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S1 Sciatica numbness - how long does it last?

seaniboysseaniboy Posts: 14
Hi I'm new to this forum - 48-year old male - and would really appreciate any advice people have to offer.

About 9 weeks ago (end of September) I fell over very heavily playing tennis. Two weeks later I had the classic sciatica symptoms: back/leg pain that made it terribly hard to get out of bed and quite impossible to drive or sit at a desk. I tried physiotherapy and a range of painkillers which made some improvement. But my MRI scan subsequently revealed a herniated L5 disc.

My specialist is hoping that it will heal of its own accord with conservative treatment; but he has also said that ultimately L5/S1 decompression surgery may prove to be the only solution. I'm not desperate to have surgery if it can be avoided; and so am willing to put up with the pain for a little longer to give the natural healing processes more of a chance.

Although the back pain has largely gone away now, I still have to take quite high dosages of pain killers as I have quite a lot of leg pain plus total (S1) numbness in the 4th/5th toes, heel, and outside of my right leg. Sitting/driving for any prolonged period of time is still almost impossible. As a researcher my work involves a lot of time at a computer in front of a desk, so, aside from the discomfort, this is a big deal for me professionally.

While I am not experiencing the same degree of excruciating pain that I was, 4 weeks ago, the level of discomfort has more or less remained constant over the past three weeks. I think if natural healing could not cure these symptoms, I would have to opt for surgery in the new year.

My specific question relates to what forum members' experiences of numbness/loss of sensation in the leg has been.

Have people found that the numbness just suddenly goes away one day? Or does feeling come back over a period of time? (If so, how long?)

And as for the operation itself. I have heard (some!!) people report that they woke up to discover themselves completely free of leg pain afterwards. But nobody seems to comment on the numbness. Does that disappear straight after the operation? Or does that take a while to come back? (does it ever come back?)

Thanks for your help!!

What i would like to know is what people's experiences


  • Hi Seaniboy,

    I think everyone would be differnt. Myself, I was hurt almost 3 years ago, and have herniations at L4/L5 and L5/S1. The second is compressing the nerve root, causing lots of pain and numbness in my right leg. When I was first hurt, the numbness was in my toes on the outside of the foot, and I only had pain in the back of my upper leg. Then the numbness went away. I was doing Physiotherapy at the time, and chiropractic. In the last several months, the pain and numbness has come back with a vengance! It's to the point I can't sit, lie down, stand or walk too long at once. And I'm taking lots of pain killers that just take the edge off a bit. I'm going for surgery Dec. 10th, and hopefully it will help the pain in my leg. But the doctor said I may always have some numbness and tingling in my leg - depending I guess on how much the nerve is damaged.

    I've heard others with similar experiences, and others who say the numbness goes away as soon as they have an operation. I think it depends on how much and how long the nerve has been compressed.

    Hope you get some relief soon, take care,
  • Hi,
    I posted earlier in the other forum, for new comers. Well, I need to understand how this sciatica works, and possibly that's what's occurring with me.

    From my experience, I had a lot of pressure on the sciatic nerve with my first surgery and the disc matter was again on the sciatic nerve. After the first surgery, very gradually and slowly, the feeling came back and I had lots of PT. I had trouble with balance, which I have to say I do have to still be careful of like if I am in the garden, and trying to take big steps. I think perhaps those of us with discs blown, will have balance issues because we have lost that cushioning!

    Maybe from what Sandy is saying, I could right now be having a vengeance of the numbness, pain and so on that could go away eventually. I hope so, and hope so for you, too, Seaniboy.

    I know I wanted the second surgery (last June) because the disc was on the sciatic nerve a second time, and I believe it was on it for a few months before I saw the surgeon. I remember I wanted that surgery because the less time the nerve is compressed, the better the improvement of numbness, etc, that could reside. But, if there are going to be these rebounds of pain and numbness, is there really a good chance of being ahead? Maybe I am actually affected by that first surgery, where the nerve pain and numbness was so bad. So, I would say, see what your doctor says. And don't let it go too far. If the doctor is good and you have heard good news about him or her, then don't let it go too far. In my case, I had no way of knowing it was blown for a couple years until it really went WICKED bad and I could not move. And, then surgery followed like three months later which was as soon as I could find a good surgeon. I think a good surgeon, today, will not rush it but do surgery when it is really needed.

    My chiropractor went into chiro because she was not having any luck with her disc issues, and never had surgery. She did end up with numbness, and so on, but she does say that the body does have a way of dealing with things like that. Good luck, and try not to worry about it too much! I know it is hard, when you need to keep sitting in that chair doing your work, and you are in pain! It isn't fun! And, imagine I may be crazy, but you really do gain a high pain tolerance over time, too. But then again, it is hard to get a pain tolerance to nerve pain - that is the worst.
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  • Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for your kind words and for replying so quickly.

    I'm very cheered up by your news that the numbness went away eventually. But very sorry to hear that it has returned of late. What kind of PT were you doing that cured your numbness?

    I really hope your date with the surgeon goes well - I'll keep my fingers crossed. Do let me know how it turns out - I'll be thinking of you! - and I'd be interested to hear in particular what happens about the numbness after the operation.

    Good luck!

  • Hi Missy,

    Thanks for your detailed reply! When you say the feeling came back very slowly and gradually after your first surgery what are we talking? Weeks? Months?

    What I'm trying to find out is whether the numbness is because the nerve is compressed or whether it is because the nerve is defunct and has to regenerate.

    But thanks for your advice on the surgery front. How did you find the improvement second time around?

  • I can relate to what you're going through. I still have sciatic pain, mostly in my right leg, since my surgery. I also sit at a desk at the computer for long periods of time. One thing that has helped me (recommended by my cousin, who is a nurse) is a device called a Back Joy. It is not a cushion, it's an orthotic. Somehow or another it makes sitting in a chair a lot easier. I could never do the 2 hour drives to see my surgeon without it. You can Google it and see what it's all about. If you have a Bed, Bath, and Beyond locally, you can get them there. If you have their 20% off coupon (BB&B's), you can get one for about $40. The other thing that may help you is a TENS unit. I got one during the course of treatment for my injury and I still use it occasionally. Our nerves affect the muscles in our butts, and can really cause some knotted muscles at times. The TENS unit can help to settle those down. Also, if you have a shower massage, you can turn the water to a very warm temperature and blast your butt, hip, leg (as I am about to do in 2 minutes!). All the best for a natural recovery. If you can avoid surgery, you'll be doing yourself a tremendous favor.

    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
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  • Dear Gwennie,

    Thanks for your explanation: I'm interested in what you say about the pririformis muscle because the start of all my trouble was when i fell down very heavily on a (hard) tennis court. WhenI got home that evening i had a very stiff back getting out of the car - but I was still able to play tennis (twice!!) the following week. (Madness!!!)

    But by the end of that week I had pain from the buttock down to the knee (which I think is a classic piriformis type problem). For that reason my physiotherapist said she thought that my problem might be SI Joint pain. It was only two weeks after my original fall that the pain spread to my ankle/foot (and became excruciating).

    However when I had my MRI Scan about 4-5 weeks after the fall it showed no (visible) problem with the SI Joint. All very strange.

  • Hi Linda,
    Thanks for your tip - I'll look into i a Back joy (although I think in the UK - where I am - it must be called something else). I've heard good things about the TENS machine too - so that's another avenue I'm going to investigate.

    Certainly agree about the shower massage: at the moment I am trying to go swimming as much as possible and a whirlpool massage afterwards is always very comforting.

  • Hi Gwennie,

    Thanks for your tips - and sorry not to respond before.

    I haven't had any injections - or indeed been offered any. I have been taking Tramadol pain-killers plus fairly large quantities of Ibruprofen and Paracetamol.

    I've also been doing my exercises. My PT recommends lying flat on the floor with one knee bent and lifting my hips up off the floor. When things were at their worst I couldn't cope with that. But now I can do that fairly easily. I'm also doing a lot of swimming.

    I'm pleased to report that 11 weeks since crashing over, things have eased quite a bit. I now take 2 Tramadol at night and two in the morning. But although I can do loads more than 4 weeks ago, I still have some residual numbness in my foot. Also, I still have quite a of stiffness in my leg - it's like a bad hamstring/muscle pull. I would describe that as permanent background discomfort rather than pain. But if I kicked a football and followed right through with the leg, the result would be agony. And I still have a bad limp which is particularly pronounced after a period of sitting.

    My big dilemma will be whether or not to opt for surgery in the New Year if these symptoms don't go away. I can't believe that I can have made so much progress only to be held up on the home straight!! This week I'm going back to the PT for some more demanding exercises in the hope of freeing up that compressed nerve.

    Anyone have a suggestion as to the point at which someone like me - who seems to have a relatively straightforward problem - should accept that surgery is inevitable?

    I should also say that, having read many of the posts, it seems that there are some people who are really suffering in a big way out there. So I feel very humble reporting on my symptoms which - in comparison to everyone else's - seem rather trivial.

    I also know that some people from the UK contribute to the forum, so I thought for those Brits suffering like me I would say something about the way I managed my health care using the NHS.

    When I first hurt myself playing tennis I went to a private Tennis Club Physiotherapist as I get a member's discount. Half an hour of PT costs £30. She was very good - but can't prescribe medicines. So I had to go to my GP for that. 3 weeks worth of prescribed pain killers cost just over £7 on the NHS. The GP too was very helpful and would have organised (free) PT on the NHS if I had wanted it. But I preferred to keep going with my Tennis Club PT as that was more convenient for me.

    However, after 5 weeks of pain, I decided something more radical was required and my PT offered to refer me for a scan and - if I wanted - to a specialist. In the UK you can't just go and see a specialist or have a scan - you have to be referred either by a GP or a private health practitioner like my PT.

    The problem in the UK is that it can take quite a while to get a scan on the NHS and to see a specialist (I'm not quite sure how long). But if you are willing to pay and go privately, then you can usually get something done within a week.

    I had to pay £195 for an MRI scan - which was interpreted by both the radiologist and the PT as showing a L5 S1 disc herniation. I thought that was money well spent because I then knew exactly what was wrong with me and could make a plan about what to do. Just knowing what was wrong - rather than floundering in ignorance - was a big help psychologically.

    But it also meant that I could take my scans to the specialist that same week who I saw as a private - rather than NHS - patient. (Most specialists in the UK work partly for the NHS and partly as private consultants).

    So for another £200 within four days I got a 50-minute with the specialist who outlined my options: basically an extended period of conservative care with surgery as a possible option if things didn't heal up on their own. Again, I thought this was money well spent as I then felt that I had actually done everything within my power to address my condition.

    But - and this is the trick with the NHS system - having seen me as a private patient, the specialist is entitled to treat me as an NHS patient should I need surgery - and so he placed me on his NHS waiting list. Under NHS rules, once you are on the list you have to be treated within 18 weeks; according to the published statistics, the actual waiting time for (non-emergency) cases like mine would be nearer 12-13 weeks.

    I could have asked to have the operation done privately within the next two weeks; but he didn't recommend that - and it would have cost £7000 pounds. On the NHS the surgery and post-operative care is, of course, free.

    So I spent just under £400 getting an MRI scan and a specialist consultation - and I appreciate that not everyone can afford that - but my advice to fellow Brits is, if you can, it is well worth the money, because even if if you go privately for the scans and specialist consultation, you can still opt to be operated on under the NHS scheme if it turns out to be necessary. (If you were in an acute state with incontinence etc. they would do the operation immediately - no waiting for 18 weeks). Moreover, even if you pay to go privately, although the operation would be done sooner, it would still be done by the same surgeon and in the same hospital.

    OMG I 've gone on for so long! Sorry! Time to sign off.

  • Honestly IMHO giving you the options of PT or surgery seem a bit extreme. Especially in your case where you are having success with PT. Surgery should be the last option not the second option.

    Most folks would go through a series of ESI shots atleast before going to surgery. It all really depends on how bad is the herniation. How big is it? Ask your doctor how serious in terms of perm nerve damage.

    There are many different treatments before you need to go down the surgery route and should see a PM if possible and maybe get a second or third opinion which should include a spinal orthopedist and a neurosurgeon.

    Finally after my 5th different doctor was I offered an option other than continue with PT as your herniation is mild and the risk is too high for surgery. Surgery can be a long path of multiple surgeries and fusions. Once you affect the structure of the spine it can lead to multiple issues down the road.

    This is all food for thought...

  • Hi, Im new to this forum, Ive suffered from sciatica since bank holiday weekend in august 09, and struggled to try to keep going and working through the pain. I kept going to work, only to last a couple of days and then being signed for a couple of weeks, then declaring myself fit to return then again lasting a couple of days...god loves a tryer..right?
    Anyway, to the point, whilst signed off I went to the supermarket with my wife ( I found gentle walking on smooth level floors was easy and seemed to free me up a bit)when I got out of the car, I felt my back go, as most of you who suffer from this will know, the pain was so bad this time I was close to fainting, I even had tears running down my face, and Im a big strapping guy, I can take pain, or so I thought...
    I ended up laying on the car park ground flat out waiting for an ambulance. Long story short, I ended up totally bed ridden for 5 days, and was called in for an operation a lot earlier then booked (I was booked for an op mid jan/feb '10)Its been 9 days now since my operation, and now in the last couple of days, my sciatica pain has returned, also along with a numbing sensation down my foot and length of my leg, which I didnt really have the numbness before. This is a real set back for me and to be honest has got me down a bit, as I thought after the operation I would be able to get back on with life again. Maybe this is part of the process after the operation, I dont know? It is a major worry, Im 36 years old and work in construction management.
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