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Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:26 am

ExcitableBoy, it's hard for me to find the words to describe how horrified I am about your ordeal with your back injury. I'm so glad your surgery worked out well and that you are able to stay active and do the things you love!

When I hurt my back in the summer of 2009, the worst part about it was dealing with the work comp insurance company.

Boydie, thanks for your reply too.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby markhallam » Tue Dec 06, 2011 5:55 am

Hello Kirstin & all

Might as well add my little tale to the maelstrom! But first - I am quite shocked at the performance you have described of the WC doc's. Sounds horrific - although as a Dr myself, who used to do assessments in the equivalent UK system you wouldn't believe the lengths to which people go to fake injuries etc! But the physical signs you guys have been describing can't be faked and it is unbelievable that you were treated so badly.

My own story:
I have had low back pain on & off for the last 5 years which I now believe was my L5/S1 disc beginning to go. Like some of you, I didn't suffer one specific injury which did it. I am that sort of age where discs are 'degenerating' anyway - and did a number of things which became accumulative (and which I may have done differently had I recognised it was a lumbar disc that was 'going'!).

Probably the worst thing was rehabing myself from patella tendinosis (another story) - I found a leg-press the best exercise and whilst doing great things for my knee the asymetric strain with large weights did not do good things to my lower back. I kept getting episodes of pain, sometimes with spasm (yes - it does hurt a lot doesn't it!). I thought it was facet joints or even sacro-iliac for a long time as no disc signs - then.

In Feb this year I set off to make a solo ascent of Aconcagua. My lumbar region was sore before I even got there and I was having to limit some of my training. Being solo I had to carry heavy loads - but the worst of all for me was being confined to my tiny tent in a several day storm when I was at 5000m. I was forced to sit scrunched up with my stove between my knees - murder! And it was so bad it drove me out of the tent into the most atrocious conditions. But joy of joys, I summited on 17th Feb.

Coming down from Aconcagua my back back got progressively bigger as I picked up bits & pieces I had cached - and I had a long heavy day coming all the way down from high camp at 19,600 down to base at 13,800ft. Next day I was crippled with excruciating pain & spasm - couldn't stand up straight. My usual paracetamol plus diclofenac didn't do much. Fortunately I got most of my kit onto a mule but still feared for my prospects for walking out. I would add that at this point my pain was pure lumbar - no sciatic pain - although there was a patch of numbness my L big toe which I thought at the time was frost-nip...

I gave myself injections of Diclofenac. That worked - enough - and I managed to avoid taking any of the opiates I was carrying for emergencies. I walked out after a days rest.

The straw that broke the camels back so to speak was several days later. I got back the UK and had to get 3 heavy kit bags across London. I had no change for baggage trolleys at one of the stations and - my back was a little bit better - it was quicker just to sling one on my back one under each arm!

Next morning I woke to find that the 'frost-bite' was spreading... and then when I moved I was in the sort of pain various of you have described - all down back of my L leg, especially in big toe and skin of the outer aspect of my lower leg & ankle. I also had weakness & loss of position sense at the ankle - which I injured quite badly in a fall, tripping over my flailing foot.

For about 3 weeks the pain was murderous. I was taking paracetamol & diclofenac constantly. The only other treatment was keeping active as I could (I didn't dare take time off work after being away for a month on Big A) and doing the exercises recommended by my physiotherapist. She had recommended walking, core body strengthening exercises and a few gentle stretches (aaa-agh!).

In the first week I struggled to manage 200m into the 'dog circuit'. It was horrendous. I had my fall and injured my ankle due to my 'foot-drop' during this time. By the end of 3 weeks of keeping at it I could get round the full 2 miles - just. After 2 months I could run - 2-3 milers - carefully. But pain from my ankle injury was holding me back as much anything.

To cut a longer story short it is now 9 months since my disc 'went'. My weakness has fully resolved and my ankle injury only just. I am rarely bothered by sciatic leg pain now. I am back to shifting sacks of wood again, but have to take a diclofenac or two after. I am back up to running 7-8 milers - and (oh the joys of being 51!) as much as anything it is lack of cartilage in my R knee which is the limiting factor now.... but that is another story!

By the way - I never had a scan. I was offered one, but didn't see the point since having no bladder or bowel dysfunction I wasn't going to have an operation. Also I am aware that what shows on scans doesn't necessarily correlate well with symptoms (Kerstin, I wouldn't get over stuck on all those bulging discs... I'd go by how you function and whether you have nerve root signs). Finally - I was getting better, albeit slowly - and a scan wasn't going to change what I was doing.

Thats my L5/S1 story! Hope it helps someone!

Best wishes, Mark
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Tue Dec 06, 2011 6:31 pm

Thanks for posting Mark. Yes, I have been told not to worry about my MRI results, only what symptoms I'm showing. It has been interesting to read how so many people go through life with herniated discs and they don't even know they have them. I do get nervous looking at my MRI sometimes, since the herniations are very obvious even to my untrained eye.

I wasn't aware of how many people fake injuries. I'm wondering what the work comp doctors thought of me when I was in the hospital two years ago. Perhaps that's why I was forced to stand up to get my blood pressure taken when I arrived. One of my cousins, who is quite unstable emotionally, accused me via e-mail of faking this back injury. She doesn't know me very well! This kind of thing can be tough to deal with! Thanks again!
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby ExcitableBoy » Tue Dec 06, 2011 6:46 pm

Kerstin wrote:I wasn't aware of how many people fake injuries. I'm wondering what the work comp doctors thought of me when I was in the hospital two years ago. Perhaps that's why I was forced to stand up to get my blood pressure taken when I arrived. One of my cousins, who is quite unstable emotionally, accused me via e-mail of faking this back injury. She doesn't know me very well! This kind of thing can be tough to deal with! Thanks again!


I KNOW that part of my problem was my appearance. I looked the part of a 1970's Yosemite climbing bum; shoulder length hair perpetually tied back with a bandanna, Ron Kauk style.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Fri Dec 09, 2011 4:38 pm

ExcitableBoy, that's just awful! You'd think the insurance company would check people's work history and medical records to see if they were always at the doctor's trying to get prescriptions for opiates--stuff like that.

When I hurt my back a few summers ago on the job, an insurance agent came to my house to do a two hour recorded interview. The questions were strangely invasive--I had to tell her in what counties and towns I'd lived in for my entire life history. Just weird. She asked me about my physical activities. When I mentioned that I liked to backpack, she asked me how I could possibly do such a thing with a bad back. It was impossible to explain to her that the weight of the backpack rests mostly on the hips and doesn't impact my spine. Everything I told her she didn't seem to understand. It was a really strange experience--quite antagonistic.

Thanks again for your story. I'm really sorry you went through what you did.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby areamanbilly » Wed Apr 11, 2012 8:23 pm

I thought i would contribute my own story as well. I've been a backpacker most of my life (I'm 37) and began real mountaineering about 4 years ago. About 6 years ago I had my first lower back blowout. I was backpacking with some friends and our camp was about 10 miles from the trailhead. I woke up in excruciating pain...the kind that felt like knives were digging into my lower back. I couldn't put my boots on, or get myself up out of the tent. My friends assisted in getting me upright (I couldn't sit because i couldn't bend my lower back without passing out from the pain), put my boots on, packed up my gear and distributed it among the team for the 10 mile hike out. One of the campers had a flask of wine so i chugged it like there was no tomorrow. That seemed to help. The next 10 miles out were horrible, and took myself and the 2 walking with me for support about 8 hours. Whenever my back would stray from being straight I would literally fall to ground and pass out. I made it back, saw a doctor who prescribed seeing a surgeon. He had an MRI done (herniation l5/s1), and prescribed meds, rest, and physical therapy. Things seemed to get somewhat better (there was always pain, but I had mountains to climb) until about a year ago I had another blowout.

This time the surgeon suggested surgery and I happily obliged. They did the microdiscectomy. Recovery was excruciating, but at least the hydrocodone was good.

It has now been a year and I have returned to backpacking, training, and martial arts. I will never be perfect again down there (occasional pain and soreness), but I am able to do the things that make me happy! :D :D :D :D :D
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Sat Apr 21, 2012 3:28 am

areamanbilly, thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad your surgery was successful and am happy to hear you are active again!

My recovery seems to be going well. I have had no relapses into any kind of severe pain, and no sciatica except for the occasional mild twinge behind my right ankle or in the deep glute muscles. It looks like the nerve damage in my right foot might be permanent, but I don't care. The compromised sensation on the bottom of my foot doesn't affect my ability to walk. My right calf muscle is still tight when I get up in the morning, but it loosens up in less than a minute. What's strange is I've had no calf muscle tightness from sleeping on the ground while car camping. Maybe I need a new bed! I sleep on an old futon.

It's ridiculous how weak I got from this injury. In early December I could slowly walk down the street, but was unable to use my right leg to go up or down stairs. I could barely use the left leg. I'd have to crimp on the door moulding to pull myself up the two steps and into the house. These days I'm doing lots of squats, planks, and stretching, and am going on regular walks. So far I have no negative symptoms from walking for up to three hours at a time. It feels good.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby granite4brains » Mon May 07, 2012 1:13 am

Hi Kerstin

Sorry to hear about your back.

I had an L5/S1 disc rupture too. Without going into too many details, my surgeon said it was the 2nd worst one he had seen in 30+ yrs of performing that surgery. It was huge. It still re-ruptured about 4 months later! Got over that one w/o a 2nd surgery.

Took about 4+ years for a complete recovery. But, except for bouldering, I am doing everything I like to do again - climbing, backpacking, cycling, dirt biking, some weights, etc.

Give it time to heal, work back up slowly, don't give up, and it's amazing what the body can recover from
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Wed May 16, 2012 4:17 pm

Thanks, granite4brains for your encouragement! I'm glad you have recovered.

I went on a nine mile hike last week and had no problems. The stronger I get, the less my back bothers me. I can't wait to swim in the lake this summer. I might go soon and see if I can tolerate the water temperature.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby juggernaut » Thu May 17, 2012 6:37 am

I had one too, several years back (when I was 21). In my case it was the L4-L5 and resulted out of a thunderous sneeze. My doctor said it was just waiting to happen (after several years of abusing the lower back with bad posture, heavy lifting etc). I had a microdisectomy (about 2 months after diagnosis) and it took about 8 months for complete recovery (i.e to regain 100% strength in my limbs), although the pain disappeared right after surgery. Like some others have described, the initial few months of recovery was very frustrating. I had lost significant strength in my legs (calves & hamstrings) due to the loss of motor neurons, after the surgery. I normally run up a flight of stairs but I had to ascend one step at a time about a week after surgery.

It has been 8 years now and my back feels like it used to before it all happened. Hopefully it stays that way :-)
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Fausto79 » Wed Jul 25, 2012 6:25 am

Hi Kerstin,

sorry for replying so late, i have only seen your post today. forgive me if im repeating something someone else has just said but i didnt have time to read everything on this thread as i am at work.

I did notice you said your back was better except when you wake up in the morning you have some mild pain. has anyone here mentioned anything about the possibility that some of the problem may be your sleeping position or even more importantly your mattress?

I have gone through various mattresses as i have also been suffering back pain. it had been generally ok until two weeks ago and suddenly i put it out again. everytime it feels like its healing it suddenly goes back to bad. i find when i get in bed at night it's hard to get comfortable. my bed is very soft which is how i like it because im a side sleeper. although im scared it is not good for me. ive spent over 6000 dollars on bed and i though i found a good one finally. i have had it for a few years but i also have had two of my worst back pain episodes since ive had it.

anyway i better get back to work but i thoguht i might throw that in just in case noone mentioned it.

i hope you are feeling better.

Fausto
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Mon Aug 06, 2012 12:17 am

Hi Fausto, I don't think my bed is the problem. I have a futon that I like very much. It's a flat, firm surface. What does cause problems is sleeping on someone's couch. I was dog sitting recently and felt terrible after spending the night on a couch with very soft cushions.

I've actually had to train myself to sleep on my back. Prior to this injury, I was a side sleeper. If I sleep on my side (it doesn't matter if I'm on my left or right side), my right hip goes numb. I'm fairly sure it has something to do with pressure on the sciatic nerve. Over time, this is improving, but the healing is very slow. I'd rather not aggravate the injury, so I stay on my back. (At least I think I do!)

I'm happy to report that sleeping on the ground with my Big Agnes sleeping pad doesn't aggravate my injury at all!
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby 96avs01 » Mon Aug 06, 2012 6:47 am

Kerstin wrote:I'm happy to report that sleeping on the ground with my Big Agnes sleeping pad doesn't aggravate my injury at all!


I had an L5/S1 partial laminectomy/micro discetomy, and had to convert from 3/4 Thermarest Prolite4&foam pad combo to the Big Agnes pad at the 'nudging' of my fiance. Way more comfortable sleeping experience! Sucks to inflate, but totally worth it!
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Ulu » Mon Aug 06, 2012 10:01 pm

I have had a 4mm herniation of the L5 for over 3 years now, and I have not needed surgery and the pain is controlled. I got an epidural fm the specialist and then went to a pyhsical therapist that specializes in treating athletes. The put me on a core workout that I have to do every day forever. As long as I do my exercises, there is no problem. If I ever stop, the problem will come right back. Now, it took about 8-9 months before I noticed that progress, but since then I have not had any problems and I do my core every day.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby MoapaPk » Fri Aug 24, 2012 7:13 pm

Kerstin wrote: I went to the emergency room. I was forced to stand during triage. I had my blood pressure taken while screaming in pain from the back spasms. I was told my blood pressure was high.


This thread is suddenly relevant, as I got a lumbar injury 5 weeks ago, while twisting around to look up a couloir. The MRI summary describes it as "lordosis straightened by badly strained spine... some disc bulges...left neural frame considerably narrowed...mild osteoporosis."

So far the pain is quite manageable, and seems to get better VERY slowly. I have to be careful about the way I sit or stand, and the position that causes the pain varies from minute to minute. I'm able to do some cardio and weight-bearing exercises if I watch the manner in which I arch my back.

The tie-in to the quoted comment: I described the pain to the MRI tech, and showed him the location, plus described what motions made it worse. The doctor's note made the injury pretty clear. When I lay down on the table, the tech asked me to raise my legs. This was the very position that caused so much pain. When I hesitated, he told me it would just be a second till he got the pillow positioned. The pain was excruciating, and I felt like I had badly undone 18 days of recuperation.

EDIT-- UPDATE: the problem was actually the muscles off my hip to lower back. I tend to lead with my left foot, turned slightly in, and that stretches the muscle more than normal. I went to a neurologist, and he said that the disc bulges seen on the MRI were actually better than normal for someone my age. In PT now, but exercise seems to be the best therapy.
Last edited by MoapaPk on Fri Oct 26, 2012 5:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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