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Tell me there's hope! Disc degeneration, bulging/ herniated discs and collapsed disc.

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  • Tell me there's hope! Disc degeneration, bulging/ herniated discs and collapsed disc.

    So I just found a great barn to start riding at here in Hong Kong only to find out the same week that I have a VERY messed up back!

    I have disc degeneration in my neck which is pinching nerves, 4 bulging discs in my lower lumbar with one that is herniated and a completely collapsed disc in my L5. Seems spinal fusion surgery is in my near future and I am so depressed that I may never be fit to ride again.

    Anyone else riding with such a messed up back and what are the risks?

  • #2
    My X-rays are so bad they send doctors screaming from the room. I was told my riding days were over. To sell the farm. That I HAD to have a multi level fusion.

    I'd already had one minor back surgery. Then I'd broken my back. Then developed severe facet joint arthritis.

    I rejected the gloom and doom doctors who were awfully eager to cut me and who felt it their duty to dictate my life to me 3 minutes after meeting me.

    Injections, RFA, and massage brought me back. I didn't sell the farm. Not only did I not stop riding, I bought another horse. I'm riding better than I have in years. I have almost no pain, and I don't remember the last time I took medication for pain or spasms.

    I exercise, eat right, and am religious about back exercises that keep me strong and flexible.

    Don't despair.
    Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
    Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
    -Rudyard Kipling


    • Original Poster

      What type of injections and what is RFA?

      I would love to solve this without surgery if a can, but I also want to ride again without the fear of doing some serious damage to my back. The thought of never riding again is so depressing!


      • #4
        Living damages your back. Anything you do, including stepping off a curb, feeding your dog, sneezing - anything can damage your back.

        Many many people have bulging or thinning discs. It's a normal part of aging. As is something like facet joint arthritis. They don't always cause pain. And when they do, surgery is not always necessary to stop or manage the pain. Often a simple steroid injection can eliminate the pain for months; even years. The goal is to get you comfortable so that you can exercise. If surgery is in your future, you may be able to put it off for years by simply managing your back better.

        RFA stands for radio frequency ablation. After diagnostic injections that pinpoint the source of the pain, if the pain is coming from a facet joint the dr can insert a needle and burn the tip off the medial branch nerve. That stops the pain completely and you can resume exercise. The nerve will grow back - but the pain may or may not return. You can have the procedure performed again.

        If the source of the pain is from a disc, a steroid injection can stop the inflammation; making you more comfortable. Again, the goal should be to resume exercise so that your back is very strong. People with back trouble need to be serious about an exercise program. Riding is not exercise. It is your activity. You exercise so that you can engage in your activity.

        Medication, PT, injections, a serious exercise program, massage, and modification of activities can go a long way. Reducing or even eliminating the need for surgery. There may come a point where you have exhausted all options or for whatever reason, you decide to have surgery.

        There's just no need to rush into it unless you are in danger.
        Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
        Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
        -Rudyard Kipling


        • #5
          I just came home from getting my facet blocks. I am still numb but if it feels this good after the block wears off I may literally do cartwheels! If it helps but doesn't last the next step is RFA. I agree that surgery is a last resort unless you are in danger of paralysis.
          McDowell Racing Stables

          Home Away From Home


          • #6
            I herniated three lumbar disks three years ago. I had to use a walker as the nerve damage would result in my left leg collapsing at odd moments. Walking and walking and massage, chiro, and an inversion table helped me deal with chronic issues. Now I am riding two horses a day and riding better than ever. I need to be strict about my chiro, and exercises and use my inversion table two or three times a day for about 30 sec a time. Now I feel better at age 60 than I did in my 40's. (maybe because I no longer commute? LOL)

            No injections and no surgery - just work including yoga (yogo for old ladies and cripples - yeah, it's the class description)


            • #7
              Yes..there is hope..each fix is different for each person though. I would hope for a laminectomy though before fusion if possible.

              Personally inversion tables, injections etc did nothing for me but waste valuable time and money!
              "My treasures do not sparkle or glitter, they shine in the sunlight and nicker to me in the night"


              • #8
                What J Swan said

                I have had surgery to remove the piece of disc that had lodged in my sciatic nerve, I have no disc left at L4-5 and according to my exrays I have so much arthritis in my spine, it looks like it is 70 years old. After surgery they told me "no more riding". Well I ride 4 to 5 days a week. Keep up my back exercises. Treat my back nicely but I do not baby it and do not live in pain.

                I would only do surgery as an absolute last resort. (And before you go there, read John Sarno's "Healing Back Pain". That book took me from lying on the floor to riding again in 1 month's time. It does not work for everyone but it made a huge difference in my life)


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks everyone. This is really good news!

                  I have no disc left in my L5 as well and it is the L4-L5 that the orthopedic surgeon has recommended fusing. Again, though I would rather do this without surgery. I'll see about getting a second opinion from a different doctor, the current one is all to eager to preform surgery!

                  Any recommendations on back exercises I can do to strengthen my back?


                  • #10
                    I had one surgeon who was more than willing to perform spinal fusion on me I told her only if I was in screaming pain and in danger of not being able to walk would I consider it.

                    The next surgeon told me that a spinal fusion could make things better but then again, it could make things much worse. And if it made things worse, there would be nothing he could do. So I do my exercises and use my inversion table and all is well. (And guess which surgeon I'll go to if I ever do need surgery?)

                    As far as exercises go, see if you can go to a physical therapist. Exercises done incorrectly can cause more harm than good. So have someone evaluate you and come up with the exercises you need and then monitor you to make sure you are doing them correctly.

                    Also, remember that ice is your friend, especially when nerves are involved. Give yourself some time and see how things go. We are all pulling for you.


                    • #11
                      I had surgery several years ago to repair/remove a herniated disk (L5). I've ridden regularly since--jumping, too. Everyone's back problems will require a different solution, really--backs are unique. I had less damage than you, but I'd do PT, massage and the least invasive surgery they recommend. Can you come back to the States for a second opinion? I guess I'm assuming you're American. Don't give up hope--backs are fixable, and riding happens after repairs. I know a lady who shows hard on the A circuit who had her back fused at age 60, and just keeps on keeping on! You'll ride again.
                      Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


                      • #12
                        All my L discs are bulging to some degree. I had two hairline fractures there, and one in my neck. All happened while I was a teenager. After that I galloped as many as 18-20 horses a day for over a decade, and have carried 2 babies. My last was 10lbs. KEEP YOUR CORE STRONG! Really, the less your back has to do, the better. Be good to yourself, indulge in chiro and massage, acupuncture if you believe in it.

                        I have been getting the 'don't ride again' talk from doctors for 20 years. Hope it works out for you!
                        Originally posted by The Saddle
                        Perhaps I need my flocking adjusted.


                        • #13
                          My back feels so good today after being injected yesterday I may literally do cartwheels! I hope it lasts.
                          McDowell Racing Stables

                          Home Away From Home


                          • Original Poster

                            I am an American and hope to get a second opinion in the next few months. Thanks everyone. This is lifting my spirits!


                            • #15
                              I also found my spirits lifted a bit by others.

                              My latest MRI shows bulging, degeneration, facet degeneration and lateral disc protrusion. My pain Dr. and the Dr. who just did my injection are talking about the last stop here is surgery. I ride everyday, do my own barn, earn a few extra $$'s riding a friend's horse and cleaning another barn 2 days a week. So far, I can use meds to keep going. The willpower of the strong horse folk on here allows me to know that I am not alone in my struggles. I guess living with such severe chronic back pain is more common among us that I would have ever guessed.


                              • #16
                                Thanks for the inspiration

                                Was told I had bulging disks and despite PT (which is making me stronger) the pain is getting worse. Off to the DR tomorrow for a re-eval and more injections. So tired of working from couch, being in constant pain, not being able to ride efficiently or well because it hurts so much.

                                Funny thing is that as I am rehabbing my mare is coming back from an injury, so I guess the timing is good () in that sense. She seems to be improving faster than I am, but that's good.

                                Reading these give me hope -- thanks for sharing your stories and giving others inspiration.
                                My Blog: A Work In Progress


                                • #17
                                  I'm in a similar situation. Have struggled with back pain (from minor pains to extreme-stuck-in-bed-pain) for over 10 years. Last March my back "went" again - complete spasm, I dragged myself to hospital to get some good painkillers and after doing an xray to ensure it wasn't broken (??I could have told them that, well I did) I was sent home and told to rest for 12 days. I did - I had to - I couldn't get out of bed by myself.

                                  Since this was the 4th time in a couple of years that this happened I dragged myself back to (a private) hospital where I was sent for a CT. This immediately showed a bulging disc L4-5 and herniated disc L3-L4. I was sent through to a neurosurgeon who ordered an MRI. With the MRI results he told me surgery was my ONLY option. That time would not heal this herniation (he's not worried about the bulging one - said that should heal itself). The thought of surgery - goodness, not what I was planning on. So I went to get a second opinion. This neuro also told me I HAVE to have surgery.

                                  The thing is, I am 5 months on now from my back "going" and I am much better. I have days where my back kills (like today hence the reason for signing to this forum) but also days where it doesn't hurt too bad. I don't have pain in my legs, I do get tingling. BUT, and there's the big BUT, I can't ride. Not without pain. 5 months on... My poor horse is stuck in a field going bananas. Well, a friend of mine rides him, luckily, but she doesn't have enough time to give him what he needs.

                                  I know nobody can give me a straight answer on this, but judging by all the experiences here, would you have the surgery with the hope that it would make you able to ride again? Or carry on not riding, see if time takes care of things and your body heals enough? I am worried the neuro's are pushing for a surgery for their own financial benefits - how do I know that the pain I have now is definitely from the disc and not some other issues that were pestering me for 10 years prior to the discovery of the disc injury...

                                  Sorry for the long story and thanks for any input. I wish you all the best.


                                  • #18
                                    Seriously, my experience with "back surgery" was the easiest operation I've ever undergone. If PT is not working, and injections aren't working, and your neurosurgeon has evaluated a good MRI and said surgery is it, then I'd go with surgery. The nerves that are being impacted by the disc herniation aren't going to magically heal themselves, the herniated material isn't going to magically go away no matter what you do or don't do.

                                    Surgery was an out-patient procedure: in at 7am, prep, surgery (I had a laminectomy/discotomy where they operate by cutting a tiny hole in your disc to access the herniated material and remove it, all through a small metal tube) and home by 10am. No pain, incision was less than 1 inch, my back was better almost instantly. Granted, I needed to have more PT to help with all the "pissed off" muscles and to keep my back strong.

                                    Don't be afraid--be proactive! You should not have to live in pain. When you have exhausted all other options, surgery CAN (not always!) fix what is wrong.
                                    Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


                                    • Original Poster

                                      I had on surgeon that told me surgery was my only option as well. The second opinion doctor told me that back fusion is only about 50% effective and often leaves the patient in more pain than when they started and after surgery there in nothing that can be done to fix it. He also said it was insanity to do surgery before trying both physical therapy and cortisone injections. Surgery should be a LAST option.


                                      • #20
                                        Erew--I agree. Bulging discs are very different from back fusion, the surgical solution is quite different. I spent nearly a year doing PT, massage, injections, the works, before a second MRI revealed more herniation, not less. For me, I took the chance and could not be happier with the outcome.

                                        I know of two riders, both of whom ride on the A circuit very actively, who have had fusion surgery and continue to ride at the same level post-surgery. There is hope.
                                        Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!