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Surgery is not an option

neednewbacknneednewback Posts: 229
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:24 AM in Degenerative Disc Disease
I met with my surgeon for the first time yesterday. We went over my MRI, xrays and discogram result. It is his conclusion that the only surgery that could be done would be a three level fusion L3 to S1 and that he would only do the surgery if I was in so much pain I couldnt move.

It sounds like this is a common response to us with severe pain from DDD. I was just wondering how people cope with this type of news and pain. I am still able to work part time and sleep fairly well, but have not yet been able to do any pt that doesnt hurt me. I am currently on extended release morphin and flexeril.

The surgeon is setting up an appointment with his PT guy and feels that there are ways that will slowly start to help me. He has also ordered a special back brace to releive strain on my discs. Part of me is releived because surgery scares me so much, and I'm encouraged about the possibility of the possibility of getting in shape and feeling beter than I have in years. But......still in pain and not sure what the furture holds for me.

I would be grateful if others would share their story and/or have any input.

Thanks, Mitch.


  • Hi Mitch

    I'm in the same situation you are in. Surgery is not an option. Here are some of my choices and the reasoning behind them.

    Medications. I take soma, Oxycodone, vicodin at lower levels. I switch the pain meds around when I start building up tolerance. I have declined oxycontin, methadone and other stronger drugs because of the impact it has on my ability to work. As a result I am usually in some form of pain. Thats a balance that works for me. I can still drive and work.

    Orthopedic Stuff. I did not take the back brace when it was offered. After being told that my back muscles would atrophy after prolonged use I chose not to. I'm carefull with any kind of bending and ussually have folks do lifting for me. I do have a latex memory foam mattress. It has helped alot. I also wear zcoil shoes. these have also helped alot reducing impact to my hips and spine.

    Excersise/wieght. I walk twice daily with my dog and eat a low carb diet. I keep my wieght down. less wieght less strain on your back. I do stretching excercises flat on the floor once a day to keep as much mobility in my spine as possible. This is painfull at times.

    PT/Chiro. Pt has not helped much. Chiro has been a mixed bag and will avoid it in the future. Decompression helped my neck but caused issues in my lower spine.

    Hope this helps


  • Many years ago I was told that fusion surgery was in my future but they wouldnt do it until I could "no longer function" or I showed up in a wheelchair, because of my age. Sounds like what you have been told. I was told the same things from the OS and a NS. Have you gotten a second opinion?

    Every month it seems there were new things I could no longer do. More pain, more of the time. I waited a few years and talked with my PM doc. again, although I was still working full time, I explained that I worried that waiting till I could no longer function or move, it would only cause more problems in the long run. Increased weight, more damage, deconditioning and the emotional toll of chronic pain. Not mention the continued use of heavy narcotic just to try get thru the day.

    NO LONGER FUNCTIONING- What does that really mean? Does that mean bed ridden? Or does it mean no longer able to cook and clean? I feel the answer is totally different for everyone! I could function at a pain level of 5-7 every waking minute because I had to, there wasnt an option. Kids needed dinner, bills needed to be paid, you get the idea. I wasnt even considering the fun stuff in life, forget about exercise, swimming, going on a swing, playing with the kids, sex. All of these activities were long gone. I feel you need to make your own definition of what functioning means to you, what do you want to do, what cant you do, what do you need to do, how much pain does each answer cause you, all of that counts.

    Fusion surgery for DDD is about so much more than just determining if the back itself is a candidate. Have you tried everything else? Can you take off work for an extended ammount of time? Do you have help at home? Will you lose your insurance if you cant work any longer (then how do you pay for surgery in the future)? What will change in the future that could make your surgery recovery more difficult?

    I am in no means advocating surgery if your body isnt to that point, this was just my situation. I also had to accept the fact that I will more than likely need more surgery as my levels progress. I was willing to take the chance just to get a few good years inbetween.

    Sorry for the book, its just when doctors give answers like wait till you "cant move due to pain" and "no longer function" it gets me going,lol.


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  • It will not weaken your back muscles. I have talked to 2 different spine docs about this. you are still using your muscles the brace just insures that you are not bending or twisting in harmful ways. Also, you do not wear the brace 24/7. I have had great success with the brace. It has been a real lifesaver for me. I wear a lumbo sacral brace. Good luck and please keep us posted.
  • Hey Mitch,

    I have seen my surgeon now about 4 times and was told at the beginning there is basically three strikes; epidural injection, facet joint injections and then surgery... (as i had tried several other treatments before), so, after both the epidural and facet joint injections had been tried and failed i was sure my last meeting would be to discuss surgery, so the weeks leading up to this meeting i had prepared myself and sort of got my hopes up for this answer - "we're going to have to operate" which, knowing a pain free life could be just a few months around the corner i was terrified but pretty damn excited too, i have a lot of partying to make up for!!! Then he drops the clanger on me that at this moment in time he thinks i should avoid surgery and stick with my chiopractic and achipuncture treatment (although i can only actually afford this once every 6 weeks!), he explained his reasons and in his defence they were good reasons but to walk out of there knowing that i could potentially be in pain for a long long time really hit me hard, i was so upset, exactly how much pain and for how long qualifies you as a good candidate for surgery, how much more money and days off work will pass, how much more of my youth am i going to be limping around and hiding myself from the cold for, so many questions!!!
    ...so thats why i found this website, to chat to people like you guys and share stories; im now looking for alternative pain relief i've never tried, but I still have to rely on medication every day, lots of rest and icepacks...It sounds like there's a lot of people out there in similar situations, its so frustrating to have exhausted so many treatments... anywho, i'd best get back to work, plenty to do!!

    Keep your chin up Mitch :D ...the quest continues!!

    Ruth :H

  • Before the surgeon agreed to operate

    Sept 2007 I was in agony, wasn't exercising due to pain just lying all day in bed. A discogram showed pain at all 3 levels (l3/s1) but also caused a spinal leak and I was quite ill for about 6 weeks after. The surgeon painted a bleak picture, focusing on what could go wrong with fusion surgery, and recommended a pain management/cognitive therapy course in the meantime

    The course taught me many new pain man techniques, different exercises, anatomy information etc I finally started moving again and was less afraid of the pain, but it was only a stop gap to surgery.

    Although I could function better thru 2008 the pain was still there and a new MRI showed more degeneration. So, Sept 2008 the surgeon agreed to operate.

    I asked about last years 'bleak picture' and he admitted that at the time I wasn't in a fit state mentally (due to the spinal leak) or physically (due to lack of exercise) to go thru with the op - therefore he tried his best to put me off - it worked.

    However this year I understand so much more, and having worked on my core muscles and general fitness for 9 months, I was better positioned to have the surgery and more importantly do all that was involved post op.

    It is still early days. I've been home a week - but I'm up and about every day, I'm walking outside/sitting eating dinner at the table with the family - just not doing housework or any bending but feel great and not much pain. Could I have done this last year...... I don't think so!

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  • My NS told me if I don't get better by next year, that he would do another SCS trial or morphine pump on me. I'm prone to spinal fluid leaks, and he is leaning more towards the pump. But that's one more surgery to go thru if this happens. I'm not in a big hurry to have an invasive procedure right now, and am glad to have time to consider things. I'm on pain meds, but if there is a chance to better my quality of life, I would probably take the opportunity offered. I wish it had a 100% guarantee.
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