I’m 40 and have had two back surgeries, the second in 2007 at age 34. By then, I was beyond tired of hearing “You’re too young for this” and moving into infuriated. “You’re right. THANKS. Sucks to be me, huh?” I so, SO hear you on that. Ugh. I want to tell people shut up already on your behalf.
L5/S1 is the most common location for disc herniations. I had a 3mm herniation there, likely from being an idiot teenager thinking I could do gymnastics in my back yard sans training, spotter, trainer, mats, sanity, that worsened when I was pregnant with my first–then was literally ripped apart during the birth process. I’ll never forget the MRI technician, who visibly paled after running my scans. We had been happily chatting beforehand, but after, she said ominously, “I can’t tell you anything. But, well…some people come in here, unable to move, and there’s nothing on the MRI. And some like you come in, able to get up on the table, and…uh…well, your pain is warranted.” The herniation had reached 9mm, but there were fragments of disc material all over the place. Surgery–a microdiscectomy (removal of the damaged disc), laminotomy (removal of a small section of the laminae covering the disc space), and foramintomy (widening of the nerve pathway)–provided immediate relief.
What blew is 18mos later, following a cross-country flight, what was left of the damaged disc–just the tough outer lining–herniated. That was complete hell, a thousand times worse than the first time around. I was completely crippled. By the time of the second surgery, I could no longer walk, sit, crawl, stand up, or even bathe myself. That tough outer ring kinked the sacral nerve root like a garden hose, and during the surgery, the doc removed centimeter sized chunks of material usually measured in millimeters. BUT, when I woke up–the pain was gone. Gone! The relief is that immediate. Months of careful physical therapy later, I was back at work. More insane, two years later, I gave birth (well, via C-section) to my second son.
Now, five years later, it’s a blurring memory. I work full time as a teacher, am a busy mother to two young sons, and–I ride my horse on a regular basis (actually excellent exercise for the core and other muscles key to supporting the lower back). It feels like another lifetime ago.
You can do a search of my posts here–go back to 2007 or so and you’ll read the tale of that second surgery as it happened.
My advice–and please, feel free to PM me if you have more questions:
Educate yourself (true manner of a Doper, heh). Go to the Spine-Health forums, read the latest medical journal articles about your condition, read, read, read.
Get an MRI and find out the size of the herniation. IANAD, but the general rule of thumb is anything over 8mm cannot be repaired without surgery. I often heard the disc material is like the jelly in a jelly donut; squeeze it, and it bulges out, but release it, it goes back in. But, squeeze too much out, you can’t get it back in. 2-4mm usually means it can treated and you’ll have moments of spasms interspersed with normalcy; the problem is the 5-7mm range, where there is definite pain, but not necessarily a good candidate for surgery.
Cross reference everything a pain specialist, neurologist, etc. tells you with what you learn in your reading and research. IME, pain specialists quoted research 15-20 years old, whereas my neurosurgeon mirrored what I’d been reading. I obviously have a limited range, but I never encountered a single pain specialist that was any sort of help. They seemed offended I didn’t want pain meds (I wrote that all over the paperwork)–I told them first, find out what’s wrong with me. If it can be fixed, then fix it; if not, THEN we can talk pain management. One in particular was offended I felt this way, but I am really, really glad I stuck to my guns. Because…
The research I read back in 2007 said that the most successful surgeries are the ones that are within 6mos of onset of symptoms. That cannot always be the case–certainly wasn’t with my first surgery–but it is what the research supported. Acting quickly seems to be key. Not sure if this is a true analogy, but I think of it as being like a garden hose. Kink it, then unkink it, it retains shape. Kink it and leave it that way too long, and the dent becomes permanent.
Exercise and physical therapy. Know your body, know your movement, know how you carry yourself, work to make your body support itself.
Take care and know I have definitely been there, done that, a few times over.