Chronic pain has a way of grinding away at our resolve and for those who have had lingering issues after surgery, pain can drastically affect our mental health. And recent research through the Mayo clinic reveals that spine surgery patients have a higher risk of post–spinal surgery depression.
Category - Discectomy
All information relating to discectomy surgery.
For years, when describing my back issues, I mixed up the terms bulging disc with herniated disc and vice versa. It wasn’t until a neurosurgeon corrected me that I learned that though both conditions deal with disc impingements, each was a separate problem with separate solutions.
Failed back surgery syndrome (or failed back syndrome) is a general term to describe an unsuccessful back surgery. These patients continue to feel pain after they’ve had a surgical spine procedure and can experience a wide range of symptoms which may include chronic pain in the back, neck, or legs, which could be either dull or sharp, aching, tingling, burning, or radiating. In my case, it was a buildup of scar tissue around spinal nerve roots which caused a a considerable amount of discomfort around the surgical area.
With the rise of podcasts as a platform for free-flowing dialogue and discussion, Here’s some of the most informative and enlightening conversations with doctors and medical professionals about the various types of back pain ( conditions / injuries), treatments and new medical advances in spinal care.
Due to popular demand, I bring you 5 more stories of people who have recently undergone back surgery and are well on their way to recovery.
So…in a moment of self-pity, you googled ‘famous people with bad backs’ and this blog-post popped up. It’s completely understandable. Many of us want to feel like we’re not the only ones going through this – and in some strange way, knowing that President John F Kennedy had a horrible spine condition helps us realize that perhaps we can also accomplish great things despite days when we’re hunched over like Quasimodo.
Like many people reading this blog, along with bulging discs and Spinal Stenosis, I have Degenerative Disc Disease. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how this contributes to my overall level of chronic pain, but generally speaking, DDD causes a lot of stiffness and instability. I wake up with an achey lower back, and spend most of my day trying to minimize the amount of bone on bone (vertebrae – L5/S1) pounding it takes.
The most commonly searched term on this blog is “pain after discectomy”. So I’ve decided I would dedicate a post to this topic based on my personal experience and some recently published articles and videos. This is by no means an exhaustive search for all that ails us after a discectomy, but I’ll do my best to provide relevant information that can answer the most common concerns regarding the types of pain some of us experience after undergoing this procedure, and possible treatments.
A discectomy is the surgical removal of the whole or part of an intervertebral disc that is often pressing on a nerve root or the spinal cord. The procedure is most often performed by a qualified orthopaedic surgeon or neurosurgeon.
One of the most common issues after surgery is inflammation especially at the incision point. Even minimally invasive, arthroscopic surgery will irritate some tissues and nerves and during this process inflammation can persist. Most physicians will suggest over-the-counter medication to control and reduce inflammation. I was sore for about a week and as you can see here, there was still a bit of puffiness around the 1″ incision.
Epidural Fibrosis (Scar Tissue):
Sometimes after a discectomy, scar tissue forms near the nerve root and can cause extreme burning or nerve pain even if the surgery was successful in relieving the initial pain. This type of postoperative pain is commonly called failed back surgery syndrome because you’ve swapped out one type of pain for another.
As Spine Health points out “Scar tissue formation is part of the normal healing process after a spine surgery. While scar tissue can be a cause of back pain or leg pain, in and of itself the scar tissue is rarely painful since the tissue contains no nerve endings. Scar tissue is generally thought to be the potential cause of the patient’s pain if it binds the lumbar nerve root with fibrous adhesions.”
After my last surgery (discectomy at L4/L5), I experienced some tingling and general numbness in the areas where my Sciatic pain was the most intense (bottom tibia/ankle and toes). Months later a EMG revealed that I had permenent nerve damage caused not by the surgery but by the constant ‘zapping’ of the Sciatic nerve, pre-surgery. Those who have had Sciatica know the feeling of this type of excruciating nerve pain which most likely deadened some areas on my leg and foot. Here’s several accounts of other patients going through similar foot/leg numbness.
Aches / Spasms:
Post L4/L5 discectomy, as the nerves began to heal I had a mild ache in my leg around the site of the sciatic nerve shocks. I was told by my surgeon that this wasn’t uncommon and was caused by the nerve trying to repair itself. Massage therapy can help with the aches as muscles can sometimes tighten from being inactive and without any type of stretching may lead to issues such as piroformis syndrome.
Current research suggest that there is a 2-18% chance of re-herniation dependent upon the size of disc defect as well as other factors such as disc height, pre-surgery. It is most likely to occur in the first few weeks after surgery, and it’s strongly discouraged to lift anything heavier than 3-5 pounds during this period. As this research concludes, there are no hard and set rules that make it more likely for re-herniation, however my personal suggestion would be to not strain yourself within the first 2-3 weeks and when ease into a work schedule rather than full-time duties with no easing in preparation. Post surgery is also a good time to re-examine your sitting posture and to explore other options for working at a desk.
As always, consult a doctor if you are experiencing discomfort and take care.
In a previous post I listed the seven most famous professional athletes to undergo back surgery, and as a followed up I’d like to shine a spotlight on the struggles of Tiger Woods, and his recovery from the crippling backpain that has sidelined his illustrious career.
Here’s a timeline of the spine procedures he has undergone:
April 2014 — Back surgery No. 1: Woods undergoes his first back microdiscectomy to repair a pinched nerve that forces him to miss the 2014 Masters.
September 2015 — Back surgery No. 2: After playing in the Wyndham Championship, Woods undergoes his second microdiscectomy to remove a disc fragment that was pinching his nerve. “I’ve been told I can make a full recovery, and I have no doubt that I will.” Woods is forced to miss the Frys.com Open, Bridgestone America’s Golf Cup and his own Hero World Challenge.
October 2015 — Back surgery No. 3: Woods has a follow up surgery to his September microdiscectomy. From all accounts the minor procedure is a success.
April 2017 — Back surgery No. 4: Woods withdraws from the Dubai Desert Classic in February and announces that he will undergo spinal fusion surgery in April leaving doubts he will compete in the 2017 Masters. The surgery involved removing the damaged disc and re-elevating the collapsed disc space to normal levels. This allows the one vertebrae to heal to the other. The goal is to relieve the pressure on the nerve and to give the nerve the best chance of healing.
May 2017: Woods is arrested in Jupiter, Fla., on suspicion of driving under the influence. In a statement, Woods says alcohol was not involved and he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.” It’s reported that Woods had 5 active drugs in his system upon his arrest. “The report, prepared by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, says Woods, 41, had THC, the active ingredient for marijuana; as well as the painkillers Vicodin and Dilaudid; the anxiety and sleep drug Xanax; and the anti-insomnia drug Ambien in his system when he was arrested at 2 a.m. on May 29 about 15 miles from his home in Jupiter”.