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Please explain...a question about lumbar disc herniation/sciatica/surgery

virgkeeleyvvirgkeeley Posts: 1
I have been reading the forums for a while and I don't understand something that I notice on here. And please forgive me in advance - I am not trying to be rude, just a newbie at this and needing clarification, so please let me know what I don't understand.

My story a bit first:
I have had severe sciatic pain almost constantly for the last 5 months, worse between 4am and 10am, then as I walk it eases up a bit and while I am at work (where I stand up and walk around all day with no sitting and no heavy lifting) my mind is usually able to focus on work and is only interrupted a bit by pain. I have been taking 800mg of ibuprofen 3 times a day and tylenol when I need it. Usually 3 times a day. I had an MRI which shows a large disc herniation at L4/L5 and a smaller one at L5/S1, DDD and facet hypertrophy. I have tried steroid epidural - no relief, am doing PT exercises to strengthen my core, my pain is worsening, the medication is less effective than it was, and I am going in for a microdiscectomy because it feels like that is the only option I have. I do not feel that living with the pain is an option. I am finding it impossible to be a wife and mother in the way I was before, I am sure you all know what I mean by that. I can't give my family my full attention because my mind is half on the pain a lot of the time, and I am much less patient, have difficulty shutting my mouth about my pain etc, I am sure my family think it is my favorite topic of conversation.

What I don't understand is why do I read on here about some of you with a similar diagnosis not opting for surgery? Is it possible that the pain gets better with time, PT etc, or is there another reason to avoid surgery that I am missing? I read one person's post that said she has had a bugling disc since 2006 and is in extreme pain and manages it with pain meds. I feel like I have read a number of similar stories. I just don't understand why you would spend 7 years in pain. Plus there is the possibility of permanent nerve damage. I feel like I am missing some knowledge or information, so please enlighten me. I haven't drunk the kool aid on surgery, I know there are risks, but I don't see my quality of life improving without trying surgery. I am aware that there are people who are anti-hosptials, surgery etc. My own husband is very anti-conventional medicine and thinks that hospitals are more likely to make you sick than heal you. So tell me what I am missing and please don't take offense at what I have said, I am trying to find the right solution for my back and I don't understand why you would live with chronic pain, permanently medicated, and risking permanenet nerve damage.
L4/L5 disc herniation
L5/S1 disc herniation
Severe sciatic pain


  • LizLiz Posts: 9,613
    Please take the time to read this post and refer to it when you have questions

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    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
    Cervical stenosis, so far avoided surgery
  • Sometimes there is another option for treatment, not just relief, that has yet to be discovered. Everyone responds differently to treatment. Some people are not good candidates for surgery. for example my mri shows no herniation so the surgeon is not very excited about doing it wih the chances of improvement so low.

    I also remember a study that showed after a year or two there is no difference between people who had the surgery and those who didnt.
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  • Well, spinal surgery has more risks than some other types of surgery. It is wise to try all other conservative measures first, but there is definitely also a time to do the surgery sooner rather than later. In my case, I did everything recommended and I suffered. I don't use that word lightly. I have a high pain tolerance and almost no one except my immediate family knew how bad things had gotten because I mostly laid low and I hid the pain well. I got to the point where I couldn't even sit upright at all, I couldn't stand or walk for any length of time, I couldn't sleep more than a few minutes at a time before the pain woke me up. I was in tears more than I wasn't and I NEVER cry normally. I couldn't drive, bathe, take care of my kids/husband. I was 35 and was about 2 days from not being able to take care of myself enough to get to the bathroom. I never want to be in that place again. My herniation was severe and almost completely compressing the nerve root. I was starting to have signs of cauda equine syndrome. I had begged any health care professional I could to help me, but I had to jump through all the hoops before surgery could be an option. The day of surgery (which was my first of any kind, and also my first general anesthesia) I was giddy because the pain would be over. I figured I could handle surgery pain, which would respond to meds, over the nerve pain that nothing touched. I was right. It was like a miracle......

    Until 6 weeks later when my miracle surgery failed and my disc herniated again. And then I had surgery again.....and 3 weeks later that same disc herniated for a third time, which left me with no option other than to have a fusion. And as anyone who has had a fusion would tell you....while it may be the right choice and it may solve the problem, it most likely will create new problems in the adjacent levels of the spine.

    And I think that's the reason that some people choose to wait and see and suffer. My father in law is one of those people. He can continue with his daily routine with minimal interruptions and he has seen what I've been through and he is choosing to delay surgery as long as possible because he knows that once you start down the path of spinal surgery, there is a decent chance of a snowball effect occurring where you will need more and more interventions.

    For me, it was 150% necessary and I don't regret my choice, I just wish I had other options. I wish something else could have worked because I know with a fairly high degree of certainty that I will need future fusions and with each one, I will be older, I will lose more range of motion and I run more risks. So I can't speak for anyone else, but I suspect that's a pretty common reason why more people are hesitant to have spine surgery.
    Left leg radiculopathy/sciatic pain
    L5/S1 microdiscectomy - May 30, 2014
    L5/S1 microdiscectomy - Aug 14, 2014
    L5/S1 TLIF - Sept. 24, 2014
    Left-side screws/rod removed along with bone fragment Dec. 29, 2014
  • Good answer coltsfan78! I am 47 yrs old and just for a L4-5 disectomy laminecotmy 6 wks ago. I have had pain in left buttocks down to the bottom of my foot for many years and was afraid to get surgery bc of the chances of the snowball effect. I have also seen my mother go through 3 lumbar surgeries and get worse after all of them. She's had 8 fusions now and once again is having severe issues with her last surgery being almost 2 yrs ago. This scared me off for some time now. But I finally had gotten to the point where I exhausted all my options from several PT sessions, chiropractic , injections, massage therapy, acupuncture, lost weight, worked out over several years. I was unable to do some of the activities that I have done just a year ago so I had the surgery. It has not been a good recovery so far. I have the same symptoms as before the surgery with new painful symptoms such as from my left knee to my great toe is so sensitive from nerve pain that if my pant leg touched it I cringe at the intense pain it gives me. I can't wear most of my shoes I have veins sticking out of my ankle to toes that hurt and I can't straighten my leg all the way. I get flashes of heat on the bottom of my foot like someone had s lighter to it and it is hot to the touch. I knew the risks but I didn't feel like I had a choice. I'm not sure if I'm having these issues bc I waited too long or if it's bc of how bad my ruptured discs were. According to the dr. It was a really large rupture in several locations. It did take him an hr longer in surgery.
    Dawn williams
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