Herniated Discs--Lower Back Problems
April 20, 2005 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Wondering if anyone has herniated a disc in the lower lumbar spine. If so, how long did it take to heal? What did you do to alleviate the pain? I have had pain for 2 years now and am wondering if I should have surgery, or what other routes I should take to get rid of the pain. Any suggestions?
posted by Maishe to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There is this weird little book by some guy named Sarno that talks about back pain and herniated discs, and I keep hearing people talking about it positively but I haven't read it.
posted by craniac at 6:51 PM on April 20, 2005

Nothing has worked better for me than swimming. 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week, and I'm doing so much better than the apex of the pain.

Did your doctor suggest any stretches for you?
posted by evadery at 7:18 PM on April 20, 2005

Best answer: Yes, I have a herniated disk-- b/w L4 and L5. I had severe pain for almost a year. I am happy to report that I am about 90% pain free, and have stayed that way for about 8 months now. I tried lots of things. Some worked, a lot didn't. Here are the things that worked for me:

1) a short course of corticosteroids, often called a "medrol pack." It's about 7 days, where they work you up to a high dose and then taper it off. I was told that you really shouldn't do this very often AT ALL, like less than once/year. As soon as I finished this (it wasn't suggested until more than 6 months of seeking treatment), I felt TONS better. Not 100%, but it got me on the road to recovery.

2) massage therapy. I found a great massage therapist and went once/week for almost a year. I have now cut down to once every three weeks or so. I think that this had both beneficial physiological and psychological effects. My therapist really knows what he's doing and works on my posture and how other muscles have tightened up in response to the disks. Psychologically, it was really important for me to "give my pain" over to my therapist for the hour. He could worry about it, think about it, hear about it, etc. for one hour/week so that I didn't have to.

3) exercise. At first I wasn't sure if exercising while I was in pain was a good thing or not, but eventually I learned that low-impact cardio was definitely good. (I used the ellitical trainer). Moderate at first, and now I can do just about anything. Moving is good.

4) Pilates. I took a Pilates mat class twice/week. It was excellent at strengthening my "core", the torso and especially abdominals. This made a big difference for my back. Pilates also helps teach you how to stretch and strengthen your back safely, while holding onto your core. I still do these exercises every time I go to the gym, although I only take classes occasionally.

5) don't sit for long periods. Remind yourself to get up and move around every 15 minutes. Ditto for standing in one place. Walk around.

6) When my back is really bothering me, I use an exercise ball instead of a chair and sit on that. I also use this disk when things are really bad. Luckily, it's been almost a year since I had to.
posted by picklebird at 7:20 PM on April 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Back pain is the worst. Stay fit. Avoid the big gut. Keep your abdominal muscles fit. We are not talking six pack abs, just keep them in shape with some slow crunches every few days. Don't sit too long. Get up every 20 or 30 minutes for at least a couple minute stretch. Don't actually stretch if you are not in shape - arching your back backward can hurt it. However, you do want to arch it backward in a controlled fashion once it starts to hurt. This is called a press up and is performed by lying on your tummy and pressing up with your hand as if you are doing a push-up but keeping your waist on the ground and bending up from there. Go up just until you feel it in your back and hold it gently for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat five or ten more times. Do this every four hours. It helps realign the discs and can greatly reduce your pain. Stay hydrated. It helps the discs. When all of this fails and your legs go numb, then maybe you might want to consider surgery. That should be your last resort. The surgery is pretty radical and in most cases leads to more problems long term.
posted by caddis at 7:27 PM on April 20, 2005

My suspected L4/L5 injury took a few months to heal, and a few more months to strengthen. NSAIDs like ibuprofen or those recently banned drugs like Vioxx or Bextra helped for short-term flare-ups. I went to a physiotherapist and got advice on a graduated strengthening program (if you push it, you risk making it worse) for my core abdominal muscles using tiny weights, leg lifts or an exercise ball. I also got into swimming, doing about the same as evadery.
Today, 2 years later, I can make my back ache and my leg go a bit numb if I slouch in a really bad way, but other than that, it doesn't bother me and I lead an active lifestyle of swimming, running, cycling and drinking.

I know a guy who had disk surgery, but he literally couldn't walk at times because of the injury; it's two years later and he says he's back to 90% of what he used to be.
posted by cardboard at 7:54 PM on April 20, 2005

I have a lower-spine injury as well (herniated disc and sciatica,) which flared up again in November\December of this year. I started acupuncture, and I do yoga 3 times a week or more. It's been a great help, my back is better, and my overall health has improved greatly. I wish I had started years ago.
posted by lilboo at 8:07 PM on April 20, 2005

Craniac had it right. John Sarno wrote a book called "Healing Back Pain" and darn if it didn't just work beautifully for me. His basic point is that our backs are stronger than we are led to believe by the medical establishment. Once we get through our own sense of our back's weakness, it turns out to be pretty darn strong. And you can get your own mind to deny that pain exists. It really fricking worked for me. I had back pain for years and thought of myself as someone "with back pain". Now, I almost never have it, and when I do, I can make it go away just by thinking about it. Buy this book first, then look into medical ways to deal with it.
posted by debris at 11:10 PM on April 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

My step father was going through a very bad time with this a few years ago when I was visiting my folks in Canada.

I bought him marijuana. It helped.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:52 PM on April 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

It wasn't until I had my first back problem that I became aware of the stomach's role in maintaining healthy (and pain-reduced) posture. I agree that swimming is a great way to keep in general fitness without undue risk of further injury. Also, see this thread.
posted by squirrel at 12:42 AM on April 21, 2005

I tried pretty much all of the above to no avail and eventually had a microdiscectomy 2 years ago.
I consider myself to be fully recovered, prior to the procedure I could not stand up properly or walk & had severe nerve pain all the way to my foot. If no relief comes from alternatives I recommend getting an MRI scan and talking to a good neurosurgeon.
posted by fullysic at 1:55 AM on April 21, 2005

It pays to see more than one neurologist about lumbar disc problems. Some are enthusiastically surgery-prone, while others less so. Mine told me that 80% of lumbar surgeries were unnecessary or not successful in the long term.

I'm 49, male, and about 50% of such creatures will suffer from some disc problem by the time they are 50. My pain progressed from aches in the summer, to limping in the fall, to total inability to walk by Xmas. I live in Hungary, where the local Doctor's Guild advocates surgery for any back problem, but I was able to locate a good neurologist who was trained in London. After cat scans and X-rays and lots of reflex tests, I got three epidural shots into my spine - cortisone pain relievers and such, as well as a muscle relaxant and a strong pain reliever.

In a week I was walking again. Ten sessions of acupuncture (also recommended by the Doctor, saying "Anything that helps can't hurt...") helped relieve the residual sciatica pain in my leg. Atkins diet reduced the gut. Now I ride my bike and swim a bit, and I am always aware of just how my back is not quite right and take great care. No more basketball, skateboarding, or break dancing for me.
posted by zaelic at 3:22 AM on April 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

I had the surgery 10 years ago. Bad pain down my left leg (thought it was a torn hamstring, originally). I went through physical therapy, cortisone injections, and exercise, but it got the the point where the pain was so bad I couldn't sit at all and even lying down wasn't any good. My orthopedic doctor pushed off surgery until I begged him for it. My brother-in-law (also an orthopedic surgen) took one look at the x-rays and said, "what are you waiting for?"

After the surgery, the pain was gone. Period. Took 6 weeks of recovery and I was pretty much back to normal.

I do have some arthritis in my back, but I can't saw it's related.
posted by cptnrandy at 8:01 AM on April 21, 2005

My wife had the same procedure as fullysic, and it cured her. I had a very large herniation that sometimes prevented me from walking, that was relieved completely by 2 epidural steroid injections (just like zaelic). It was my last hope prior to surgery, and it worked. I've not had any problems for over a year. Go that route! Avoid surgery at all costs.
posted by ValveAnnex at 9:30 AM on April 21, 2005

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