L4 L5 Decompression Discectomy Success Story

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Hi, I am writing this post in response to the hundreds of horror stories that I have read on these many forums. I am a 36 year old mate who had a L4 L5 decompression discectomy 4 weeks to the day.

A bit about me then, as I said I am a 36 year old male, 6 foot 2 and althletic build. I have served in the British Army in both Commando and Airborne sqaurdrons. I am now a Police Officer and have been for ten years now and work on the firearms teams. The reason I had a herniated disc was that I always pushed my body to the limits and just took pain killers when my lower back hurt. I can recall back to 2005 when I was blown up in Iraq to my back problems. I would just push through the pain still squatting and doing dead lifts even though my hamstrings where tight through my running i just wouldn't give in.

That is until last summer 2015, I picked up a sofa at work whilst wearing all my kit (body armour, pistol and magazines strapped to my legs). I should of asked for some help but being a stubborn man who could do anything physical of course I wasn't going to ask for help. As soon as I lifted it I felt a sharp pain in my hamstring in my left leg but I thought nothing of it as I have always suffered with some form of back or leg pain. After approximately 1 week the pain was even worse but I could still walk and complete my day to day tasks. I paid for physio and sport massages which seemed to help and I was back in the gym thinking everything was ok, just carrying on. I had sciatic pain constantly for approximately 4 months at degreeing levels until November 2016. Carried on as normal until a hard day at work and a chest infection, I have always been very guarded on how I cough and sneeze because of my herniated disc, it would hurt like hell if I wasn't careful. Went to bed and fell into a deep sleep, that was until a coughing fit in the middle of the night. As soon as I had finished I knew my back had gone but I thought it would get better, I laid in bed for 4 days on just my right hand side because that was the only position that didn't hurt. I couldn't stand up without having to dive back on the bed in such agony. I had to go to the toilet in a bottle because I just couldn't stand up.

After 4 days of this I had to phone for an ambulance because it was just getting worse and the GP would not come to me because I was not an emergency, yeah I know not been able to stand for 4 days is not an emergency. To get into the ambulance I had to slide off the bed on my right hand side and the same down the stairs and onto the bed at the bottom of the stairs. Got to hospital where I was given Co-codomol, tramadol and diazepam but still had the pain so I was given a bed.

Had a MRI scan after 7 days in hospital where it was found that I had herniated my L4 L5 disc so much that most of the disc was hanging out. I was told by the surgeon that surgery was the only way which I knew myself anyway because of the pain. I welcomed the surgery because physio, pain killers and sport massages would never of fixed my herniation. As you look through these forums you will read that some people think that dancing around a tree and rubbing cream on your back will solve the problem, a bulge can go back with the above help but an herniated disc even if the pain is under control will not go away once it has poured out, it doesn't miraculously go back. You can look through all the websites and there is very little evidence that a herniated disc will go back to normal but a bulge yes.

When I woke up from the operation I had no sciatic pain at all, the only pain I had was from the surgery. The surgeon was unsure if I needed a fusion but said that once I was open he would decide which I was happy with just to not be in pain anymore.

Once I was wheeled back to the ward I just wanted to get going and tried straight away to wee, but this took me around 3 hours to empty my bladder. The next evening I was able to stand up without any pain ( Don't forget that I haven't been able to stand for around 14 days by then). I got walking straight away using crutches which was hard at first because I had lost a lot of mobility from my left leg but I was determined to get going. I had the operation on the Wednesday afternoon and I walked out of the hospital using crutches on the Friday afternoon. I was still a bit sore but no sciatic pain. On the Sunday I was out all day walking around using the crutches which I paid for in the evening, I had done to much so it was pain killers and straight to bed. In the morning I was fine and just took it easy which I have been for 4 weeks now, I had to use both crutches for around 2.5 weeks than one for the rest of the week. I now walk with no crutches and walk fine with no pain. Because I was opened up to have fusion my lower back muscles where prized from my spinal so my recovery took a little longer than the Micro-discectomy.

Want I really want to say is be positive, I needed surgery there was no question of that. The hardest thing for me now is taking it easy because I just want to get back to the gym but I know Rome wasn't built in a day. I have changed my whole attitude to my herniated disc, my days of dead lifting and doing squats are OVER that is for sure. Once that disc comes out there isn't anything put in it place so be careful and listern to your body but be positive. I was told to not do anything for 6 weeks that includes driving, after 3 weeks I felt good to drive so everyone is different (still haven't driven though because of doctors orders). I have seen the physio who gave me some stretchs to do at home which help a lot so don't pay lip service to them do them even if you are out and about find some time, they don't take long. Mine are for tight hamstrings.

I am off the pain medication which I stopped completely which was a mistake because I couldn't sleep, after 3 days I was fine.

Keep moving it does help, stay positive. I do have a long way to go but so far so good and everyday I get a little bit better, I never want to feel sciatic pain again so I am doing want I am told.

I will update in another 2 weeks after I have seen my surgeon. But if you have had a positive experience please can you post it because there is a lot of doom and gloom out there.

7 likes, 46 replies

46 Replies

  • Posted

    Hi,I am into my 3rd year of being diagnosed with severe degenitive facet joint disease.

    I'll have had physiotherapy, two hydrocortisone injections.Prescribed pain killers.

    I am in constant pain I can sleep due to pain.When being mobile I lose the feeling in my right leg myGP told me I cannot have a operation even though being in constant pain and has advised me to see a psychotherapist to talk about my pain.

    I have bought heat packs,creams and a back brace nothing works.

    My job is effected by all of this as well.

    As anyone got any suggestions what I do now.

    • Posted


      My gp prescribed me pain patches on Friday, don't know if you have tried them? My fuller reply is in reply to jim I think if you want to read it? I'm new to all this so bear with.

      From another Alison 😁

  • Edited

    Great story Jim. And good job coming on here with a success story smile

    Just a bit of advice. I had a big chunk of my L5S1 disc out in Jun 16. I previously had sciatica and weakness in the leg. I was a keen cyclist and was used to flogging my body to the max in pursuit of better times up climbs etc.

    A couple of weeks after the op I was mostly pain free but being careful. Still plenty of weakness in the leg. At six weeks I could walk an hour and cycle a bit. Feeling great, I then went for a 90 minute hike up a mountain and did some cycling when I got home. The next day I developed severe nerve back pain that is still around 6 months later, though gradually dying down. Chances are this was due to one or all of a small herniation, additional inflammation of the nerve and build up of additional scar tissue.

    My lesson was to take recovery much more carefully. Increase activity slowly. If you try something new then start with a short bit of activity and build up once you know you can do it safely, rather than diving straight in with as much as you feel like.

    It is great that you are doing well but just be aware that some things can still go awry if you overdo it. Pain is not gain in this situation and some things that happen when we overdo it cannot necessarily be reversed.

    Sorry, I don't want to make you think that you won't recover well. Thats not it at all. I am sure you have every chance of doing great. Just some friendly advice from one person who tries to ignore pain to another. Recovery is different to training, so try to be patient and respect your boundaries and you will have the best possible recovery. Its worth just allowing more time for it than you might at first estimate. HTH.

    • Edited

      Morning Michael

      Thanks for your reply, you are right about the recovery mate. I have been taking it easy as I don't think I could stand anymore sciatic pain. I have only been nerve pain free for 4 weeks after having it for just over a year until as I said above I couldn't stand up.

      Did the surgeon give you anymore advice when you went back to see him or another MRI scan?

      Was the pain you had after the cycling the same as before the op?

      I had 10 to 15 percent of the vertebrae cut away (Decompression), did you have any cut away?

      Sorry for the questions but I do not know anyone who has had a discectomy

      If anyone is reading this post before surgery and is unsure if to go ahead or not I would say if you can stand the pain and get about then don't have it. If it is affecting you life like mine was then go for it.

    • Posted

      Hi Jim

      Pre Op, yes, I had a ruptured disc. I had sciatica for about 3 months and then fell off my bike in the wet. That ruptured the disc. I then cycled back up the mountainted I had just come down which took 2 hours so the gel in the disc was badly pumped out of the disc. That all got scooped out in the op. it was the gel that caused the paralysis because it causes very severe inflammation when it comes into contact with the nerve.

      Post op, after the hike, the pain was significantly different. I did have leg pain but this mostly subsided after e few days. The back pain did not. That has taken months to relent. It has been a tough road tbh.

      i have has 2 MRIs post op but it's a LONG story trying to work out what went wrong. My whole journal is here


      Some of that is fairly manic. In my defence, I was put on steroids and Tramadol, and I went quite loopy when I was in withdrawal after taking them.

      I was thinking about the judgment about having the op or not. It's funny, I am generally positive about it as my surgery as a success until I got my recovery wrong. Crucially, I had no choice as I had progressing paralysis. Had my herniation been diagnosed before I ruptured the disc, yes, I totally agree I would have loved to have the chance to fix my heniation with more conservative treatment, but that shipped sailed when I fell off my bike.

      I think the point of your post totally stands though. If push comes to shove, people should not freak out if they are told they need a microdiscectomy. They generally work well.

    • Posted

      Sorry Michael

      I should of proof read the last comment before I posted it, very new to this sort of thing. I said I had some of the vertebrae cut away. I meant to say Facet joint, I had 10-15 percent of the facet joint sacrificed to get to my disc.

    • Posted

      Hi Jim

      I am not familiar with that procedure tbh.

      I just had a bit of the lamina chiselled out to make the disc more accessible but that is quite typical AFAIK. I didn't have a full laminectomy.

    • Posted

      Wow Michael

      I just read through your post and you have been through it mate. Your injury sound the same as mine and as my wife read the post she said. This sounds like you!!! I know. Thank you so much for all your information as this has stopped me in my tracks which is what I needed.


    • Posted

      Hi Jim

      Glad to hear it was useful. Like I say, I was a bit overwrought at times so reading back I sound insane, but I kinda was.

      Anyway, I do hope you the best possible recovery. If I was to advise myself back in July I would have boiled it down to "a bit at a time. Think months not weeks. Just appreciate the second chance that surgery has given you and how you feel does not correspond to how strong your back is!"

    • Posted

      Cheers Michael

      I have spent hours searching the internet for something positive and you have just done that for me. I was just itiching to get back with the lads at work and down the gym but I knew in the back of my mind to take it easy but I am not very good at taking my own advice.

      Are you back riding your bike yet?


    • Posted

      Hi Jim

      Yes, a bit. I can ride about 30 mins on the flat at the moment. But I am used to weekend rides of 3-4 hours with ~2000m of climbing. Anything like that is a loooong way off yet!

      The ride that did for me with the fall had me doing a continuous climb up 1280m immediately after my fall, which took nearly 2 hours. I actually hurt my pelvis as well and that hurt more on the day. It was only the next day when the crushing pain in my leg really set in... anyway, no need for war stories.

  • Posted

    Wow Jim and Michael too.... these are the stories I have been searching for, real, honest stories not all the doom and gloom that terrified me (although still scared tbh) on that American spine site. Michael I am just about to read your full story so give me a bit and I'll reply to that. In the meantime, thank you for sharing and for your honesty which certainly will help me and am sure countless others. Jim, I think what I've to get is the same as you, the neurosurgeon in Glasgow said he would be cutting some of the bone out then removing as much of the disc as he can reach. To be honest, I was in shock looking back at the appointment and now have loads of questions that I didn't think to ask, I think what done it was him going over the MRI in such detail and outlining the extent of the damage, wish I'd thought to take a pic of the MRI on my phone but between pain, side effects of meds n shock that I really need surgery it was the last thing on my mind. He did say there will be opportunities to answer my questions when I go in. I saw my own gp on Friday who has added pain patches to my cocktail of meds, I tried the first one yesterday and it did give me a wee bit of relief. Can't keep it on longer than 12 hours and must have a 12 hour gap between next one, he said not good long term but if it helps between now and surgery then that's good. I agree re option of surgery or not. This is significantly impacting on all areas of my life - I've been off work since end august, using a crutch, unbelievable amount of meds, can't sleep, pain really getting me down and can't drive any longer than 5 mins), I've had physio, acupuncture etc with no real effect, was referred to hydro but they don't want to touch me for fear of agravating things further before surgery. Coupled with the fact that neurosurgeon advised that there was a less than 5% chance of any further recovery without surgery. I haven't found a discussion like this and can't believe how much it's helping, although everyone am sure feels the same way, thank you.

    Speak soon


    • Posted

      Hi Alison

      Glad this discussion has helped.

      Are your patches fentonyl? I am guessing but that med is usually administered that way. If so, be careful coming off it. It's a very powerful opiate so you will get withdrawal, If you go cold turkey you will feel terrible even if your back feels better. Ask your doctor about tapering off this and any other meds. Coming off Tramadol came as a massive shock to me, and I was not actually forewarned so I had no idea why I felt so bad.

      Anyway, it sounds like surgery could be right for you, in which case, as I said before remember that most people do well and don't end up on forums with trouble! It only takes a tiny percentage of the thousands of people having microd to keep forums busy with horror stories. I am only here because I did not really follow doctors instructions very well!

  • Edited

    Afternoon Everyone

    Glad this is helping because I was at my wits end reading people's bad experiences.

    I have just come back from the local skate park with the kids and I spoke with two Dads. One had sciatic problems but was not effecting his life and the other had a open discectomy 8 years ago and feels totally fine and has had no problems. ( I Just seem to tell everyone now because I want to see if anyone else has had this surgery and I am quite shocked on how common it is) This just reaffirmed what I thought. If someone has had a good experience and has not thought about their surgery they just put it to the back of their mind and forget about it and never search through the thousands of forums.

    I started searching because the decision like Michael's was quite clear cut. Surgery or have further trouble. It wasn't until I come home and actually looked through the internet that I came across my worse nightmare. Not back to the gym not back to working on the firearms cars. But then I thought I don't have the problems that all these people are saying they are having, so I thought I would try and put some ease back into your decision.

    I am only 4 weeks out from surgery but so far so good, absolutely no sciatic pain in my left leg just surgery soreness but I have to keep telling myself. Jim you have had your lower back muscles pulled away from your spinal of course it will be tender. Again I would say this is not painful and I do not need to take pain killers it is just a reminder to myself.


    • Posted


      I was say the same as Michael, I just went cold turkey off of my morphine that I took home (Longtec 25mg and shortec 5mg) because I did not need them and I found that I couldn't sleep. This lasted only 3 days for me and I am fine now.


    • Posted

      Good comments Jim. That's what I found too. Lots of people have had surgery and just don't talk about it.

      Re the healing, it's not just the muscle remember. The disc itself has to seal over the hole in the annulus with scar tissue and that needs to harden up over time. Plus there is lots of soft connective tissue that they cut through to remove the chuck of disc. Just take a peak on YouTube to see how much collateral damage they have to do in this op. It's not serious but it needs time to get right again. All this in an area with a very low blood supply so healing is slooow. Not like a cut on you thumb :p

    • Posted

      hi jim i dont know where you live mate but OMG ive got L4 & L5 disc degeneration i am told and this is cause=ing S1 Root nerve damage.

      and i have actually got muscle wating in my right leg calf muscle and buttock. i hav been in hull royal for about 11 days  just before x mas  and wastested for MS etc etc. as my twitching then and electrical pains were intense they arenot as bad now butdont w=seem to be b=etting better  infact last few days they seem to be sorwoning. ive just bought an inversiuon table but not sure if i should use it.  I realy dont know whereto go with my problem now   neurologist sent me home with tablets to minimize inflamation and tabltets to calm my nerves and thats it.

      im in agont cant do anythin else the pains / feeling worsen.  i believe i need surgery to relieve the root nerve. my consultand is a neurologist  but not a neuro surgeon  so im stumped now what to do. i feel like im just sat hear watchin my muscles waist.   i am so pleasd for you as your surgery soundslike it has worked.

      i believe as a human racewe have a massive p[roblem ref to b12 issues and the nylene sheath deteriorating on nerves hence  these nerve problems.  i didnt notice my muscle atrophy until about 15 weeks ago i had no back pain  but about 3 weeks after i noticed the atrophy the muscle spasms etc started. weve looked through pics and i had calf muscle wasting 2 yrs bag   i knew my right leg felt a bit weaker but didnt notice that i could not  lify up on my toes any more..

    • Posted

      Hi Terry

      That sounds tough, very sorry.

      Have you had an MRI showing disc herniation? 

      If you can I would ask your GP to refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon or neurosurgeon for a consult. A neurologist will understand the effects of the nerve damage and might be useful if you had diabetic nerve damage or something, but is not equipped to deal with a spinal issue like this.




    • Posted

      Afternoon Terry

      Sorry to hear that mate, I was in Basildon Hospital in Essex.

      When I had my disc bulge last year I thought that I had just strained my left hamstring because I had no back pain which is quite rare for me as I have always suffered with my lower back. My left leg felt about 2 inches shorter as I could not straight it as I walked until I got going. When it went completely I only had slight muscle stiffness in my lower back but couldn't stand up due to the leg pain.

      I think I was only given an MRI because I couldn't walk and I knew myself what I had done because I had nursed my disc for around a year before.

      I would definitely push for a MRI scan on your lumber region. It might not be any help but you can pay for one yourself which in London cost between £200-£250 on the weekend (Cheaper on the weekend). The longer the nerves are being trapped/damaged the longer it will take to heal so do please try.

      My left leg still feels quite weak and occasionally I have tripped up where I haven't lifted it up from the floor, me just being lazy I think. Still struggle to lift up my left toes without lifting up my foot.

      Over all though I am still doing great and have no sciatic pain which is fantastic so please do push for the MRI Terry.

    • Posted

      hi Jim  yes ive had MRI Lumba puncture and EMG electrical testing.  as when i was at my worst i had muscle twinges for a while then when the electrical pains stasrted omg a stuck it out for a few days as my NHS appointment wasnt until dec 28th so in the end i got that bad i went to see a private consultant he arranged for mri on dec 15yh i believe but around dec 9th i went into a amd e in hull and they admitted me 11 days later got sent home and told L4 & L5 disc degeneragtion and S1 nerve root damage mostly on RHS. i have muscle wastage in right calf muscle theres 2" difference BETWEEN lEFT AND RIGHT Calf and muscle wasting in right bum cheek.  ive still got muscle twiches and electrical pains and getting them more and more on left side now so im concerned that something is getting worse not better im supposed to ween myself of the steroids to reduce inflamation and slowly increase some tablets ive ben given to calm my nerves.  but everything is getting worse not better.

      reading these posts on here i believe an opp is the only cure / help...  I'm a telecoms engineer a few months back i was abseiling down a lighthouse  and didnt even know i had a back problem.  until the pains started and i notice the muscle size difference.  i dont know what else to do. i dont want to p*ss the herologist off  that dealing with me i believe what hes saying but i think hes missing something.  i dont know what to do now........   theres so many of us though with the same bloody L5 Disc / S1 nerve problem.....regards Terry..

    • Posted

      Hi Michael

      Yes I've had MRI which shows disc degeneration they said L4 and L5. And the bulge enters the they were it's annoying S1 nerve

      But they said they grew something in my lumba fluid but they're classing it as a contaminant. Called neisseria elongata which when you Google it is a bone desease so why are they sure I don't have this. They are ignoring it saying they contaminated the test. I'm getting worse so why they don't just give my antibiotics for it I don't know just invade it is actually in me also they tested my for lymmes desease as I'm sure I remove a tick head from my right foot and that's were all the aggressive numb weird feelings started from then the nerve pains but I'm told results for that are in conclusive anyway.

    • Posted

      Afternoon Terry

      It seems that you have been through a lot with your pain mate. If it is effecting your life and you are in constant pain I would definitely recommend the surgery.


    • Posted

      Hi Terry

      pretty uninspiring that they got your LP test wrong... that must be frustrating...

      TBH there is more going on here than I can really comment on to be honest but in general, a degenerative disc will be a symptom of poor nutrition from the neighbouring vertebrae and it can't be fixed. Sometimes a bulge or minor herniation can be resolved with steroids and physio but it seems your case is more advanced, or at least more complicated than that. 

      I would certainly consider discussing surgery with a neuro or orthopaedic surgeon. If you haven't already then ask your GP for a referral and don't take no for an answer.

    • Edited

      Hi Jim. I have just read your reply to this from two years ago. I am also suffering a prolapsed disc and it's causing me a great deal of sciatica pain down my left leg. I have been offered surgery but again all I hear is negatives from the internet. I decided to Google positive stories and here I am. Can I ask how do you feel now after 2 years past? I am so nervous to go ahead with surgery but I can't live with this pain anymore . Thanks Lucy

    • Posted

      Hey Lucy! I was asking Jim as well but seems like he’s done on this page. Anyways. You can read above what I wrote before to Jim. But now 4 months I think later after it got a little better after infusions at the hospital I still decided to go and get the laser surgery here in the Europe where I’m originaly from. While I was at the hospital I saw multiple people getting the old school surgery where they cut your back wide open and all those people I’m still in touch with are saying that it’s good. The nerve pain is gone but still recovering from the cut but that will go away. I got the laser on one of my 2 herniations. I was walking right after the surgery and feeling pretty good for someone who just had that done. But I went out like the 4 th day after the surgery and now I’m kinda paying for that. Hopefully it’ll go away. 😅 Yea..so I’m saying there’s a success in the surgery, better than wait a damn lifetime if it gets one magical morning better. But you definitely have to do the core work outs at least once a day for life or you end up like the people who didn’t benefit front the surgeries. 

    • Posted

      Hi rad19

      Thanks for your reply. Laser that's interesting can you get that on the NHS ( that's if you're from the UK) I live in the UK and I'm thinking maybe I should get a 2nd opinion with a different surgeron to see what's best for me. Yesterday I was in so much pain I've decided to just go for it! I really hope the waiting list isn't too long.

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