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How do you decide whether or not to have surgery? Is it worth it?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,578
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:23 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I would love to hear from those who have a similar injury. I have a herniated disc at L4/L5 - fairly common if I'm understanding correctly. The injury occurred 7 years ago and I have treated it conservatively until now (chiro, massage, physical therapy, exercise) with relative success. I've had several flare-ups over the years and each time I've used these measures to get things back under control. That said, I've never been pain free, but it's been manageable (at a 2 or a 3) for the most part. Lately, though I'm struggling with managing it. I don't know what changed. My age? My activity? I'm not sure. I'm just more limited. I tire more easily. My back is aggravated within 15 minutes of being up in the morning and the pain builds throughout the day - though I can usually bring it down a couple of notches with stretching or chiro temporarily. I guess I'm getting weary of the temporary fixes and I'm concerned that the older I get, the harder it's going to be to get any relief. Has anyone experienced that? What brought you to the place of deciding that surgery was the way to go? Did it work? Was it worth it? I'm not interested in setting myself up for surgery after surgery. It seems like many of you have had multiple surgeries. That's a scary thought. Can I get away with just the one? I would really appreciate any thoughts on all my overwhelming questions. Thanks so much.


  • Hi there. I had a 9 level fusion in Jan. When you have tried everything and the pain you have comprimises your everyday, then it is time for surgery. I am a pain free person now, but i am a new me, differant. I am learing to except my limitations, but it is a joy to wake up in the morning, put my feet on the floor, and there is no pain, no suffering....it is wonderful....get yourself the best surgeon you can, and move forward! By the way, I will never have another surgery, 1 is all I can handle!
  • Ksteele,
    Surgery is no gaurantee, but if you have done everything else and you are still suffering so that it interferes with your ability to function and lead a fulfilling life then maybe it is time to look into it. Have your tried any injections with a pain management doc? Sometimes they bring good relief for at least a while. What type of surgery are you contemplating? I have had back pain for over 20 years, but treated it like you, with chiro, Pt, etc. When it turned into radiculopathy with pain in my hip and down the leg making me limp, I went to pain management and got injections. When those no longer were helping and it was determined my spine was unstable, that is when I decided on surgery. Hardest decision in my life, and at 5 weeks I am still undecided if it was the right one. My limp is gone, but I still have a lot of back and hip pain. It is early yet so I have hope it will continue to improve. But as you have read in so many peoples experiences it is not the end of the problem. We have no gaurantees in life about anything, and this is another gray area. It is a risk, a sort of Russian roulette as I have heard others describe it. Good luck with whatever you decide, Sue
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  • I had problems for a long time. Originally I had herniated discs and within a few months I was crawling with the pain so had a laminectomy and discectomy. After that things improved though never got better.
    Beginning of the year after having all sorts of conservitive treatments as well as injection etc I saw a surgeon (wasn't actually expecting to hear I had to have surgery ) and he said the only course left for me was a 3 level fusion.
    At this stage I felt like i had pretty much given up my life as I knew it. I was contstanlty having problems with numb feet and legs and seriously had to think every time I wanted to leave the house, work out in advance how far it was to walk etc etc.
    So for me I had gotten to the end of my rope and I wanted my lefe back. If that meant having surgery then I was going to do everything I could to make it successful.
    At 4 months post op I am very pleased I had it. Sure there have been ups and downs but we have to expect that with ANY surgery. Now I can go out when I want , I can move so much more easily and I can walk for long distances and not just to the letter box.

    I am not saying you should have surgery but to look at your life and how is it being effected. All the ususal pros and cons and if you haven't had injections yet I would say that is probably the next step.

    Blessings Sara
  • It really is something that you will know deep inside that intuitive part of yourself.

    When you have to modify your life to cope, then something has to give.

    I initially blew out L5-S1 and was supposed to have one simple surgery to fix it. The disc, genetics and an unknown hole in my dura (old LP that never closed) led me down the road to 6 lumbar surgeries and a broken back that took it to 7. Add a lumbar shunt and 9 weeks of open wound healing and my lower back, butt, legs and feet feel great.

    Was it worth it? Absolutely.

    You'll know when it's "time".

  • My story is very very similar to yours.
    I exhausted all the conservative treatments/modalities.
    There was nothing left to do but get surgery or be bed-ridden the rest of my life.

    I did lots of research.

    While I won't be 100%, I am happy to be able to lead a somewhat normal pain-free life now.
    There was a point where I knew "it was time" as referenced above. I knew, and could rest with the decision.
    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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  • It is a decision based on many individual factors.Your age and overall health.Your belief that surgery is a good option.
    Your past experiences and your outlook on life in general.
    I'm having my first and hopefully last spine surgery in a few days.
    I have had excellent results with any type of surgery so far and I heal well.
    Not afraid of the procedure.
    I could not live with my condition in its present state and am willing to accept the possible consequences if it does not succeed.
  • I also have DDD at L4-L5. I did PT twice a week for a few months. Then Chiro three times a week for a few months. Then Cortisone injections... Then Microdiscectomy. Then Aquatic PT, Neurontin. Now I'm having another surgery Oct 16. I'm fairly young to be having a fusion, but I've been out of work for over a year and a half... And that is enough of a reason right there for me to do it. I'm guessing I will end up having more surgeries at some point down the road. I do have a herniation at T11-T12. But if L4-L5 has worn out on it's own without injury, this young... I don't think it's irrational to think that with the extra stress a fusion puts on surrounding discs, that I may end up with more surgeries. I'm not worried, though. Because I AM young, so who knows what technology they will have by then?
  • hi,
    I am 29 years old and have 2 fusions l5s1 and l2/3 and another surgery before this one within 2 years of eachother. Having that been said it will be two years since my fusion surgery and If I had to do it again I would advise anyone not to. If you can walk and your pain is bearly I say no cause the complications mite make u worse in the end. However I am not you it really depends how bad the pain is, I didn't do it cause Of pain, I couldn't walk, now I can thank godness but in more pain then I ever was.

    I wish you good luck and hope this helped.

    Salique :)))
  • Well, I can walk and pretty much do most things but I do them with pain. The only time I am completely incapacitated is those occasional nasty flare-ups that put me out of commission for days on end. Basically, I just hurt all the time. It's like a constant DEEP aching and throbbing from my mid back all the way down both legs. I'm good with pain but after dealing with it for so many years I am wearing down. It's just harder to push past it and summon up the will and desire to do anything. The desire is what I miss, especially the desire to play. You know?

    I spoke with my primary today and he emphasized the severity of my injury and his trust in the surgeon he referred me to, saying that this surgeon is conservative on the whole and won't recommend surgery unless he feels it is the best option. That said, I'm still going to get a second opinion from a neurosurgeon before I make my decision. And if I do this surgery, I want to wait until after Christmas. I want to enjoy the holidays with my family.

    Thanks for all that you each have shared. It helps to hear from those who understand.

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