Of the more common types of back surgery to relieve disc related pain, Spinal Fusion seems to be the most complex involving implants and bone grafts.Â Here’s how a spinal fusion isÂ performed.
After several lengthy discussions with my Orthopedic surgeon and Neurosurgeon, I’ve been told that a spinal fusion will be a last resort if all other treatment methods fail.Â From my conversations, it seems like surgeons want to avoid this type of surgery as it’s difficult to determine exactly where the pain is coming from.Â As Dr. Peter Ulrich states “spinal fusion surgery only works for specific indications and only can work if we can identify what the specific pain generator for the patient is. Probably 80-90% of the time, the pain generator can’t be identified.”
The list of things I was told to do by medical professionals post discectomy was short.Â They told me to rest, eat healthy and avoid any position that involved flexion.Â I was prescribed enough painkillers to last a week, instructed to walk a little bit more each day to stimulate blood-flow and once again, to avoid any bending, hunching or movement that would push the disc at L4/L5 laterally.Â All of this advice seemed obvious but was appreciated and after a few days the soreness subsided and I gained my strength back.Â As Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD, founder and president of Atlantic Spine Center states in this well advised article: Do’s and Don’ts after Spine Surgery “patients and their families should be aware of several things that can smooth the transition from hospital to home, and then back to regular life”
But what about long term?Â It’s become obvious that I won’t be able to do all the things I did before I was sidelined by Sciatica and that I’ll need to change some habits, routines and lifestyle choices to avoid re-herniating.Â Though I’m still in the early stages of figuring all this out, it has donned on me that perhaps a discectomy could be seen as a pivot point in my life.Â An opportunity to try things that I might not have if ye ol’ back hadn’t forced me to.Â But the tradeoff is yet to be determined so I’ll hang on to my mountain bike for now.
Here’s a good research study done on 196 patients who had discectomies and how it impacted their lives long-term.
It’s been close to five weeks since my discectomy and one question that lingers is how would I define a success? The obvious indicator would be pain relief but because I suffer from several back problems, measuring surgical outcomes for any one issue is a bit murky. I’m sometimes asking myself ‘is that a new pain /tingling / numbness from the discectomy or just my Spinal Stenosis acting up?’
Now why would I name this blog discectomypain.com if I hadn’t endured a micro-discectomy for a herniated disc?Â Well I have, so hence the name and on with my first-hand account – but first a bit of history for context.
About two months ago, on a random Tuesday morning, I bent forward to tie my shoe laces and never really got back up for the better part of five weeks.Â I’ve been suffering with sharp, zinging lower back pain for years (related to 2 herniated discs – L4/L5 – L5/S1) but this time the mild Sciatica I had been experiencing on and off for years, turned into an excruciating nerve pain that got worse over the course of 5 days.Â Luckily, I had an up-to-date MRI so the surgeon quickly diagnosed an L4 protrusion pushing on the Sciatic nerve.Â My options:Â 1) wait it out and hope it eventually settles down 2) Discectomy.Â Notice that there was no option 3 for me.Â At the time of the diagnosis, I had been on laying on my stomach for 2 weeks – the only position that didn’t aggravate my Sciatica, medication brought no relief, and seeking any type of therapy meant moving, and moving was intolerable.
The miscrodiscectomy took 2 hours and when I woke up the nerve zingers were gone…errr…for the most part.Â After a few days of recovery I could tell that all was not perfect.Â As the surgeon explained to me, there may be some permanent or semi permanent nerve damage depending on how hard my Sciatic nerve was pinched.Â I still feel a duller version of the original sciatic pain radiating down the back of my calf to the ankle…about 1/10 the strength.Â Other issues I’m experiencing include partial foot numbness (top half) and scar tissue pain from the incision (which is minimal).Â This article outlines some of the complications that can occur after surgery.
All things considered, I’m glad I went through with the procedure but time will tell if it was a complete success.Â Here’s my scar and minor swelling 4 weeks post surgery:
And here’s Susan Kaye’s follow up videos after a microdiscectomy at L4/L5.Â Watching her recover really put my mind at ease pre-surgery.
1 month Post-Surgery
6.5 month Post-Surgery
1 year Post-Surgery