantime, their quality of life declines. Just a matter of how much a person is willing to let it drop before they get more aggressive treatment.
    In my case, I spent about a year doing conservative treatments, none of them working and my quality of life went into the toilet.
    I wish I could have that year back and gone straight to surgery. But everyone is different.
    It's not a guarantee for improvement either, but I had to do something.
    Aside from life quality, there are also consequences for waiting.
    In my case, the herniated disc was irritating the nerves. There is a natural physiological response of sending chemicals into the surrounding area. These chemicals tensed up my lower back muscles(spasm). Over time,the muscles essentialy squeezed the moisture out of my discs(not good!)to the point they are now dessicated(DDD). Plus, I was beginning to get foot-drop.
    Please ask as many questions as you need till you are satisfied. It's good to make as informed a decision as you can.
    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
  • Thanks so much for these early replies. I really appreciate them. I am planning on going to another Dr for another opinion.

    I usually tend toward alternative methods, go less invasive and research but I feel like, for some reason, I'm jumping at the surgery. Maybe it's because I don't really see an alternative. I thought epidural or injections just deal with pain during the time when you are waiting to see if the herniated disk resolved itself. I guess the Dr I saw today thought that the disk would have resolved itself by now (3 mos). Perhaps this is too short a time and another Dr may say wait longer (like your Dr said 3-6 mos).

    I do think my full time role as Mom is affecting my decision. Right now I can't pick up my preschoolers. I feel like I can watch them adequately if I anticipate but wonder how I'd be if I had to react quickly, eg one is running into the street and I had to suddenly sprint - would I get that sudden, sharp pain where I can't react quickly. W/ two the same age I am frequently running in 2 directions. I wonder the same thing when I'm driving with them, ie I'm able to try to anticipate but what if I had to react unexpectedly/quickly.

    I am a little unnerved by my willingness to so quickly be willing to go to surgery. It really is unlike me. But I know this is silly in that a "quick" fix will not be a quick fix long term if it's not the right choice. And, surgery is a big step. There are risks associated with any surgery. Usually, I would be trying to avoid it at all costs.

  • Hi :) I had the exact same problem. A severe herniation at l4/5.. I had knee/leg pain and didnt associate it with my back either.. I waited about a YEAR before i finally went into the doctor when the pain in my leg became crippling to me..

    He took one look at me and sent me in for a MRI saying it was my back not my leg. And when he took a look at my MRI he sent me straight to a neurosurgeon.. He said you could clearly see a really big herniation from across the room on the xray board and told me that iwould have a huge chance of having surgery to correct it..

    I went to the neurosurgeon and since i had the pain for so long he wasnt that optimistic that it would resolve itself, since it hadnt already.. I did do about 5 months of ESI and exercises to try to strengthen my back in the pool since i couldn't walk very far at this point..

    I had a new MRI 5 months after my first and the herniation had gotten WORSE... so.. one option only then.,.

    At the end of it all i had the microd/laminectomy.. It was scary as heck to let someone cut into my back.. but i am about 5 weeks post op and doing A LOT BETTEr.. I CAN WALK!!! only have pain in my back around the inscision area which is still healing.

    So really, try the alternative methods to get it to shrink or go away for now.. but if it lasts for too long and really intereferes with your daily life and isnt getting better, dont be scared to go for the surgery option.. I wish i had done it a LOT sooner.. I knew my chances were slim to none though since i had the problem for so long before going to get help for it...

    Your problem is new so you do have chance of making it shrink back into place.
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