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Newbie question about herniated disc

mhead66mmhead66 Posts: 6
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:46 AM in Chronic Pain
A newbie - so please excuse the ignorance.

I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in the lumbar region two months ago - not sure of specifics. Went to my PCP, no help - he suggested physical therapy but had no answers. Had X-ray then MRI, and chiro didn't help at all. Went to a "Spine Center", and I noticed that the 13 doctors were either all anesthesiologists or "pain medicine specialists." Not an orthopedist in the bunch. I've been there three times, and got large prescriptions for Endocet and a muscle relaxer, and last week got a lumbar spinal epidural injection.

Nothing has helped, I'm still in pain and can't sit down at all. I'm kneeling at my laptop writing this, and it aches incessantly. The meds help just a little, but driving to work for 12 minutes is torture, and I feel groggy and dizzy all the time.

Not looking for sympathy - I'm wondering... How will continuing to take painkillers help actually heal the problem? I don't want to just mask the pain, I want the condition to be resolved. I don't want surgery - naturally, who does? But what are the basic options? Will my body "heal itself" while the pain is masked by the painkillers, or is my Spine Center just masking the problem indefinitely?

Thanks for any input...
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1

Comments

  • Welcome to Spine Health!

    Go to the blue box at the top of the page and search for disk herniations. Read the entire article- it is really quite good!

    The answer is- it won't, any more than a band-aid will heal a cut on your leg. It will get you through and hopefully your body will heal it. Other treatments listed would be physical therapy, heat, ice, etc.

    The reason you are being given "conservative treatments" at this time is explained in the article- even if the body does not heal the herniation, the pain generally goes away as the inflammation recedes. If it does not feel better in a couple of month, keep bugging them and they will take notice ;)

    Good luck!
  • the many people on this site are long term pain sufferers and we have collectively been through every procedure and operation there is ..so you are in a right place for advice and support .i myself have been a member of the old and new spine health for around 5 years or so.i am in the uk so some things i say may be of no benefit to you.but i will try to help as will anyone else on here .if i were you i would get a referral to an orthopedic surgeon he/she may MRI/CT your back and from that normally a diagnosis will be made .you will be offered decent pain killers.{sleeping medication if required} and if PT is not working and all the other conservative measures have little or no benefit to you ..then surgery may be your only choice ..{but dont rush in to it without getting a surgeon there been recommended} spinal surgeons all not all equal i know been there and got the tee shirt! if surgery if your only way then be sure to get at least 3 opinions .in the mean time why not get yourself a TENS machine you could also try ice pack /heat ice sprays and memory foam items{like pillows /mattresses and overlays} make life easier for people like us with constant pain .once again welcome
    STRAKER
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  • Welcome to Spine-Health. There are a lot of informative articles, doctor-written and peer-reviewed, on this site that can tell you a about what's happening with regards to a herniated disc, treatments, etc. The forums are also a great place for support and experience from others that have gone through what you're going through.

    My suggestion is to find a fellowship-trained spine surgeon, be it ortho or neuro, but one who only works on the spine. Seeing a surgeon doesn't necessarily mean surgery, many times they'll suggest conservative treatments first to see if they help you or because it's required by your insurance. Since you've already tried injections without success, I think it's more important than ever now for you to find someone like this. My surgeon happens to be in a spine center that has these kind of surgeons, mine who specializes in severe cervical problems and others that specialize in lumbar, as well as physios and PTs all onsite.

    Seeing just a PM at this point is like Brenda said, it's just a bandaid. I'm a firm believer, like most here, that it's imperative to find the root of the problem and go from there with someone who knows the intricate workings of the spine. Finding someone who specializes in the spine gives you the best chance of getting the specialized care, diagnosis and treatment that you need. They tend to work progressively, trying the simplest non-invasive treatments first (like the PT and injections you've had) and getting more aggressive from there. You may not need surgery, but if nothing else helps, then it's up to the specialist to find the next course of action.

    If you don't know of one in your area, you can do a few things: ask around among your friends and coworkers - you'd be amazed at how many people have had spine problems that you never knew did; ask here if someone has found a great specialist in your area (they'll have to PM you with a referral as it's not allowed to be posted publicly); or use the Find A Doctor feature at the top of the page here on Spine-Health.

    I wish you luck in finding the right doctor - it can take a few visits and opinions sometimes, so be patient, but if you're going to try and find a specialist, make sure you have 100% confidence in the one you choose.

    Take care and please keep us posted.
    Cath

  • Thanks to all for your replies. I am hopeful that simply time and physical therapy will be sufficient to heal my spine. I received a TENS unit from the Spine Center I've been going to, and my chiro gave me three pages of stretches that I've been attempting to do - painful, but ice helps. This website DOES have lots of useful information, and it puts my problem in perspective - so many people here have suffered so greatly... My prayers will go out for you all.
  • MHead you said in your first post that you were diagnosed with a herniated disk ... but didn't know the specifics.

    You say you had an MRI. That should very clearly say where you have a herniation. If you don't have the report get a copy -- you are entitled to it. Also get the films or CD.

    Who gave you this diagnosis and why aren't they treating you now? Usually this would come from an orthopedist or neurologist. I would find one spine specialist, either ortho or neuro, and stick with them. There is no reason for you to be in the pain you are describing.

    As far as the treatments you want to try everything conservative before resorting to surgery. Alot of times the doctor uses meds or injections to isolate the pain so they know they have the real source. Also you want to give it some time because some herniations can shrink and go away. But it seems like you are all over the place in just two months.

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  • Remember also that being diagnosed with a herniated disk is not the same as being diagnosed as having the herniated disk being the cause of your pain.

    Many people with pain-free backs will have herniated disks, so there are many more tests that must be performed before they would determine that the disk is the cause of your pain and treat it invasively.

    I hope your physical therapist is treating your pain, and not just giving you exercise therapy. There is a lot that PT can do to treat pain, as well as giving you the strengthening techniques that are more than a band-aid for helping your spine.

    Good luck! And if you want to whine about how much it hurts, we're here for that too, we get it!
  • Kris-NY said:
    MHead you said in your first post that you were diagnosed with a herniated disk ... but didn't know the specifics.

    You say you had an MRI. That should very clearly say where you have a herniation. If you don't have the report get a copy -- you are entitled to it. Also get the films or CD.

    Who gave you this diagnosis and why aren't they treating you now? Usually this would come from an orthopedist or neurologist. I would find one spine specialist, either ortho or neuro, and stick with them. There is no reason for you to be in the pain you are describing.

    As far as the treatments you want to try everything conservative before resorting to surgery. Alot of times the doctor uses meds or injections to isolate the pain so they know they have the real source. Also you want to give it some time because some herniations can shrink and go away. But it seems like you are all over the place in just two months.

    Hi Kris. Thanks for your reply - let me clarify.

    Originally, I had X-Rays taken at the request of my chiropractor, just after I injured my back. He told me that he didn't see the value of getting an MRI when I asked him, and I continued seeing him three times a week for three weeks. While I was visiting him, he sent me to PT - but it is just an extension of his office, where instructors have you lay on gym mats while you go over various stretches together. I did this once a week, learning new stretches each week, for the three weeks I saw my chiro.

    As the pain worsened, I decided to go to my Spine Center, about a month ago. The first visit I took my X-rays, and the anesthesiologist briefly looked at my X-rays, wrote me a script for Endocet and Soma, and scheduled me for an MRI. At the same time, he scheduled me for a lumbar epidural steroid injection. I thought this a little unusual, because he had zero specifics on my back pain.

    Last week, I went back, and got the injection, one in each hip. I gave him the MRI, and he left the room with them for 30 seconds. He came back and said, Yes, you have a herniated disc - then gave me the injection, and scheduled another set of injections (which I have tomorrow).

    My concern was that his modus operandus seem to be to act to relieve my pain - which I appreciate - without taking the time to actually diagnose the specifics. Of course, it IS my fault, that I didn't stop him and question him further - I will do so tomorrow.

    My biggest question here was, will the herniation heal on its own, without surgery, or is the spine center just relieving my pain without addressing its cause. The advice I've gotten here has been encouraging - the PT (stretching, in my case) and time MAY heal my back... although surgery remains a possibility. It's sad that I got better and more precise information on this forum than I got from my PCP, chiro and anesthesiologist combined. For that, I thank all of you!

    Tomorrow I get two more spinal injections - I'm looking forward to them, cause I hurt worse than ever, even with the Endocet and the injections last week...
  • happyHBmom said:
    Remember also that being diagnosed with a herniated disk is not the same as being diagnosed as having the herniated disk being the cause of your pain.

    Many people with pain-free backs will have herniated disks, so there are many more tests that must be performed before they would determine that the disk is the cause of your pain and treat it invasively.

    I hope your physical therapist is treating your pain, and not just giving you exercise therapy. There is a lot that PT can do to treat pain, as well as giving you the strengthening techniques that are more than a band-aid for helping your spine.

    Good luck! And if you want to whine about how much it hurts, we're here for that too, we get it!
    My PT was exactly was you said, exercise therapy, like I said above. The PT practice was a partner of my chiro, and young instructors in gym suits stretched next to me on gym mats - I felt like it was preparation for a long distance race I was getting ready to run.

    You also raise a very good point - I'm not sure the herniation is the source of the pain. My spine center anesthesiologist said I have a herniation, but he asked me where it hurt. I told him that although my lower back and legs hurt, my hips ache the worst, especially if I try to sit. He then gave me the epidural injections, one in each hip. If my problem is a herniated spine, how does this tie into the focus of the pain being in my hips?

    Color me confused...
  • Well, that's where you need the specialist- because if a herniated disk is the issue, then the MRI or other tests would show if it is pressing on nerves. Those nerves should correlate with the painful areas, not the location of the herniation.

    So, actually, pain nowhere near your herniation is normal, but I think it's usually on one side.

    But painful hips on both sides, for me, has usually been mechanical back pain- strained muscles and ligaments that need to be strengthened and taken better care of. I personally have BTDT and have the T-shirt. And I found in that case that the GOOD physical therapy fixed me right up and got me on my way.

    But they did that by treating my pain along with strengthening and stretching. I mean, I was there because I hurt, not because I wanted to be an athlete. So I got ultrasound, and electrical stimulation, and ice, and heat, and deep tissue massage to relieve all of those muscle knots and spasms.

    There's no reason you can't have the diagnostic work going on at the same time as the PT, if you can get your insurance to pay for it (many have a waiting period and want you doing more conservative treatment for a while before they start doing more diagnostics).

    Hang in there.
  • I agree with HB that you need to find a spine specialist, either neurologist or orthopedist. They will look at your MRI and do a full exam. THen they will tell you what they think is causing your pain. I say think because until something helps relieve your pain no one knows for certain where it is coming from.

    I know some will disagree but I have found it is very hard to get a good diagnosis when you are trying all different kinds of treatment. If you think about it this way - you sprain an ankle, take an aspirin to relieve the pain, no more pain, ankle is still sprained - it makes sense. Once you see the spine specialist you can start trying different treatments.

    Oh and that PT program sounds odd. Enough said.
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