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Jude's avatar

For anyone who has suffered (or, is suffering) from backpain or is knowledgable in that area, I have a question (details inside)

Asked by Jude (31966 points ) October 22nd, 2009

My sister was in an awful car accident three years ago. She’s a RN (used to work in the OR), but, has been unable to work due to the accident. According to the specialists, she has suffered a bit of brain damage (she has difficulty with concentration), she can’t grip with her left hand and she has been dealing with excruciating back pain. She’s had three years of doctor’s appointments, physio, and psychological therapy and finally today, she got the results back from her MRI. The results showed severely herniated discs in L3, L4 and L5. The neurologist has put in a referral for surgery ( my sister: “which I’m NOT having”).

I’m trying to understand this. How exactly would that type of damage affect her (pain wise)? Is surgery risky? Could she become worse. if she had surgery? According to her, surgery is a definite “no-go”.

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17 Answers

SpatzieLover's avatar

Surgery could make her worse. I don’t have personal experience, but have witnessed this through family/friends.

She could have severe mobility damage. She could become better (though I haven’t known a single person that still didn’t need to take pain mgmt classes to learn to live with excruciating pain).

Personally, I’d say if she says it’s not an option for her, she knows what she’s willing to go through at this point. Has she been through pain management already?

MissAnthrope's avatar

From what I understand, back surgery is a serious undertaking and the pros and cons should be weighed. The fact that she has several herniated discs could lead to a life of real, constant pain. So yes, back surgery can make it worse or not help, but the other side of the coin is that she may come to rely on pain medications in order to be able to function daily. That’s kind of a scary road to go down, in my book, but ultimately, that’s her decision.

jackm's avatar

Well, she should definitely be discussing this with her doctor. He’s a professional and knows the pros and cons already. Why does the doctor want it? Why does she not want in?

El_Cadejo's avatar

im sorry to hear about your sister. I got in an accident a little over a year ago. I have bulging (luckily not herniated) disks at L1 L2 L3 L4 and L5, a pinched nerve at L4 and a bulging disc at C3.

As far as effecting pain wise, the discs being out of place pushes on the muscles around it. It really is a horrible thing to have to deal with, all your muscles are always tense and knotted up. A lot of muscle spasms at night too.

I dont know if this would be possible in your sisters situation as she has herniated disks, but for my case i got facet joint injections in my neck which relieved the pain for a good couple of months. Unfortunately it came back so the next step is radiofrequency neurotomy. From what i read this is a pretty successful treatment and can usually last for about a year before the nerve repairs itself. Like i said, i dont know if these routes are possible with her since she is herniated, but its worth looking into as its a lot less invasive than full on surgery.

Jude's avatar

@uberbatman Thanks so much for the info. I’ll be sure to pass that onto her.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Both my mother and brother have had back surgery. My brother was for either a bulging or herniated disc (don’t know which). My mother had a spinal fusion which is a very serious back surgery. Both of them experienced relief from the surgery for some time period and neither had serious complications from it. My mother has other health issues as well and the surgery did not interfere with them. I don’t know the science behind it but can only offer this personal account of how it went well for people I know. I can’t imagine living in that type of pain and not doing anything.

casheroo's avatar

My father has herniated (or bulging..I think it’s the same thing) disc at L4 and L5. He just started a treatment of cortisone shots in his spine. He has been doing a lot better with the pain.
Constant sitting seems to be the trigger for him, and for my friends husband (who has the same thing) my father has to drive a lot for work, so of course that means a lot of sitting.
I would look into a physiatrist for your sister. I found one for my father and it’s worked out great so far. No one has mentioned surgery.

ubersiren's avatar

The only experience I have with this type of back pain is with a friend of mine. He had horrible pain in his back and shooting down his leg. It was discovered 3 years later when he finally got insurance that he had herniated disks which were pinching nerves. He got the surgery and said he felt instantly better. Immediately following the surgery I did some massage work on him and he said it helped him with stiffness and also to have a bowel movement. He was hours away from going in for a colostomy bag because he couldn’t go, but then I did some abdominal work. He has not had problems since. But I’m sure there are precautions to be taken and options to be weighed.

Good luck to your sister and your family. I hope recovery finds her.

syz's avatar

When my partner herniated her disc, the specialist that we went to emphasized strongly that surgery should only be considered if “she came crawling into the office in pain in spite of any drugs that she was using” (his words) before considering surgery.

wilma's avatar

I have had two spinal surgeries.
After a car accident I had damage and herniation at C4/5 and C5/6. I was losing the use of my left arm and in a lot of pain. I had a diskectomy, and it helped a lot. I still have some stiffness and arthritis, but have the use of my arm and shoulder.
Five years later I had a herniated disk rupture at L5/S1.
The (mostly sciatic pain) was unbearable. After a few weeks it got worse and I had emergency surgery. The relief was immediate. The surgery saved my life. I would have died a very painful death had I not had it.
@ubersiren told about his friend not being able to have a BM.
This is VERY important. If You are having this kind of back (spinal) problem, and you find that you do not have control over your bowel or bladder. Call your DR. or go to the emergency room immediately. If you can’t stop going to the bathroom, or you can’t go at all, you must get help right away or there is a possibility that the damage to your nerves may be irreversible and like @ubersiren said of his friend, you could be on your way to a colostomy.
If your sister was my sister I would talk to her about getting another opinion and listen to the Drs.
I feel I had good results with both surgeries and would do it again if needed.

Darwin's avatar

Surgery on the back and spine is fairly risky, but it is useful when you get to the point of no longer being able to function. Sometimes back surgery solves the problem, sometimes it doesn’t help at all, and sometimes it can make things worse.

I had one friend who developed a severe spinal stenosis that was causing incredible pain and then weakness in his legs. He had the surgery because of the high degree of pain, and because that was the only way to stop the progression of muscle weakness.

His surgery was successful in that he no longer has severe pain in his legs, doesn’t have to use a wheelchair, and doesn’t have to worry about the problem becoming worse. OTOH, the surgery did do some permanent damage to the nerves so that while the pain is gone he now has to use crutches to walk slowly and awkwardly.

Then another friend of mine had back surgery that did relieve his pain but that resulted in “foot drop.”

If your sister gets to the point where she cannot tolerate the pain any longer, then surgery will be a good idea, especially if she can go to a surgeon who does a lot of similar surgeries and has a good percentage of successful cases.

Jude's avatar

What a risk. My heart aches for her because I know that she is in a lot of pain and she’s having to deal with a 6 year old. My sister is only 48. She’s on pretty heavy pain killers (oxycontin) and that in of itself is scary.

Thank-you to everyone who commented.

whatthefluther's avatar

@jmah…I had herniated disc at C5/6 probably caused by an auto accident several years prior but it popped while reaching for a bottle of shampoo in the shower. Instant pain through shoulder and arm and fingers went numb. MRIs over my entire back (three sessions) showed other bulges, but C5/6 was a mess. I had a fusion done with bone graft from my hip….my hip hurt a whole lot more than my neck, but after recovery, I have had no pain or numbness and a very minor loss of range in turning my head. Recovery took a couple of months, if I recall, going through three different types of braces/collars, and therapy etc. It was hell, but worth it in my opinion. There was a gentleman at work that had the exact same surgery but he opted for cadaver bone for the fusion to spare his hip. The fusion didn’t take and he had to have the surgery done again with a graft from his hip, which was successful. Sorry to hear about your sister….back pain is hell and the narcotics given are no fun and lead to other problems. See ya…..Gary/wtf

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

My dad had a herniated disc some years back, to the point where he couldn’t sit long enough to drive more than 2km without a break. He had chronic pain since he was about 17. Surgery worked wonders for him, and he has only had occasional aches since.
I am also a student in medical imaging, so I know a fair amount in this area, although you should still trust the professionals who have assessed her in person. Disc herniations are extremely painful, as the herniated disc compresses the spinal cord, which leads to pains in throughout the body as a result of the compression of spinal nerves.
Cortizone (and similar) injections or spinal blocks may help temporarily, but your sister’s case sounds particularly bad. A fusion is not the only surgical option though, a disc replacement may be suitable, which would help with the pain and not restrict movement to the same degree as a fusion. Again, talk to the specialists to see if this is appropriate for her. Given a good surgeon, success rates for spinal surgery are quite high, although the risks are also substantial.
I hope it all turns out well for her, I well know how bad back pain can be.

mass_pike4's avatar

any neurogical pain is very painful. Think of the sharpe pains you get from time-to-time in your sides and that is what you sister experiences everyday when she is simply trying to move a certain direction. Her corpus corrlosum could have been damaged if she cannot grip with her left hand and has those type of pains.

Like others have mentioned, surgery involving the spine, neck, brain are very risky moves. The decision could be the best you ever made or the worst, there is no in between. I do not think any chiropractor, massages, etc. will ever cure it in the long term. She could just get medication, but then there is the risk of addiction to the drug. She is in a tough situation. If the pain is too much tho, I could seriously consider surgery, but make sure you trust your doctor and find out everything about the team, etc.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mass_pike4 It is unlikely that the corpus callosum is damaged, as it is a deep structure. Traumatic injury of the corpus callosum would usually (I expect) be associated with moderate to severe brain damage reather than the mild possible damage mentioned here. The most likely problem causing her inability to grip with her left hand is compression of the brachial plexus. Injury of the right brain posterior to the central sulcus is also more likely, as traumatic injury will damage superficial regions to a greater extent than deep structures.

john65pennington's avatar

I have had four lower back surgeries and each one has been successful. remember this, if you have one lower back surgery, you will have another. my first surgery, the surgeon did not fuse my spine and left an open area for more disc problems. my first back surgery was in the 80s, when the old procedure was perfomed. they cut all my lowe back muscles to reach my spine. this was a difficult surgery to recover from. today, endoscopy makes back surgery a breeze. just be sure to walk the first day, after the surgery. you will recouperate much faster. was it worth the risk to have these surgeries? yes. my back pain is gone.

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