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Thinking of Having Back Surgery? - Here is My Experience

Updated on May 5, 2011

I wanted to write this article to share my experience of a back operation and how it helped me. I know that not everyone gets offered an operation and even then you should think good and hard about whether to have it or not. It is not for everyone and probably not for all types of back pain but for me I wouldn’t have been able to go on without an operation.

In 2004 I injured myself lifting a 25kg back of shingle and this resulted in having a back operation a few months later. For those few months I had such bad back pain that at times I would have been happy to die then and there.

Initially the pain started as pain in my legs and buttocks which I subsequently found out was sciatica. I struggled at work to be able to sit on my chair (I had an office job that involved sitting in front of a computer all day) and I had to take the bizarre step of kneeling in front of my desk. At this point one of my colleagues asked whether I should really still be in work when the pain was that bad so I retreated to my home!

Discovering Sciatica

Over the next couple of weeks the pain just got worse and worse whatever I did. I searched all the online forums for information and that was when I discovered it was sciatica which results from the sciatic nerve being trapped and causing pain and numbness down the legs and buttocks. In fact one side of my body was badly affected by numbness and I couldn’t feel one half of my foot.

Although sciatic pain doesn’t sounds as bad as back pain, believe me when I say that it was. It was a kind of pain that there was nothing you can do about because it wasn’t actually a physical pain of the muscles that you can massage or something it was pain that was caused by nerves and so I can only describe it as the pain not actually being in the areas that you could feel it in but being caused by nerve reactions and how those are interpreted by the brain.

Getting The Back Surgery

So it took around a month for it to reach its worst point where I couldn’t stand up, lie down or sit on a chair for anything more than about 5 seconds without being in agony. The only (relatively) comfortable position (I’d say 6/10 on the pain scale) was to slump my whole body over a bean bag. This made doing anything almost impossible as you can imagine and I got little sleep, was unable to make food for myself and as for coughing or going to the bathroom, well that does not bear thinking about.

Anyway, this went on for a couple of months. I saw my GP who prescribed anti-inflammatory tablets which did absolutely nothing (I still take those tablets every so often now when my back pain recurs and they now really help) and eventually got referred to the hospital for physiotherapy. I was given back stretches to do which were supposed to help but once again these did nothing.

After about 2 ½ months I managed to speak to the consultant’s secretary who said that he was fully booked for 3 months. At this point I just burst into tears and begged her to get me in to see him sooner. The next day I got a phone call from her saying that there had been a cancellation for a few days time. When  I got to see the consultant he said it was one of the worst disc ruptures he had seen and he would schedule me for microdiscectomy surgery (at position L5 S1 for those int he know!)on my back the next day, phew!

He said that the surgery should fix my back and bring me back to how I had been before the operation in only a couple of days. He was right and although it took a while to get totally back to normal which involved having some physio treatment and going back to work part time, in a few months I was almost completely back to normal.

After the Back Operation

The end of the story is not so perfect but that is a combination of other circumstances too. Although I would not recommend this surgery for everyone because at the end of the day you are removing part of the disc out of your back and this is always going to affect your back and possibly give you pain in future, it was a godsend for me and I felt a new person only a few days after the surgery.

So now, a few years after the surgery I do still get back problems and they vary in their extent. Some of the reason for that is that I have one leg an inch shorter than the other and somewhat twisted due to a skiing accident and back work by French doctors, which affects my posture and another is the amount of exercise I do. I went through a phase a few years ago where I was getting bad back pain again and I couldn't even bend down to do my shoelaces up, empty the washing machine etc so I knew something had to change. The problem, I realise now, was that I had stopped exercising. For various reasons I had stopped playing badminton, squash, going to the gym etc and that was really taking its toll.

I managed to get back on a much more even keel by doing pilates and exercising generally more so learn a lesson from me and know that the more your back hurts the more you actually need to exercise! I do live a relatively pain free life now and I am eternally grateful for that as i will never forget the paint that I was in for those few months.

If you can't get back surgery or don't want it, maybe some of these can help


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    • Azure11 profile image

      Marian L 6 years ago from UK

      Oh Faithful, sciatica for a lot of your life is a nightmare - you are right, I don't think anyone can understand the pain until they have been through it and the problem is that you don't know when the pain will end. At least when I broke my femur and the pain was unbearable I knew they could give me some drugs to stop the pain and then fix it, but with a back you have the mental torture of knowing it could be with you a long while.

      I hope you find ways to ease your sciatica now.

    • Faithful Daughter profile image

      Evi Lopez 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Oh my goodness, I can relate to what you went through, maybe not to the extent you did, but very close. No one understands the pain one can experience if they haven't gone throught it themselves. I have a herniated disk from an injury, and have had sciatica problems my entire life, starting when I was teenager. Thankfully, I did not need surgery, but at one time it kept me off work for a whole month. There is no position one can take to ease the pain. A close friend of mine just had surgery similarly to yours and she is now walking with a smile.

      I'm glad to hear that you are doing much better. Thanks for sharing.

    • Azure11 profile image

      Marian L 7 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your comment Genna and so sorry that your friend's operation was not a success. I really hope the next one is, as I know how badly this kind of pain can affect your life and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thanks for this very helpful hub. One of my best friends had back surgery that was a dismal failure; she is still in such pain and is now rescheduled for additional surgery. Unless people actually experience this, it is difficult to imagine how it can’t hurt and change one’s life, dramatically.