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Chronic Back Pain Following Surgery - Told there's no solution.

MikraphoneMMikraphone Posts: 3
edited 09/30/2014 - 9:21 AM in Chronic Pain
Hi all,

I am a 27 year old, formerly active, male who has been enduring 2 years of problems due to having slipped three discs in the lower back. Having had 2 operations (one an emergency), much medication, physiotherapy, other treatment and self-treatment (swimming, walking, etc.), I am still in agony from head (headaches) to sciatic pain (to ankles). I saw a neuro-surgeon about 3 weeks ago who has told me that there's literally nothing more they can do. I am at my wits end and simply don't know what else to do. I was wondering if someone could provide me with some ideas or suggestions on further treatment or spinal care? Here is a bit more in depth narrative:

About 5 years ago, I started getting some minor sciatic pain in my left leg, although it was not bad at all and was periodic. I was working about 80 hours a week in a warehouse at the time loading and unloading lorries. I consulted with my parents (doctor, nurse, believe it or not) who said it was nothing. I therefore didn't do much more about it. I then worked in construction for a while, before winging my way into an office job about 3.5 years ago. As I moved up the ladder, the positions because increasingly stressful.

During Christmas 2012, I picked up a bag (not heavy, nor light) and I felt a deep, burning sensation spread out from my lower back. I couldn't get it checked out for a while - in fact, until March 2013. I had an MRI which confirmed I had two slipped discs (L4-5 and L5-S1). According to the diagnosis, the L4-5 disc was more herniated than the L5-S1, but it was the latter that was causing the problem. After undertaking various sessions of physiotherapy, coritzone injected into the spine, taking medication, swimming, etc., with no improvement of my condition (only worsening to the point of hardly being able to walk or lead any semblance of a normal life), it was decided to operate in October 2013. The operation removed the protruding part of the disc.

Immediately after the operation, and thereafter, I felt no difference other than a slight improvement in mobility. However, upon returning to work after 6 weeks recovery, I was again back as I had been pre-operation within a week. Again I continued the treatment, and tried to grin and bear it; but in February 2014, I stood up from a chair and I felt the same burning sensation that I'd previously had. Afterwards, I couldn't walk, even from the bed to the bathroom (about 3 metres). After 4 days laying in bed, I had to call an ambulance. I was again operated on, this time they removed the soft tissue from within the disc at the L5-S1 level.

After this operation, there was some significant improvement, although after the 6 weeks recovery period, I requested more time to fully recover from the neurosurgeon, but he refused (an error I feel). Again after a week of returning to full time work (I had worked one week at about 20 hours a week), I was in agony again.

By April 2014, I had lost my job. I decided I would apply to do a month long, teaching qualification as I felt this would give me a job with more physical dynamism, which would be better for at least the time being for someone in my situation. I was then using the 2 month intermittent period to focus a lot on rebuilding muscles in my back by swimming, walking and not leading a sedentary lifestyle.

In June 2014, I woke up one morning and I could not longer walk again. I couldn't do the course. I had an MRI again, which showed that I have 3 slipped discs (new addition of L3-L4), although the L5-S1 was obviously shown to have been removed. I again took more medication, which didn't alleviate the pain. During all of this, I have not had a single drug that has actually reduced the pain (including 200mg of tramadol). During this period, the pain has now spread to my neck, shoulders and constant headaches. I have mostly spent the time laying in bed (no other choice), and gradually increasing where possible walking. I also had physiotherapy, which seems to have been useful. However, I've had to stop this as I ran out of money and needed to return to my family. I now have to wait 3 months for new sessions.

The neuro-surgeon then told me there's nothing more that he can do. Hence, I am absolutely at my wits end. I cannot believe that there's no other solution here? I've felt that most of the medical professionals I've seen have not taken me serious here. I am now in an awful lot of fear of returning to any form of employment as sitting down is the worst, and lifting (as required by many jobs) is clearly out of the question. I'd be so grateful for any ideas and assistance here.


  • Hi & welcome Miraphone. I'm glad you've found us. Chronic spine pain can be incredibly isolating, frustrating & depressing. There's a lot of advise & support here, I've made some great friends & that's made all the difference for me.

    Would you mind discussing your operations a little more? When you say they removed L5-S1 did they fuse that joint? Has any part of your spine been fused or was disc material just removed with each surgery? Is the neuro who told you there nothing more to be done the same one who operated on you? I would definitely get a second or third surgical opinion.

    When was your last MRI? Does it still show nerve compression? As you probably already know the longer a nerve is pushed on the longer it takes to recover if at all. Did your neuro take you through the results of your diagnostic tests & show you your pain generators & explain why he feels there's not a surgical solution? What did he tell you?

    Sorry for all the questions but I don't really understand why you weren't fused & why there's no further surgery that could help. It reads like your disc was removed leaving you with bone-on-bone down there. There's a multitude of treatments, therapies & procedures in pain management, many different medications (are you on a nerve med like Lyrica, Gabapentin etc. muscle relaxants. Have you ever taken a stronger narcotic med?) but most of those things are about controlling the pain or applying a temporary band-aid. I'm not convinced that there's not a surgical solution... Second surgical opinion would be my first step.

    I think teaching is a great idea. No career is going to be easy with chronic pain but moving away from manual labor is good advise for anyone with spine problems. I've been living with constant pain for over 8 years & the mental fight is as important as the physical. Having a plan, a direction, something to occupy your mind is invaluable for a spiney!
    Osteoarthritis & DDD.
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  • Thanks for your comments – I'm very grateful. I'll try my best to go through the points raised and answer them as best as I can !

    The first operation : In this case, the surgeon simply removed the protruding/bulging part of the disc. This was a standard procedure from what I understood. The disc was not fused together. I was told that it is not possible to fuse the discs for someone of my age (27).

    The second operation : As I said in my initial comment, this was an emergency operation. The surgeon removed all (I assume this, but perhaps the main part?) of the soft tissue from within the disc effectively leaving me with the shell of the disc. The disc was not fused in this case too.

    In both cases, I sought the opinion of three neurosurgeons and stuck with the same one for both operations.

    Since the second operation, I've moved locations and saw a fourth neurosurgeon at a top hospital who informed me that there's nothing he can do. He has said that it is not possible, as my actual surgeon said, to have a third operation due to my age and the fact I've already had two. They've said that operations do not necessarily remove pain, but give back mobility by moving the vein (etc.) back into a more comfortable place.

    My last MRI was in June 2014. I had also previously seen a rhumataologist, who said the following based on this and a CT scan. She said that I don't actually have a problem of a slipped disc, in spite of having sciatic pain. The fact that I have sciatic pain in both legs means it's impossible that the pain is the result of the other two slipped discs (the original troublemaker of course no long causes direct problems as it more or less doesn't exist following surgery).

    Regarding the appearance of any compressed nerves, I've looked through the medical records I have, and I don't see any indication of that in the text. I do believe that one was previously compressed, but surely after a year, that should be better, and not worsen ? In any case, the records say that the problem isn't the result of a slipped disc, and is more muscular. This is another reason for not undertaking further surgery.

    All neurosurgeons and the rhumatologist seemed competent.

    As for medication, I've been taking a lot of different medication during the last two years – on and off, accumulatively about 17 months – and not once has any of them made a difference or reduced the pain. I've concluded that medication simply doesn't work, and it's clearly not a long term solution. I've said this for about a year to my doctors, but they keep prescribing me the stuff ! After all, surely I know my body better than them ?

    I have now started some Pilates and Yoga sessions, as well as swimming again. It's too early to say whether this is helping. But to be frank, I've seen about 10 specialists, and all of them have failed to solve this problem and tend to just prescribe loads of medication that don't work.

    Moreover it's too early to say whether I am capable of returning to the office environment as it's not been tried and tested yet – that's the main issue really, as every time I return to work the pain flairs up again, after which it takes several months of being in bed and no tundertaking any activity for me to return to some form of normality in life. I've nevertheless read that this can be very helpful, and the instructors appear to be well acquainted with people who have back problems ; so I feel in safe hands.

    Thanks again for your thoughts !
  • thing you can do when faced with spine pain. All that will accomplish is increasing the pain and muscle disuse, and deterioration of your spine and supporting muscles.
    There does come a point when you have to work through the pain, gently but continue to work at rehabbing your spine, and the strengthening of the muscles in order to regain some strength, stamina and sitting ability.
    Physical therapy might be a good idea to get you moving and working on some simple stretches, and excercises to do every day, as well as slowly increasing your walking both distance and length of time might be the best thing that you can do for yourself.

  • MikraphoneMMikraphone Posts: 3
    edited 10/07/2014 - 9:36 AM
    Thanks again. I was mostly in bed because I actually couldn't walk, especially after a week of working. This is ultimately the issue. Working through pain is fine - I can do that - but the vast majority of time in the last two years, I've not been able to walk.

    As for physiotherapy, I've had 3 different ones. The first two it would seem were not very good as the most recent and third was excellent. However, she couldn't take me for a long time. I now have to wait 6 months for one. Going private isn't possible.
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  • Even if you can not afford a private one right now, you can use the excercises and stretches you were given on a daily basis to help stregthen and stretch out those muscles.
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