In 1989, an automobile accident herniated my L4-L5 lumbar disk. I had a lumbar laminectomy to repair it in 1990. My sciatica has returned, but this time, it’s my own fault.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is pain that travels down your sciatic nerve, usually due to irritation. In my case, it was caused by a herniated disk between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebra. Your sciatic nerves run from your lower back on both sides of your body, through your buttocks, down the side of your leg and end in your big toe. One of the first signs of sciatica may not be back pain, but numbness and burning on the side of your calf or in your big toe. My sciatica was on my right side.
Why I Had Back Surgery for Sciatica
When I was injured, my younger son was four years old. The pain from my sciatica made it nearly impossible to care for him. I could not lift him or even bathe him without pain. I tried chiropractic and physical therapy, but the pain finally won over my resolve against surgery.
Conventional Lumbar Laminectory Spinal Surgery
When I was injured, laser surgery for herniated disks was new and untested, so I had conventional surgery. Spinal surgery is extremely painful. I was in the hospital for 5 days. For a week after returning home, I would set an alarm, eat something so I could take my pain medication and go back to sleep. Doctor’s orders required me to walk every day, so I walked up and down my street. It took a month to be able to walk around the block. I had serious restrictions for lifting for eight weeks, and minor restrictions for an additional four weeks.
Recovery time from conventional lumbar laminectomy surgery is from eight to 12 weeks. Your doctor will give you a timetable and a list of exercises and restrictions.
Laser Spinal Surgery
Laser surgery for herniated disks is usually done as an outpatient procedure, and takes mere days until you are up and about your daily activities. It is still controversial, however, and the Mayo Clinic advised against it as recently as 2009, stating that they neither use nor recommend laser spinal surgery. I could find nothing past that date to indicate they have changed their stance. The Oklahoma Spine and Brain Institute does not recommend laser surgery because it does not provide long-term relief of symptoms.
How Long Do Conventional Surgery Results Last?
I was pain free for 20 years, until I started to gain weight and stopped exercising, something my surgeon warned me about. Extra weight and atrophy of my back and stomach muscles has put a strain on my disk, and now I am experiencing the same sciatica pain on my left side. I am currently trying to lose weight and exercising to see if I can relieve my sciatica without a second surgery. If you continue with your exercises and keep your weight down, your results could last for a lifetime.
Ultimately, it is up to you and your doctor whether you need surgery and what type is appropriate. I recommend trying everything available before opting for surgery. Even with its long recovery time, conventional spine surgery is the best option for long-term results.
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