View Full Version : Ruptured Disc Surgery/Sciatic Nerve Pain Recovery

Mar. 2, 2010, 06:41 AM
I am so glad that COTH made a specific board for people with disabilities to share experiences and receive comfort from other board members. I just saw this board since I usually just go straight to the h/j board and don't bother to scroll further down the page. I was hoping it would help my sanity to know others have experienced the same injury as me and coped. I have so much time on my hands right now and I am taking so many painkillers that I feel depressed and almost split from the real world!

I recently had the discectomy surgery on a ruptured disc in my lower back L5/S1, that was accompanied by terrible sciatic nerve pain down my entire left leg (pulsating, stabbing, throbbing constantly). I was hoping that after the surgery the sciatic pain would be relieved and completely gone but I was wrong. The pain is still quite prevalent in my left leg and most seriously in my buttock. I should also mention that this is my second discectomy surgery on the same disc. The last surgery was 3 years ago and I did have the sciatic nerve pain but it was much less severe and I was still able to be somewhat active and ride up until the surgery was performed. After the first surgery, the nerve pain was completely relieved and all pain gone, I healed well and was fine within 6 weeks to do normal activity. I waited 12 weeks to begin riding again just to make sure I was healed properly.

This time the sciatic pain is much, much worse almost debilitating. Before surgery, I could barely walk/stand without pulsating spasms down my leg. Now, after the surgery I do not have the severe pulsating spasms down the leg but still have stabbing spasms in the buttock. The Dr. says the nerve is irritated/damaged and must take time to heal maybe even months!!! I am freaked out by this considering I had the perception that this surgery would be like the last.....pain free after the fact. It has been 2 weeks now since the surgery and I still can't do many things or be very active. I know that this is not very long and I am probably being impatient, but I have no pain in my back whatsoever, it is only the nerve.

I am 25 yrs old and before the surgery I was riding up to 10 horses a day 6 days/week for a large h/j barn. My life went from extremely active to extremely inactive in the span of a week. Anyways, I have just been feeling depressed and down on myself about the whole ordeal. My riding had been progressing significantly and I was in wonderful shape, now my left leg is so weak that I can't even stand on the ball of my foot w/o my leg quivering like a maniac! I feel so incompetent and useless, however it does make me feel better being able to post this here and get some things off of my chest. I am not one to complain usually and don't like to bring others (friends/family/boyfriend) around me down so I just figured it might be better to post it all on here. I just can't stand being so inactive!

Anyways, I could use any advice/suggestions to help the nerve heal quicker so I can get back to my normal life. I realize that time is the key here but I am just so frustrated! I would love to hear other stories from people who have gone through a similar experience as mine......love to hear how you coped or managed. I miss riding soo much.... Even any advice on exercises I could be doing to build strength in my legs w/o re-injuring myself. Anything you post will be helpful to me! I know this is long, but thanks so much for reading/listening.

Mar. 2, 2010, 12:10 PM
First off...calm down...take a deep breath....this is gonna take time...maybe a long time...maybe the rest of your life. But time nevertheless.

Sometimes young people are so impatient and in a hurry and want guarantees that whatever you do it will be all better. Well sometimes life or surgery or treatment DOESN'T make you all better. Or it takes time; you have the rest of your life to deal with this. The injury is there and will always be there. It's not gone. I am quite sure your doctor did not give you any assurances as the results of back surgery are ALWAYS iffy. And an awful lot of how you rehab and heal is in your ability to cope, be patient and let your body do its thing. Don't set a schedule, weeks, goals or imaginary timetable for your recovery. You don't have control with the end result. What is turns out to be is not in your control.....roll with it, let it happen, be patient, cope, deal, smile and go easy on yourself please!!! Impatience can make you tense which can make muscles/nerves stiff and hurt.

Forget about what you USED to do; it doesn't matter anymore. Look only forward; THATS what matters now. You've had a life changing injury and surgery. Wait & see how you turn out. Those of us w/injuries over a lifetime have all had to adjust to not being able to do what we used to do. So can you! Look only forward. Think positive, do your therapy. Being "inactive" is a state of mind not body. It's not the kiss of death. Inactive is still living, it's coping, it's how some of us deal. Hopefully your status is only temporary....we wish you the best.
But be patient!! and look only forward.....and of course my motto!!
"Stop whining, take your pills, shut up and ride!!!" :winkgrin: and in your case....don't ride till the physical therapist says you can then go slowly. And if it hurts? DONT DO IT!!! :D

Personal Champ
Mar. 2, 2010, 12:58 PM
I am 27, I have a herniated L5-S1 as well. Terrible sciatic pain, stabbing in the buttock, and my pinkie toe/outside of my foot would go numb.

I did not have surgery. I went to a really good surgeon, who told me that I would be back to see him in a decade or so, but that now was not the right time for surgery. He said to rest, take it easy and stop expecting to do the things I did before.

I did do chiropractic (made a difference where PT did not). I was going to the chiro 3 times a week at first, and then once for a while, but the adjustments never "stuck" for very long. What helped me immensely was steroid injections, 3 times, 3 weeks apart. The first one did not do much but the second and third were awesome.

I still have to be REALLY careful about what I do. I can't crouch down, think to clean a saddle on a rack - I have to get a chair and sit next to it. Can't wrap Xmas presents on the floor, have to do at a waist high table.

No heavy lifting. Must reprogram yourself to lift with abs not back muscles, work on your core helps tons.

I can still ride anything I want to - bold buckers or whatnot. I can not do extended sitting trot.

Sometimes I am an idiot and do something stupid. I immediately take 4 OTC Aleve and rest, usually that will eliminate the horrific impending pain, bringing it down to a manageable dull roar.

I have no real advice for you regarding the recovery from your surgery, just sending healing thoughts your way. But the above comments are what helped me. Really, you have to learn what sets off your pain and avoid doing it or adjust how you do it.

Carol Ames
Mar. 2, 2010, 01:46 PM
Really, you have to learn what sets off your pain and avoid doing it or adjust how you do it.

Mar. 2, 2010, 01:55 PM
WOW this is just what is goin on with me. My sciatic is KILLLLLLING me. Chiro is making it worse and I am hoping to get the injection tomorrow. The pain is horrible

Mar. 2, 2010, 02:15 PM
You can't make a nerve heal faster.

Healing takes time. Even with the surgery.

I've broken my back, had back surgery, and recently suffered another herniated disc. This one healed without surgery - but even then it took MONTHS, and the herniation was very very minor. Even so, the pain was excruiating and constant. Hung up my spurs in October and will start light riding again here in the next few weeks. Unlike my first injury - this time I played it smart and listened to my body.

The disc that was operated on was very bad. Surgery brought immediate relief, but recovery took months - and even though I was given clearance to ride - decided to wait.

I returned to foxhunting 3 days a week and also running this farm by myself. Pain free.

You must give your body time. If you don't - you're going to reinjure yourself and trust me on this..... it gets worse.

Mar. 2, 2010, 06:45 PM
You have lots of us to talk to. My DH had a disc explode in early Dec. He is just this past week starting to travel on business. Granted, he did have 2 discs worked on, 2 surgeries within a week and a spinal infection. I am always willing to talk, so pm me. I have lots of spine/pelvis issues, too.

The pain med issue, I think, needs to be talked over with your dr. If the pain train doesn't get stopped, your body won't heal, the muscles all go into spasm and put more pressure on the surgery site. My DH was in agony, depressed and exhausted until we talked to the surgeon.

Set an alarm to take the meds on time.
Ask how to rotate the meds to extend the relief.
Write down the chart of when you take the meds.
Do you have someone who will check to make sure the meds were taken correctly? We put the doses in separate bottles and color coded them.

Many heavy duty pain killers will also stop one's g.i. tract from working properly. We went through lots of different laxatives to find the ones that helped. The forum could probably have a thread just on this one miserable subject. When the plumbing stops working, there is much more pressure on the spine, and much more pain. Yep, down the leg, too.

One of the great things about the forum is that many of us are up during the night. So if you want to post at an unfashionable time of the am, it is ok. You will probably find a response quickly.

Mar. 2, 2010, 07:17 PM
I have been through the same thing. You are getting the best advice there is - give it time. It's not the most fun but it is the best advice. There is something different about nerve pain - it made me very depressed. It's like it works on your brain too. As someone else said - there is no way to make a nerve heal faster - the only way is to stop whatever is making it angry from doing so. You have done that so all there is now is time. Above all else - LISTEN to what they tell you. I am so sorry you are having a rough time and that the surgery wasn't the quick fix you needed. It will get better though. As someone also said - it's not what you used to - it's what you can do now. Listen to your body and find out when it is telling you to stop. Above all else - always listen when it says enough. Hang in there!

Mar. 3, 2010, 06:39 AM
@ Wateyrglen - I am definetly one of those impatient young people!! I am slowly adjusting to the fact that my lifestyle has gone through a drastic change and I realize that this is part of the healing process. I can begin driving pretty soon so at least I won't be stuck in the house!!! Thanks for your encouraging advice, especially the part about not pondering on what I have been able to do in the past. I will keep that in mind while healing.

@ Personal Champ - Thanks for sharing your experience.....I am sure you feel the same as me.....which is...."I am only 25 and I feel like an OLD grandma with all these back problems!" I never imagined I would have back issues this young!! In fact, when I was diagnosed for the first time I didn't even know what the hell the doctors were talking about!! Had to do alot of research on disc herniation. I also send healing thoughts your way and hope your nerve/disc heals quickly I know how much pain there can be. I am curious....did the steroid injections help with the pain? Thanks for the advice!

@ Nootka - I agree that the chiro didn't really help me either. I just felt it was a waste of money. I hope that the injection helps to ease your pain. Sciatic pain IS killer.....I could barely even sleep before the surgery because it was so painful. I do hope you get some relief. My back never even really hurt after the disc ruptured, it was just the nerve.......people always ask me how my back is doing and I say "My back is fine....its just the nerve that kills!"

@ JSwan - Thanks for sharing your similar experiences. I am glad that you are pain free and back to riding! The Dr. told me I would be able to ride again 6 weeks after surgery although I will wait and see when I get to that point as I don't want to risk re rupturing again. If I don't feel 100% I will wait not risk it. The Dr. also says that if I rupture the disc a 3rd time, it would be best to either get a fusion or a replacement artifical disc. I am hoping I don't get to that point.

@ Whicker - Thank you for your great advice! Good to hear that many on this board are up late as I am also a huge night owl!! My sleeping schedule is so messed up! I tend to take a nap during the day b/c the pain killers make me sooo sleepy and this results in me staying up all night. Not to mention, I am not doing any physical activity whatsoever so my body is just not tired at the appropriate times. The pain meds have messed up my g.i. tract, but I am good about using laxatives and I eat lots of fruit b/c I am petrified of gaining weight due to inactivity. That is terrible about your husband.....sounds really painful I hope he is doing better now.....pretty crazy to have a disc explode!

@ Abbydp - I agree nerve pain does make you depressed! It is frustrating also because sometimes no matter what you do it just wont stop hurting. Sometimes, I cry just because I get so frustrated that I can't do little things. Thank you for your advice and empathy, I am sorry you had to go through the same ordeal.

Anyone have any good ideas on things to keep me entertained during all this downtime?? I have read 12 books so far and I am ready to take a break from reading!! I play board games w/ family/friends, have watched what feels to be a billion movies, mess around on the computer, call friends and talk on the phone, etc. Again, thanks for all the great advice and stories, it sure has made me feel better!

Mar. 3, 2010, 10:03 AM
How to keep busy?

Well, double check with your doctor but after surgery I did not sit around that much.

Unfortunately, my recovery took place during the middle of winter, and with snow and ice on the ground I did not spend much time walking outside or going up and down stairs. The one thing I did NOT want to do is fall. But I'm clumsy by nature.

I did do a lot of walking in the house - I tried not to sit for long periods of time, but to take breaks. I also did not lift or twist.

To keep my hands busy and to keep from raiding the fridge, I took up crochet. Taught myself.

I crocheted so much my house looked like a Victorian parlor -doilies everywhere. Also did lots of cross-stitch.

Now I need glasses. :lol:

Once you're recovered enough to start normal activity, just keep in mind that you're going to have to stay fit. That means no shirking on back exercises, riding is not enough to keep your back healthy, and by all means watch your weight.

You'll be ok - you're just going through a rough patch. :)

Mar. 3, 2010, 10:44 AM
Take a look at some of the other back issue threads. Akstaj is about the same age as you and a h/j rider. Give her a pm. She has recently been through the early stages of recovery.

You have lots of company on the crying for what you can't do. It hits at the survival instinct. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of bending and tension, which makes your back feel worse. On the other hand, the howling does get the deep breathing exercise done.:winkgrin:

Mar. 3, 2010, 05:05 PM
Read my post on the other thread about epidurals too.....geez I'm a wordy thing aren't I!!!? :lol:

One of the reasons we "whine" so much when we are injured (especially at first) is because of fear, anxiety, anger that it happened to us, and a real rage about loss of function. These are all GOOD emotions! Legitimate, appropriate feelings!! Take that rage/anger and put it to good use. Use it to resolve to do better, be good, do your exercises, lose weight whatever.

We can get injured young or in older life. Anytime we get angry about it; we are "raging against the dying of the light" ie: raging against aging! Thats a good thing. Never give in. Always give aging a punch in the nose. So what I'm X years old and can't ride...I'm pissed and I'm gonna do X to get beyond this...so THERE!!! :winkgrin: You will ride again! Maybe slower, maybe with accomodations, maybe in a different discipline or style, maybe not so pretty, maybe on a different horse....but you will ride again! Go for it; none of us are dead yet! Go for it!
So there!!! :uhoh:

Mar. 4, 2010, 03:12 PM
One thing I found made a huge difference was the medrol steroid pack. The first one didn't really seem to help. The second one I picked up at night and I took the whole dose at once for the first day and then the second day split them in half and then the rest of the days at once (in the morning) and man it calmed those nerves right down! It lasted about 3 weeks (with the pain gradually creeping back) and he gave me another. I split that up a bit more but pretty much did the same thing and it toned down the pain at least enough to survive until surgery.

It has been almost 4 months since surgery and I still get varying amounts of pain but nothing like before. Too much damage was done for it to every totally recover but at least now it is manageable. It is very very important to not do too much after this surgery!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm just now able to do both am and pm feedings alone now. Best wishes for a fast recovery.

Mar. 13, 2010, 11:39 PM
I had a herniated L4-L5 then a C5-C6 discectomy and fusion with severe referred nerve pain down the shoulder and arm. Nothing will heal nerve pain except time Im afraid. If you try to rush it by doing things you shouldnt it will only delay healing. That nerve was sevely irritated before your surgery and they take a long time to heal. Until you can ride again, you can still do other things with horses to ease the mental stress, an hour a day in a grooming stall can do wonders for the depression. Get rest, do alot of walking in the sunshine and get a referral to a physiotherapist and massage therapist. When you have recovered, spend the rest of your life keeping your abdominal muscles in shape, these are the core muscles that keep your lower back strong. Good luck in your recovery, there is hope, I am 40 years old and still riding with degenerative disc disease. I just have to take care of my body and I cant afford to ignore painful warning signs

Mar. 17, 2010, 12:25 PM
Hi there! First of all you need to give yourself time to heal. It will not happen immediately. I also have L5/S1 issues. Spinal Stenosis. My L5 disc is bulged inwards towards my spine and pressing against the L5 nerve which of course hooks up to your sciatic nerve. Causes my pain from my butt down to my ankle. Some days are worse than others. The pain comes and goes. I have been out of the saddle for a year and a half! :(

So two different doctors have said no surgery for me. I have had three epidurals, which have had no effect. But...my pain management doc has put me on Neurontin, which helps calm down the nerve and I have to admit it is helping, but not to the degree I'd like. Also, I am taking Relafin which is an anti-imflammatory. Helps somewhat. This is chronic pain which I will have all of my life. Ugh... PM doc is trying to get me back in the saddle. So, she put me on a muscle relaxer. Told me to experiment with the dosage, so I'm not too loopyand can ride and drive when I leave the barn to come home. Also, as soon as I dismount, immediately put ice on the area, so muscles, nerves and everything else in the area doesnt tighten up and create more pain. Havent ridden yet as I just got these muscle relaxers. But I am looking forward to trying them and riding again. I have three horses to ride! I miss riding them. So we shall see.

I know your frustration. I have had the pain for quite some time. Something I will have to get used too. Not happy about it, but I am doing what I can with my pm doc. Like I said, give yourself time to heal. I am sure everything is swollen from the surgery and you will need time to get back in the saddle.

I look at it this way...If I can't ride comfortably and it gives me too much pain, there is much more to horses than just riding. So much you can do from the ground. Natural horsemanship. Like Clinton Anderson, Pat Parelli, etc. Grooming them, loving them, bonding with them. Take up driving! As long as I can have my horses in my life, I feel lucky.

Good Luck and keep us informed as to how you are doing! :)

Mar. 17, 2010, 01:04 PM
I had a discectomy last April, after what felt like forever of pain, misery and total life change. My back never hurt, just my leg, and there were many nights I cried myself to sleep. I did the medrol steroids, neurontin, script nsaids, ESI injection, rest, chiro, the works... I did heal slightly, only to re-injure the disc and head right back into the downward spiral of pain. I do not regret having the surgery, I regret waiting to do it for the length I did.
I did have some painful days after the surgery, and took things easy. I am not 100%, nor will I ever be, and whoever said look to the future, not behind is right. I started riding again last november, (a green horse no less!!) but I am guarded about what I do.

Sending you strength and healing vibes.

Whiz Kid
Mar. 17, 2010, 11:14 PM
I had a microdiscectomy/laminectomy on Jan 11 of this year. It was for an acute rupture of the disc that pretty much paralyzed my left leg. I literally walked hundreds of miles during my recovery. I started back to work (ICU nurse) and riding 2 1/2 weeks ago. I still have a lot of weakness in that leg, and the lower back pain I had before is still there.. but, I just keep moving. I rarely sit at work and at home im out walking with the dog at least 5 X a day. Im frustrated with the weakness sometimes, but the surgeon said the nerve actualy tore and it could be up to a year before im back to "normal"...whatever that is. Now its the financial stress that is taking its toll...

DressageGeek "Ribbon Ho"
Mar. 18, 2010, 01:33 AM
I hope this encourages you - I blew L5/S1 as a consequence of a knee injury that was pooh-pooh'd by an MD. 6 months I could lie down or stand, not sit (in fact, it took a week to convince them to do an MRI to diagnose, since I was able to get out of bed on my own). They wanted me to wait for surgery, and I assume it fused on its own, as - knock on wood - I am pretty fine now.

I will say my left leg is somewhat problematic - my heel tends to go up as the hamstring is very tight, and I've lost the ankle reflex, but it's when I am NOT active that there is a problem.

Jane Savoie talks a lot in "That Winning Feeling!" about visualization, and others have concurred...just a thought.

Mar. 25, 2010, 05:09 AM
Figured I would post an update! First of all, I would like to thank everyone for all the great advice, suggestions, and support! I would also like to thank all those who shared their stories. It has been helpful to my healing process reading about others who have experienced the same situation.

I am doing so much better now! It has been 5 weeks since my surgery and I have started getting in shape again over the past week. Dr said I could start going to the gym and building up my core muscles again. I have started taking pilate and yoga classes and using the elliptical to build up my cardio and strengthen my left leg muscles. The nerve pain has simmered down ALOT and I am feeling great!! Now I am just weaning myself off of the painkillers! I will probably give myself another 2 or 3 weeks before I begin riding again as I want to wait until my core muscles are strong enough to support my lower back. Again, thank you everyone for all the support! I will let you all know how it goes once I begin to ride...can't wait!

Mar. 26, 2010, 08:58 AM
Glad to see.... your feeling better. Keep up the good healing!:D

Mar. 26, 2010, 09:25 AM
I love that COTH created this forum! I think it is a wonderful avenue for those with physical issues to find support and encouragement as well as network to possible medical treatments which may assist them in their recovery and enjoyment of riding!

On that note, would some of you please take a look at this thread and offer my friend some help. He has posted information on his condition (which I didn't have the details of when I posted the thread) and perhaps you can provide him more information, success stories and encouragement. Here is the link:


Our sincere thanks!! :)