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Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

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Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Fri Nov 18, 2011 7:11 pm

I've been having back problems since 2000. Twice, I have "thrown out my back" and developed agonizing back spasms that left me almost completely unable to care for myself for several weeks. Both times, the spasms started after moving in a seemingly benign way. On October 13th this happened for the third time, but this time it was way worse. I woke up in the wee hours and found I was unable to move my right leg or hip muscles. Getting out of bed was a challenge! The pain was unbelievable! In addition to severe back spasms, I had really bad sciatic nerve pain. It felt like someone was holding my leg down on a hot barbeque. I couldn't walk and crawling was almost impossible. In my early teens, I severely burned my hand and wrist in hot oil--bad second-degree burns. The pain from the burn was nowhere near as severe as the back spasms and sciatica. I no longer feel like the same person that I was before this back injury. I suppose I'm in shock. My nervous system feels fried.

Five weeks later, I'm able to walk around slowly and without a limp, but it's still time-consuming to do stuff like get food out of the refrigerator, since I cannot risk bending over and reinjuring myself. The muscles on the back of my right leg are stiff and sore and covered with adhesions (muscle knots). My piriformis muscle is still fairly reactive--if I use my right glute too much it spasms. However, over the last week the piriformis seems to have calmed down a bit. I have some numbness in the right half of my right foot. It's not that I can't feel anything with this part of my foot, but the sensation is compromised. The numbness seems to be improving slowly. I have no muscle weakness or loss of control--I'm not dragging my right foot when I walk, for example. I relapsed on November 4th after sitting for an hour to watch a movie. I was feeling pretty good and overdid it. In the two weeks since then, I have recovered from the relapse completely. I'm afraid to sit for long, so I spend the day standing, walking back and forth in the house, or lying on the floor or in bed. I try to stay as active as possible so I don't lose too much strength. I'm no longer in much pain.

Why I threw out my back again is complicated--in mid-June I nearly fell when I slipped in mud in a flooded meadow. My left leg slid forward into a ditch. I would have done the splits if I hadn't done everything I could to stay upright. I wish I'd just let myself fall! My back felt really weird after that. Then in late-July I was body slammed from behind by a very rambunctious dog. When he hit me I was twisted around to the right and looking over my shoulder. And in early October I took my first yoga class. I arrived early so I could talk to the instructor about what poses I should not do with my bad back. The instructor showed up 20 minutes late because her car didn't start. I was unable to talk to her. Even though I avoided forward bends, the class was too much for me. I've also been hit from behind really hard while skiing at resorts. I'm sure this hasn't helped. I had an MRI done two years ago after I hurt my back for the second time. Four herniated or bulging discs were found--three in the lumbar area and one at T10/11.

Last time I hurt my back it was a workman's comp case. 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. After lying down, a doctor approached me with a syringe full of vicodin, something I'm allergic to. I had to yell at him and point to the bright red band on my wrist that said ALLERGY on it so he wouldn't inject me. I was given a ziploc bag full of ice cubes. I couldn't apply it to my back since I had to twist around. I had x-rays done and received a prescription for advil. Once I got home I lay on the floor for two weeks before the insurance company would let me receive treatment of any kind besides prescription medication.

I'm really glad I didn't hurt myself at work this time! I have not gone to the hospital. I would not have hesitated to go to the hospital if I'd had loss of bowel and bladder control. After my experience a few years ago, I didn't feel it would be worth it to pay several thousand dollars for another x-ray and advil. I have had some intensive body work done--massage and structural muscle balancing--which have helped tremendously. My spine and muscles have been realigned. I no longer have a severe swayback--something which has put a lot of strain on my lumbar discs.

I know that everyone's injuries and healing processes are unique, but I was wondering if anyone here has some stories to tell about recovering from a herniated disc. How long did it take you to recover? Did you recover fully, or are you now limited in what you can do? What kind of exercises and/or stretching did you do to regain your strength and flexibility? How did you deal with the psychological impact of your injury? I'm feeling really scared and alone. Going onto back pain forums and reading about other people's experiences has been really depressing. I want to hear from active people who have recovered, that's why I'm asking about this here. Just being able to hike, ski or snowshoe, or even make myself dinner seems so far away. Thanks all!
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby surgent » Fri Nov 18, 2011 8:56 pm

My wife suffers from similar maladies. Her issues are in the cervical and thoracic area. She had some lumbar issues but they seem to have resolved themselves by naturally fusing. She has had her share of incidents: a horrible car wreck in college that should have killed her (she admits readily), a genetic predisposition for RA, and smaller incidents that have exacerbated her condition. She is unable to hike or walk long distances, and some days (weeks) she is bed-bound. It is no life for her and it's all we can do to manage the pain, the lagging spirits and the byzantine, bizarro world of insurance and doctors not all on the same page. Welcome to hell.

All that being said, and I'm no expert, but is fusion of the worst vertebrae a possibility for you?

In my wife's case, we manage through her precription medications, massage, wrapping and palliative things like that. Some days she's in good shape, relatively speaking. She tries to stretch and perform basic yoga or very light weight training, but the irony is that any such movements cause more pain and more issues, so she's damned for trying to do the right thing.

Don't get me started on insurance. I think Dante needs to dream up another level of hell for those people.

I would look into a physical therapist who is specially trained for injuries such as yours. If at all possible, strengthen what back muscles you can to mitigate its burden. Yes, we've tried that. Everyone is different, and your likeliest form of care will be a patchwork of whatever you can do that works. Heck, I even rigged a basic 3:1 mechanical advantage on a closet doorknob, forming a traction effect for my wife when she had some particularly bad nerve pinching.

I wish you well. I'm sure you've been told many times to suck it up or take an aspirin. You know what to do with those people :)
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Luc » Mon Nov 21, 2011 5:16 pm

Lyrica + Voltaren twice a day until you can get actually treated (physiatrist/surgery)
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Mon Nov 21, 2011 10:22 pm

Thank you everyone for posting. Surgent, I'm really sorry your wife is suffering so much!

The structural muscle balancing treatments have helped me a lot. I no longer have much pain at all. I have a small amount of nerve pain in my right ankle when I get up in the morning, but this goes away in about ten minutes. There is a bit of an adjustment period after lying down all night. The muscles in the back of my leg have loosened quite a bit.

For me, surgery is an absolute last resort. I will look into local physiatrists. Pills like naproxen sodium cause me really uncomfortable stomach irritation. I'm down to taking one aspirin a day, first thing in the morning. I find aspirin to be the most effective over the counter painkiller for me. I'm using zyflamend for inflammation too. I'm consuming large amounts of homemade chicken broth for its anti-inflammatory effects, large amounts of glucosamine, minerals, and gelatin.

Thanks again.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby sshankle » Tue Nov 22, 2011 4:16 pm

I dealt with this for a year, then had the microdiscectomy surgery 11/7 of this year. Feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss (PM, email, even a phone call).

I understand your reaction to your web research. Here is a exercise journal from a very active former competitive athlete that gave me MUCH HOPE. Also a female and about your age, I think. The same day I found this, I learned that one of my training partners had a L5S1 fusion and still gets around very well (MMA and stuff). That day made me feel much better...and I still feel good about the path I took.

http://www.board.crossfit.com/showthrea ... discectomy

I hope it works out for you!

Scott

PS, for months I was MUCH worse than it sounds like you are now. Don't get discouraged!
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby SzaniUherkovich » Tue Nov 22, 2011 8:20 pm

Hi!

I have discus hernia problems since the 4th June 2010. Unfortunately the doctors could identify the source of my pains only 5 months later. As in these 5 months I was not aware of the source of my problems, I didn't care much with it and I did a few exhausting climbs and hikes in this period. As a result the status of my back got worse. From December 2010 I did special exercises under the personal control of a physico-therapist. Each training was 2 hours long - 3 times a week. I did it until August this year. The muscles of my back became much stronger than before, my pains were less, and in general I felt much better. I was encouraged by the therapist to return to mountaineering. In June I did a few successful tours in the Julian Alps (Slovenia). I felt encouraged by the success of the successful trips in June, so in August I organized a trip to Italy, to the Dolomites. It's 420 miles from my home. Driving there was not pleasant but I managed to get there. In the mountains I felt very good. perhaps also due to the adrenalin. I managed to exceed my personal record about daily elevetion gain. I performed 7700 feet elevation gain within a day. Still I felt relatively good. But the 420 miles distance driving home on the following day could be too much. I didn't feel good when I was at home. The bad pains returned. Every day it was worse and worse. I arrived to a similar status what you described. 2 weeks after my return to home the ambulance took me to hospital as a couldn't stop the bad pains. Other 2 weeks later I was unable to move a single inch during 36 hours because of the killing pains. A few doctors visited me but even the strongest painkillers were inappropriate in this situation. Finally I was taken to hospital. The MRI examination has proved that immediate surgery is necessary.

I had my surgery on the 5th October. Just 6 weeks ago. Since then I have no pain. OK, I lost the strength of one of my legs. But I do exercises every day. Now I'm much stronger. And much happier. Today was the first case when I hiked to the nearest hill from my home. OK, not a big deal: 7 miles long route and only 1200 feet elevation gain. But 6 weeks after the surgery I feel it as a big success!

This is my story. For long time I was against the surgery. Now I understand that it is not so bad. But still I can accept if somebody tries to find solution without that. Everybody's case is a bit different

Szani
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Boydie » Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:49 pm

Hi Kerstin,

I had the exact same thing in December 2008. After my scan I was told I had herniated the L5/S1 disc out 6mm and then it had also descended a further 7mm. The pain you describe is exactly the same sensation i had, felt like someone was dragging barbed wire up the inside of my left leg. Painkillers only lasted around three hours and spent numerous early mornings with a hot water bottle pressed against the back of my thigh, knee and hip. I have always had problems with my back, but they were generally muscle related. Before the real pain started I was unable to lift my left leg any further than around 20/25 degrees from a lying position, which was probably a sign that the disc had begun to come out. It's not that it was to sore to lift my leg, it just wouldn't go any higher no matter how hard i tried. I noticed this as i have a regime of exercices i do from when i have had problems in the past.

Fortunately i work in a hospital and was able to get some good advice. The pain only started to subside once i had asked for a drug called amnitryptiline (i think thats how you spell it). It's a nerve drug that cancels out your nervous system, which is generally used for epileptics or to treat depression. There will be other types of this thing that you will be able to get prescribed. Once i started taking this i was able to move more freely, partly because i couldn't feel a thing. I also stopped cradling my back if you know what i mean, which also helped the healing process.

I also had the good fortune to be able to talk to an orthopaedic back specialist straight away due to my job. He told me that in 80/90% of cases the herniated disc would shrivel up and return to normal and that only a small percentage of cases lead to surgery. Make sure the latter is a lst ditch option as you don't want someone messing around in there if you can avoid it (although when the pain was at its worst i would have happily let someone cut me open there and then). By the time I had my NHS appointment I was back at work and doing regular duties.

I attended a back exercise class and done swimming twice a week and was back hiking by around the May of 2009. I would have done this earlier, but was warned the walking uphill with a rucksack could aggreviate the injury. I'm very concious now that I stay very upright when doing this.

Since then, I have had the odd twinge but nothing anywhere near as severe. I do get a fairly regular sciatic pain in the back of my knee if i do a lot of walking/lifting, so things like a round of golf would result in some pain afterwards, but this usually subsides over the next day or so.

I hope you find this of some help because there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully you never have to return to that god awful pain. If you want to ask me anything further, then just pm me and I'll try my best to help.

Cheers,
Stephen
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Greg Enright » Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:22 am

Sorry you have to endure so much pain Kerstin. I worked with a tough-as-nails former ski patrolman who had messed up his back about a dozen times too many. When all the shots, tweaks, and whatever failed to fix him, he asked around to find the best surgeon for his back. He chose a doc at Barton, up in your neck if the woods.

After the surgery, he was better almost immediately, and was even skiing months later. I'm not sure he will ever be 100%, but I'm not sure he was ever 100%.

Sounds like your doing all you can to cure yourself with out resorting to the surgery, and I hope it works out for you.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Kerstin » Sun Dec 04, 2011 5:01 pm

Thank you everyone for your replies! I'm doing pretty well. I have no more pain in the morning when I get up. I now spend a lot of my day standing, but I do make time to lie down and rest my back. I sure am getting a lot of reading done! I can walk down the street and have no spasms or pain. The muscles on the back of my right leg are quite tight, but I can now stretch them out with no discomfort. Sitting down to eat is no longer a problem, but I'm wary of sitting for too long. I realized how I re-injured my back in early November--I would lie on the floor on cushions to watch movies. Evidentally the cushions didn't provide the proper support. A week ago I got on the cushions to watch a movie but was lying down for only an hour. The next day by spine felt sore, but I didn't relapse again. No more of that!

Boydie, do you know how you herniated the disc? Do you remember a specific moment or was it from general wear and tear on your back? Your description of the sensation of barbed wire scraping your leg is perfect. I actually thought almost the same thing about the pain before I read your post, except I was thinking the nerve pain felt like someone pulling a strand of barbed wire out of my leg. Such a horrible sensation!

Thanks again everyone for your stories and encouragement!
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby ExcitableBoy » Sun Dec 04, 2011 7:58 pm

Here is my L5/S1 story. I was working as water quality scientist and was installing sampling equipment in a vault. I had a steel hook to lift and slide the vault lid (120 lbs) away from the access hole. I was wrestling with the vault lid when it slipped. Unfortunately, I was still holding onto it by the steel hook. My back was whipped and I felt my disc burst. I went to the hospital where they sent me to a special doctor who deals with work place injuries. (Read: competetion with prison and military doctors for the worst doctors ever).

The doctor said I was faking a back injury to get drugs and time off work. He refused any kind of treatment, but because it was a workplace injury I could not go through my private health insurance to pay for my own choice of doctors. This went on for 8 months over which I lost 20% of my body weight (I was already very lean from climbing and competeing in ultra marathons) and lost control of my bladder and bowels and eventually I could no longer walk. The L & I doctor 'released' me from his care after viewing an MRI which he said showed there was no problem.

I promptly went to the best spinal surgeon in Washington State. He looked at the SAME F'ing MRI for 2 seconds and said "Clear your schedule, you are going into surgery immediately." I asked what my options were. He said very simply, "death".

My disc had indeed burst and became infected with a Staph. infection which turned my L5 and S1 vertebrae into "cottage cheese." The surgery took four surgeons eight hours. My vertebrae were replaced with a piece of femur from a bone bank, two large steel plates, and eight big screws. I had two surguries 6 weeks apart, one surgery thorugh the abdomen, one through the back. I spent those 6 weeks flat on my back in the hospital. After the first surgery, the three attending surgeons trooped in individually and each stated that it was the 'largest sugery" any of them had scrubbed in on.

I do have neurological side effects, somewhat significant, however, I resumed all previous activities - rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, BC skiiing, and trail running without any further back problems. I feel very, very fortunate to have had as fine a surgical team as I did. I know folks who can barely walk who had a much simpler L5-S1 herniated disc surgery.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Boydie » Sun Dec 04, 2011 10:12 pm

Kerstin wrote:
Boydie, do you know how you herniated the disc? Do you remember a specific moment or was it from general wear and tear on your back? Your description of the sensation of barbed wire scraping your leg is perfect. I actually thought almost the same thing about the pain before I read your post, except I was thinking the nerve pain felt like someone pulling a strand of barbed wire out of my leg. Such a horrible sensation!



I'm pretty sure that years of bad posture were mostly to blame, but I also had my four man tent partly collapse during the night when in Glencoe a couple of weeks before the problems started. I think removing the contents in the morning whilst stooped over was the final catalyst. I'm 6ft 4" tall so it was quite awkward to get the stuff out, even though there wasn't really that much.

Glad to hear the pain is easing, it really is something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy!
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby Boydie » Sun Dec 04, 2011 10:26 pm

ExcitableBoy wrote:

The doctor said I was faking a back injury to get drugs and time off work. He refused any kind of treatment, but because it was a workplace injury I could not go through my private health insurance to pay for my own choice of doctors. This went on for 8 months over which I lost 20% of my body weight (I was already very lean from climbing and competeing in ultra marathons) and lost control of my bladder and bowels and eventually I could no longer walk. The L & I doctor 'released' me from his care after viewing an MRI which he said showed there was no problem.

I promptly went to the best spinal surgeon in Washington State. He looked at the SAME F'ing MRI for 2 seconds and said "Clear your schedule, you are going into surgery immediately." I asked what my options were. He said very simply, "death".



I can't believe that quack said all that to you. Losing control of your bladder and bowels is something I got told to go straight to Accident and Emergency with if it happened when I had back pain.

The fact you had to put up with these different types of symptoms for so long is shocking....no...it's absolutely shocking.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby ExcitableBoy » Sun Dec 04, 2011 11:34 pm

Boydie wrote:
I can't believe that quack said all that to you. Losing control of your bladder and bowels is something I got told to go straight to Accident and Emergency with if it happened when I had back pain.

The fact you had to put up with these different types of symptoms for so long is shocking....no...it's absolutely shocking.


I thought so. L & I doctors are so bad because L & I pays relatively little with a lot of paperwork so only the most incompetent doctors do that kind of work. I tried to see other L & I doctors and they accused me of 'shopping for drugs' when I simply wanted to get my back fixed.
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Re: Recovering from a herniated L5/S1 disc

Postby jthomas » Mon Dec 05, 2011 7:50 pm

ExcitableBoy wrote:
Boydie wrote:
I can't believe that quack said all that to you. Losing control of your bladder and bowels is something I got told to go straight to Accident and Emergency with if it happened when I had back pain.

The fact you had to put up with these different types of symptoms for so long is shocking....no...it's absolutely shocking.


I thought so. L & I doctors are so bad because L & I pays relatively little with a lot of paperwork so only the most incompetent doctors do that kind of work. I tried to see other L & I doctors and they accused me of 'shopping for drugs' when I simply wanted to get my back fixed.


Your experience in not uncommon when the injury is covered by Workers' Compensation (as it is called in most states) which covers work related injuries. Nothing excuses the way you were treated, but as a lawyer who used to be involved in this area, I can tell you that there are tons of workers attempting to do exactly what the doc accused you of (malingering, trying to get drugs, etc.) I used to see it constantly. Most likely, he was just an incompetent quack who was accustomed to stamping "Rejected" on the form because he saw so many fakes.

As you discovered, it is far better to be treated outside the WC system... I cringe when I think about what you went through, but thankfully you had a decent outcome in the end. Many are not so fortunate.
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