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Permanent nerve damage?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,321
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:36 AM in Spinal Stenosis
I had a lumbar laminectomy (in 3 places) nearly 6 months ago and there has been no change in my symptoms of leg pain, weakness, and walking difficulties. The PT told me that it can take a year for spinal nerves to recover so I wasn't too concerned.

When I had a f/u visit with my neurosurgeon a month ago, he disagreed with the PT. He said that I had waited much too long to seek treatment and that the nerve damage was permanent. I didn't even know that this was a potential outcome.

I was diagnosed ten years ago but was unwilling to have a fusion which the orthopod recommended. I did experience a period of relief 7 years ago after a freak accident when I fell on a hardwood floor and had to twist my body frantically to avoid falling on a baby playing on the floor.

ESI's helped me cope with the pain and then I was (wrongly) diagnosed with a form of myositis which is a chronic and progressive muscle-wasting disease for which there is no treatment. After that I quit seeking treatment for the stenosis because I was led to believe that my muscle weakness was due to something else. Hence the 10-year gap between ss diagnosis and surgery....

Any comments or shared experiences would be greatly appreciated.


  • I would not accept the neurosurgeon's opinion on this as final. Perhaps, ultimately, it will be the case that you have permanent nerve damage...but at this point, it is too early to reach that conclusion. You might want to look for another spinal specialist for a second opinion.

    Did you have ANY relief right after surgery? Or has there been absolutely no change in your symptoms since prior to surgery?
  • I agree with Gwennie. I had my surgery, Laminectomy, and Foraminotomy 8 months ago, and I am just now seeing some real changes. My PT told me nerves heal very slowly, 1mm a day, and can take up to 18 months to 2 years to heal. Also, this was confirmed by my Neurosurgeon, Neurologist, and Dr. who did my EMG. So, get a second opinion, and don't give up hope. I had a severe compression for 2 years, and a piece of bone right on the S1 nerve, and could not even walk, or sit, or do anything except lay down, and today, I have a life. Its been a long struggle, but I am finally seeing some light! Let us know how you are doing! sweetpotatoe57
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  • Welcome to SH :H I also agree that it's hard to say exactly when the nerve damage is permanent. I know your symptoms went on for 10 years, and yes that is a very long time, but it's been 6 months since your laminectomy which decompressed the nerve. In my case, I do have permanent nerve damage and I was told this happened because I was delayed in getting to a back specialist. I had a laminectomy but it didn't work and I also had complications (see below). Before my fusion, my other surgeon suspected that it was already too late for the nerve to heal and projected that it wouldn't change after the fusion. He was correct in his assessment and told me a year later after the fusion that the nerve damage wasn't going away. My nerve pain never improved after both surgeries and it just continued to worsen over time.

    I hope this isn't the case for you and I still think there is still a chance for recovery. I would also seek another opinion like Gwennie suggested and perhaps it will clarify some things. Are you on any nerve pain medications? Take care
  • The subject of "how soon does permanent damage develop" is confusing. Some people can ignore problems for years and be fine. Others, like me, delay 4 months and have permanent nerve damage.

    I would recommend getting some nerve testing before you accept the "permanent" diagnosis. Without it, it is just a guess.

    I was told repeatedly and for years to "give my nerves time to heal", but I could tell nothing was improving. (At 1 cm a month, my legs stayed numb from hip to toes laterally with no improvement.)

    Finally had my NS consent to an EMG and nerve conduction studies. During the test, the neurologist had a strange face, asked me weird questions and I later found out that for the level of nerve damage I have, I was not exhibiting the expected level of pain. (Darn my super high pain tolerance!! Apparently, that is what delayed the docs in worrying about it.)

    Anyhoo...NS told me I had severe permanent s1 nerve damage and he changed his entire song and dance. Told me the SCS was my best and only hope, and if that did not work, then the implanted pain pump would be my last resort.

    I delayed a year in seeking the SCS as I was in denial and still expecting to get better, we moved, had to get new doctors, etc. Finally consented to the SCS and my life is brand new!

    Definitely get a second opinion and nerve testing to be sure. The EMG will show if you have acute (recent) or chronic (long-term) damage.

    Had I known that as little as 4 months could have led to permanent nerve damage, I would have sought medical treatment much sooner and not spent 4 months with a beloved/personal friend chiropractor.

    Take care,

  • I really appreciate your comments and I'm encouraged that improvement may eventually happen. I had been wondering if the NS could somehow have concluded that my nerve damage was permanent during the surgery when (I'm assuming) he actually saw the nerves.

    Having an EMG is a good idea, but I had four of them by four different neurologists in the 18 months prior to surgery so I hope my health insurance approves. What struck me is how subjective the interpretations apparently are since the conclusions were different with each one.

    I am taking neurontin but have not yet built up to a therapeutic level. I tried it years ago but couldn't keep awake so I am increasing it very slowly.

    I don't think that there has been even the slightest improvement since surgery. I now have more of a problem with lower back pain with activity but it is only at the "annoying" level (thankfully).

    I'm not very "back savvy" so please tell me what an SCS is. I'm so happy that I came across this site. Thanks again.
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  • couple comments -- I don't really see the point of having another EMG. As you stated, the results of the test are only as good as the person administering the test. And an EMG is a snapshot in time. You already know what the damage is. What you don't know is whether the nerve can regenerate...or how long it will take.

    I don't think there is any way you can tell if a nerve will regenerate at some point in the future just by looking at it. I think your surgeon was putting you off, for whatever reason. At best he was giving you information based on statistical data.

    I waited over three years before deciding to have my fusion. During this time I had terrible "sciatic" pain, mainly in my right leg and both feet were partially numb. I went to eight different spinal specialists and asked each one if I was risking permanent nerve damage by waiting. To a doctor, they each said "NO."

    You may conclude that you have not thus far been treated appropriately and you may want to seek out a different specialist. Look for a fellowship-trained spinal specialist. It might be a good time to get another opinion.

    Do not be too quick to accept a diagnosis of permanent nerve damage. Keep walking and building up those muscles in your legs and back.

    xx Gwennie
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