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Can a nerve heal once there has been numbness / damage?

Hi All,

I've had two back surgeries. The first one, a microdiscectomy on L5/S1 was in 2005. My sciatic nerve was damaged in that surgery and I've had numbness ever since down the length of my leg (buttocks, calf, outer toes).

My second surgery (microdiscectomy on L4 in 2013) left me with a slight bit more numbness around my toes.

In the past six weeks I've had terrible pain in that same numb leg, but no back pain. I feel like the numbness might be increasing, but it's hard to tell if it is or if it's still residual numbness from that second surgery. I am all up in my head about it and freaking out a bit. I find it a little bit harder to walk.

I saw the surgeon today and he reviewed my MRI, which showed a slight herniation at L4. I am at the point in my life where I will do anything to avoid surgery (as I'm sure we all are here). The pain in my leg is debilitating at times but nothing compared to the pain I had in my back before both surgeries. In other words, I could possibly live with the pain. But it's the numbness that scares me, as I wonder if it will lead to foot drop.

So my question is: once a nerve is damaged, from the herniation pushing on it or any other type of pressure / pinching, what are the chances it will heal through non-invasive treatment? aka, once you lose feeling, is it likely that that loss of feeling is permanent? Is it possible to have "bad nerves?" Having had permanent nerve damage following my two surgeries, I'm just pessimistic about my body's ability to heal nerves. It seems like once I lose feeling I don't get it back.

The doc recommended the usual: epidural, anti-inflams, and PT. I don't think any of those will make the numbness go away.

I would appreciate any advice.


  • 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
  • I have read in several different places that a nerve can repair and regenerate itself. It just takes a lonnngggg time. I had a pretty bad episode of sciatica back in 2013 that left my left foot numb until this day! The numbness has gotten less with time but I can tell that there was/is nerve damage. I'm actually considering the surgery that you received but not sure if it will help me. I never have back pain it's always butt and leg pain. It drives me crazy and has been an issue for the past 4 years. I think to myself do I keep going on like this or just get on with surgery? But then I hear of people that end up worse so I don't know what to do. Good luck.
  • chop my leg offcchop my leg off British ColumbiaPosts: 56
    edited 02/02/2016 - 8:25 PM
    I think it depends on how severe the nerve was compressed or damaged. My surgeon thinks my nerve damage is permanent. It gets harder to walk as time goes by for me as I now have muscle wasting in my foot. I don't know if that's causing such severe pain in my foot or the nerve. Guess I'll know more next MRI Feb 23. Doc thinks my l4s2 is also giving me grief as the syptoms didn't magically dissappear aND it was also herniated bUT my l5S1 was way worse so we deat with that first. I just want my right foot back. And no more pain in my leg bUT i dont think thats going to happen. But at least I don't want to chop off my right leg now. Just my right foot some days now. :)
    L5S1..2 microdisectomies in 30 days maybe one more on the agenda. 4 bulged discs and one of them loves my spinal canal X2 :/ and a compression fracture . And now scar tissue wrapped around the nerve causing horrible neuropathy all over again.   VICIOUS CIRCLE :(
  • Kimmy72KKimmy72 Posts: 1,766
    edited 02/03/2016 - 2:48 AM
    From an L4-S1 fusion. I went through transforaminal steroid shots, PT, attempting to reduce inflammation via herbal remedies...all of the above treatments mentioned on a repeated basis. I went for several different opinions, and the consensus was that I needed surgery.
    For life reasons (attending college, husband's layoff, etc.), I put off having my back done for roughly 2 years (during which I was put on quite the variety of pain meds). In the meantime, I took a better paying job--the down side to that being it was ten times more physically demanding than my previous one (same type, but longer hours/more lifting, and having to move FAST doing it! ).
    Even though I had a LOT on my plate, I still regret waiting to have the surgery. My nerves are waaaay beyond ticked off that they were impinged for so long, and they've had NO problem letting me know it almost daily with spasms in my left buttock, leg, and foot. Sometimes the ripping pain is in BOTH legs.
    I hope you all caught that I said ALMOST daily...as I have had some REALLY great (solid level 3 pain days) days since the procedure. I know no back surgery is going to give someone 100% pain relief, but I'd be happier than a pig in poop if level 3 pain is what I have to live with for the rest of my days!
    Nerves are temperamental little things, and I'm keeping moderator Ron's advice to me in mind about recovery: PATIENCE!
    There are all kinds of guestimates about how long it will take for damaged nerves to heal, but everyone's different.
    I wish you all luck and a full night's sleep!
    Kimmy72, Spine-health Moderator
    Firm believer in PMA!
  • Thank you for the responses and the firsthand accounts.  They are so helpful!

    The anti-inlammatories seem to have knocked my pain down to about a 3.  I am with you, Kimmy -- I would be happy if it could stay a 3 for the rest of my days.  From my understanding of things, there doesn't seem to be any guarantee that surgery will make the numbness go away (if it has already been damaged), so until I am in blinding pain I will hold off on surgery as long as I can.  I hope that the fact that the anti-inflammatory is working to reduce pain might mean it's also helping ease off on that nerve and maybe it will get a chance to heal.  I just can't afford to lose any more feeling in that leg and foot.

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