Degenerative Disc Disease, Herniation -- Help!

I’ve been out of work for almost 2 months due to a herniated disc (the last one before the sacrum, aka L5/S1), as well as arthritis in my upper back/neck, which I’ve had for the past 3-4 years. I’ve also been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, which is common the older one gets–basically, the discs separating your vertabrae begin wearing down–but, according to my doctor, I’m too young for this to happen…

For the record: I’m the big 4-0, and have been a professional baker for the past 10 years…I’ve been told that returning to baking is at my own risk. Should I happen to move, bend, or twist the wrong way, I’m liable to end up flat on my back for a very long time.

Needless to say, none of this is sitting very well with me (that is, when I CAN sit, and I’m not even going to get into walking/standing). The thought of abandoning my culinary career scares me to death, as it’s the only career thus far which has satisfied all my requirements physically, creatively, and spiritually. Yet this very career wreaked havoc on my back…

I’m not trying to start a pity party here. I’m past that, I’ve already gone through the sarcasm and anger stages. What I’m wondering is…are there any Dopers out there who’ve gone through this same thing or something similar? How did you handle it? Did your life change for the better (presuming that you had to switch careers)?

And…did you ever taper off the pain meds? I feel like a walking pharmacy with all this stuff coursing through my bloodstream!

Hi, and Welcome! This would probably get more hits in MPSIMS, which is the “please help” forum, or in IMHO, which is the “what do you think?” forum. GQ is mainly for questions to which there is a definite answer. If you e-mail Manny or Chronos or Jill, and beg prettily, somebody could prolly move it for you.

Up at the top of the thread here, click on “moderated by:” Jill tends to have more free time for stuff like this.


Oh I don’t know about that, Duck…seems to me that in IMHO and MPSIMS, the serious stuff (like this one) get buried among the frivilous polls and such, but since it’s still here…

I’ve had a herniated disc - L4-5 - which got operated on in 1983 – the operation helped a great deal, but not 100%. I think I have another (or maybe the same one). Similar symptoms; sitting down is no problem for me - that’s what relieves the symptoms; it’s standing for long periods that makes me miserable. Anyhoo, what has your doc said about surgery? They’ve made great advances using lasers, you know. As for the degenerative arthritis – I’ve no experience with that. BTW, I believe that whether your career “caused” your problem is debatable. I’ve sat at a desk most of my working life; I think mine resulted from falling hard on my tail bone. I’m sure other dopers will chime in and also find a few web sites for you that might be informative. Good luck.

You are too young at 40 for the amount of DDD or DJD that you have. Did you ever do gymnastics or a lot of heavy lifting as a kid?

I have some sort of similar pain at L5/S1. I do some stretching by lying down flat either prone or supine. I stretch my toes down, relax and pop my back. This relieves some of the pressure. They sell some home traction kits for the neck and back which may help.

Other things I do, try to lose weight, some more exercise and if I really have to do some lifting a low back brace really helps. I can feel the pressure go off my back when I put it on.

My advice, see a good PT or chiropractor. Most internists don’t have a clue, all they do is prescribe meds. Orthopedists, basically screen to see if you are a surgical case, if not, then off to PT or meds. I don’t much like disc surgery, some of the professionals here may agree with me, after a few years, DDD develops above or below the treated joints because of increased stress to those areas.

And like the above post says there are some new procedures where they’ll use radiowaves to shrink tissue around the disc, or use a MRI to do a shot in the exact right place, lots of new things going on. For a non-invasive alternative try the PT or chiros first.

I almost posted this in IMHO, but I was afraid it’d get lost among the more frivilous threads. Plus, Moe posted a question similar to mine a few days ago which appeared in “General Discussion”, so…

I’ve gotta admit that this place is as addicting as Cecil’s books! :smiley:

I work for a supermarket chain where shoving 50 lb. boxes of frozen product around in a freezer, pulling pallets piled with similar product from a trailer, and having to continuously bend and stretch while fighting with baking racks without decent wheels is par for the course. Needless to say, I’m trying not to take offense to what you said, but I AM bristling a bit…

I’m only 37 but I’ve been fighting degenerative disc disease for nearly 10 years. I have no idead what brought it on, but there have been days where all I can do is lay completely flat on my back and stare at the ceiling. No fun under any circumstances. It has gotten so that Naproxen doesn’t do much for it anymore. The discs involved? L5/S1, of course (its a very common site for the problem).

My solution has been to really concentrate on my fitness and posture, particularly about keeping my pelvis “tucked under” for lack of a better term (I don’t recall what my physical therapist called it). Also, make sure you keep your rectus abdominis and obliques in good shape (crunches and pelvic lifts). You “front” muscles actually help support your spine and if you only concetrate on the erector spinae you’re only doing half the job.

I’m trying to avoid any disc fusion surgery for as long as I can. If I can keep up with my physical regimen I think I may be able to do it. Good luck.

Hey kiz,

My gf had back pain years ago which was successfully treated with accupuncture. About two years ago she slipped one icy morning and ended up with two slipped (or herniated) discs. I don’t recall which ones but she was absolutely miserable, in total agony 24/7. The doc says “nothing I can do, live with it” which depressed her even more. Then, totally by chance, she heard of a surgeon who routinely performed microdiscectomy surgery (where the protruding, troublesome fragment is removed) at a hospital in Glasgow, Scotland where we live. His success rate was 100% and she’d be in and out in 3 days. Now two years later she suffers no pain, although she gets a tingling sensation in her big toe every now and then. It isn’t DDD but herniation is the symptom of DDD you exhibit. Over here we simply don’t do back surgery. Open back surgery and full discectomy are dangerous and often counter-productive. You guys are more experimental over there and practice endoscopic microdiscectomy routinely. There’s a guy on the Web called Dr Anthony Yeung, he gave some encouraging advice when I wrote him. Have a look, he might help. Anyway, this was just a “don’t totally discount surgery” message. Hope you find the help you’re after.


Yeah, there’s something creepy about back surgery. I keep thinking that, despite all the advances made, there’s such a small margin of error, and is it worth the risk? My bf’s brother, who played football at university, has spinal stenosis as well as numerous herniations, and eventually he’s going to have to have a fusion if he wants to stand upright. He’s only 26. Now THAT’S scary!

Good luck, pinnr…and if you ever feel the need to *itch or whatever, feel free to post me! :slight_smile:

Hmmm…do you have the URL for Dr. Yeung?

I’m not entirely discounting the surgery option, TMH…but I want to exhaust all the nonsurgical options I have before submitting to it. :slight_smile:

kiz - please don’t misunderstand my response – I wasn’t making light of your problem or saying you were wrong about the cause; I just meant that I don’t think anyone can be sure what causes a herniated disc. I confess I made an assumption (never assume!) that your job involved mainly standing on your feet for long periods of time; didn’t realize it also meant heavy lifting and bending. Sorry. I DO sympathize with your problem – I’m still having a back problem too and I’m hoping to find a way to deal with it. Please don’t give up – check out all your options. I wish you all the luck in the world and hope some of the suggestions here help you.

That’s OK, Sycorax – I forgive you! I just didn’t know how to interpret your comment – obviously I interpreted it wrong, and I apologize for that. I know most of the back problem (or at least working in spite of it) would be manageable if I didn’t have to do the stockwork, but unfortunately that’s the price one pays working in a store having very little help…sigh

I’m supposed to be meeting with the regional HR person at some point to discuss options…

Syco, I wish the same for you. And if you should ever stumble upon something which helps, please let me know! :slight_smile:

My wife had/has DDD and the pain was intolerable. It became so bad that her right arm became unusable even with drugs. She had to have the operation.

She still has pain but not as bad. She went to a pain clinic and they worked with her on handling it, which seemed to help. She also gets regular massages which also seem to help.

But sorry, the “ignore it, and it will go away” method doesn’t work.

Well, there are 2 new developments:

  1. The HR rep called yesterday afternoon, saying that the company doesn’t want me to return until the results of my nerve studies are available (I’m having an EMG done in a couple of weeks – don’t remember if I told anyone that). They don’t even want to move me into a desk job in the meantime…Well, on the one hand I’m surprised that they’re actually concerned about my welfare, but on the other they didn’t want to listen to my suggestions for “modifications” (i.e., not doing any stockwork)…

  2. I got restless, so I decided to walk the perimeter of the park down the road just to see if I could do it without any ill effects. I’m happy to report that my legs didn’t start turning to jelly until after after the third lap! Once around is 3/4th of a mile, btw…

And this morning I’m relatively pain-free! :slight_smile:

Oh sheesh, I don;t want to get my hopes up…last time I felt like this I did 2 loads of laundry and was flat on my back for the next day and a half…

I am hoping for some advice. i am a 27 year old male. and about 5 months ago i had a deck fall on me and it caused spinal stenosis in c2 threw c5 herniated disks in c2 and c4. t2 t3 t9 t10 and ddd in l2 l3 l5 too boot. pt has been helping a little bit but the pain numbness does not stay gone for long i was wondering if any one any advice on things i should and shouldnt do my doctors have not been much help as they are workers comp drs

I had a bad herniation of L5S1 thirteen years ago with massive pulp extrusion, basically all the pulp. I had very bad leg and foot pain until a microdiskectomy and foramenotomy mostly fixed it, and a.few months on gabapentin mostly fixed what pain remained. I still have pain every day but not much, and my foot and lower leg are partly paralyzed but it doesn’t keep me from hiking. I tell people I hurt my back rescuing babies from a burning orphanage, but it actually happened while I was pulling on my underpants.

I also have DDD especially in my neck and have had C5 through C7 fused together about 3 years ago. I still have pain and my one arm is weak but it is much better than it was. Some year soon here, I will probably get an artificial disk put between C4 and C5.

In both cases, the surgery was a huge help. This info is a bit dated, but you should expect surgery to work if the problem is nerves getting crushed causing pain felt in the extremities. If you are trying to fix pain felt in the back itself, the statistics are not as good but it still often helps. Also you should figure that neck disk problems are treated with fusions much more often than lower back. The lower back tends to get treated non surgically or with surgeries that leave the vertebrae separate. Fusions are often not the first choice for the back, but get done when other surgeries aren’t enough.

It is important to protect your spine by not twisting or bending it at the same time you are putting a load on it, and especially not doing this repetitively. PT can reprogram you to keep your spine rigid when loading it. Imagine you are wearing some kind of corset that prevents you from bending or twisting, and accomplish the necessary moves by flexing at the hips, knees, shoulders, feet, and so forth.

Watch out for opiate addiction. And remember – orthopedic surgery may not make you better, but will definitely make you different. Good luck!

I sorry to here about your back problem. FWIW I’m fused L3-S1 and I urge you to think once, twice, the times before ageing to surgery. My surgery left me disabled and in constant pain. I’m on morphine everyday and the pain killers have their own set of problems. Like being do tired that trying to lice a normal life is next to impossible. And (if you’re a male) your body will quit producing testosterone after being on the narcotics for years. The docs can fix it with weekly testosterone injections, but then your risk of prostate cancer goes up.

Make surgery your very last resort. There are other options out there. But if you do decide to go with surgery, please take the time to research Failed Back Surgery Syndrome, Wikipedia has a very informative article on the subject. In that article are the statistics concerning the duces rates for fusion surgery and they aren’t reassuring.

I wish you the best of luck. I’m tried now, but might write more later.

Medical advice is best suited to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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…

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Thanks the feedback the herniations range between 3 and 7mm but the dengenerative artrihtis is progressing rather rapidly which i dont understand because befor the accident i had no symptoms of it. about the surgery the only way i would take that is if my attorney it was a only choice. and it does get frustrating with everyone telling me im too young for this but its kind of became a inside joke to me. i am young but i have been doing construction for 12 years and i was noo slacker i worked my a** of 10 to 14 hour days most of the time it has been just as hard of a adjustment to not be able to work as it has been with the pain and numbness