Sciatica to Spinal Fusion: My Journey

Sometimes the pain is so bad it feels like you’re being pulled apart. Narcotic pain-killers bring very little, if any, relief. Stretching exercises bring temporary relief, but then the pain returns like a bill you keep forgetting to pay – with interest added.

It’s called sciatica. Its cause varies, but it’s normally the result of pressure on the sciatic nerve by one or more bulging or compressed disks in the lower back. Sometimes bone spurs on the lower spine cause the problem.

The sciatic nerve controls the function of the hips and legs. Sciatica caused pain, tingling, or numbness in one or more hips and/or legs and feet. The pain can range from annoying to moderate to the worst pain you’ve ever had.

Sometimes the condition can be relieved by physical therapy or by injections of anti-inflammatory drugs in the lower back which can bring pain relief and allow the body time to heal. Sometimes the condition results in surgical spinal fusion of one or more vertebrae. In my case the later was required.

I’m writing not as a physician but as a sufferer of sciatica who is hoping to be of some help or comfort to other sufferers. If you require more precise information, talk to your doctor. In addition, there are some great resources on the Web. One in particular I found helpful is http://www.spine-health.com/video/sciatica-interactive-video.

The posts in the category “Sciatica” chronicle my journey from the first signs of sciatica to my spinal fusion surgery. To follow my journey, begin with the post titled, “September 13, 2010” (click on category “Sciatica”, scroll to bottom, and then click on the link “older entries” twice).

Should you wish to add comments, feel free to jump in at any point. I’m not a medical professional so I cannot help with diagnosis or treatment, but if you’re also a sciatica sufferer perhaps we can find mutual help, comfort, and encouragement as we interact.

June 3, 2011

I have very little sciatic nerve pain now, although I’m still taking special medication for that. I had a post-op appointment with my surgeon a few days ago. He informed that everything looks good. I asked if the residual sciatic nerve pain will eventually go away. He said that it should, but nerves heal very slowly so it could take several months.

Activity-wise, I have no restrictions. The surgeon told me to just let my body be my guide, and especially not push it. For example, I just walked ½ mile on my treadmill at 1.8 MPH and that was enough for now. Heavy lifting is out for now. But that’s OK; other than hiking and things of that nature I do most of my “work” in front of a computer screen.

May 20, 2011

Four weeks since surgery and I’m doing so much better. I don’t have to use a walker anymore, but I do use a pair of trekking poles if I’m walking around outside. I live in the country, and the ground is rather uneven. If I should fall I’d probably mess everything up, and I sure don’t want to go through this again. Ever!

I can stay up most of the day now, but I do get tired easily and have to lie down sometimes. The back pain from the surgery is pretty much under control, although I still have to use pain medication sometimes. The nerve pain is now gone about 75% of the time, and if it does hurt it’s just annoying rather than consuming. I can even roll over in bed by myself if I take it slow.

I can’t drive yet, but I’ve accompanied my wife to the grocery store and we’ve been able to get out and do a little visiting. We’re even going over to some friends for supper tomorrow evening.

It’s been a long, slow, painful recovery but I’m glad I did it. I’d do it again, too. The surgery has had other benefits as well. For example, my posture in much improved. I used to walk kind of stooped over due to back problems, but now I can walk, sit and stand straight up. I’ve even regained some of my former height. I’m only ¼” shorter than I was 40 years ago!

May 9, 2011

Monday morning. Time to call my surgeon and ‘fess up. I got in touch with the surgeon’s assistant, who took me to task: “No bending, crouching, squatting, or twisting!” He prescribed a special medication for the nerve pain

May 4, 2011

I got overconfident and did something really dumb today. I’m not supposed to bend over, but I needed something off the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so I squatted down to get it. But then I couldn’t get back up again. I had to use the refrigerator door to pull myself up, and felt a pull in my back. The sciatic nerve pain returned, and I was afraid I’d messed up the surgery.

I thought I’d give it a day or so to see how it might go. I didn’t want to call he surgeon and tell him how stupid I was unless I had to!

What with the return of the sciatic nerve pain I didn’t get much sleep this night or the next. The third morning was a Saturday, and I was pretty bad off. I couldn’t get in touch with my surgeon on the weekend, so I went to a local walk-in clinic.

The doctor on duty took some x-rays to see if I’d messed up the surgery, and thankfully everything was OK. He gave me injections of a very strong pain medication and a super-strong anti-inflammatory. This took care of the pain pretty well. He told me to call my surgeon the following Monday.

May 2, 2011

The pain is subsiding to the point where I don’t have to take so much pain medication. I can get in and out of bed quite easily now. I can even stay up for a little while before I get really tired and have to go back to bed. I sleep 12 hours per night and off an on throughout the day, and thankfully without too much pain

April 29, 2011

One week after surgery. The worst is over! The sciatic nerve pain is reduced about 80% so far. They tell me that the sciatic nerve was very angry, so it will take some time to heal. The only physical therapy I’m supposed to do is get up and walk five times per day, five minutes per session. I have to use a walker. I can’t roll over in bed unassisted, but I can get in and out of bed by myself.

April 22, 2011

Today was the day. I checked into the hospital at 6:30 A.M. The surgical team came around and met me, which I thought was awesome. Then it was off to the operating room.

I remember nothing about the surgery, but when I awoke the back pain from the surgery was worse than I could have imagined. On a scale of 1-10, it was a 12. It took about two hours to get the pain under control; even then, it wasn’t eliminated by any means. But at least it was bearable, and my surgeon assured me that the surgery was a success.

The first 48 hours were the worst. Finally the pain was eliminated as long as I was lying down, but of course they had to get me up and moving. I was finally released to go home on 4/25, four days after checking in.