On Lumbar Disc Disease

My friends and family know that I had the experience of lumbar spinal surgery at a very young age. When I was 17, I was diagnosed with three bulging discs in my lower spine which were impinging on my spinal cord. For those of you new to this topic, that means that the gelatinous bits in the center of the intervertebral discs were pushing out the back of the disc and pressing against the nerve cord that runs up and down your spine, or one of the nerves leaving the spine and heading out for the body. This can cause pain, numbness, loss of muscular strength, or loss of organ function (such as incontinence and other fun things). In my particular case, I had leg pain due to the nerve impingement. Leg pain like 9 our of the 10 scale pain.1

At 17 I had a discectomy to relieve severe pain and they removed the bulging parts of discs L3/L4 (the intervertebral disc between lumbar vertebra numbers 3 and 4) and L4/L5. I was lucky in that this relieved all of my symptoms and I came through with as close to 100% recovery as possible.

Unluckily, I began to experience symptoms again at age 27, when the disc at L5/S1 (lumbar 5/sacrum 1) made itself known. Again, to alleviate intense pain, I had a discectomy and managed a superb recovery.

Now I’m 39 and we have this:

MRI Longitudinal Section with bulging L4/L5 Disc

For those of you who can’t see the image, it’s an MRI of my spine showing the L4/L5 disc pushing out into the nerve space. You can see the difference between the discs at L3/L4, L4/L5, and L5/S1 compared to others above them. That’s because of the earlier surgeries.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really need the MRI to confirm what I already knew because of the leg pain and other symptoms I’ve been having for the past month.

This is irritating from a lifestyle perspective as it means I can’t do some normal activities. Heavy lifting is out, so no yard work or working on the trail section. I’ve decided to cease running for now until I get a better handle on the treatment side of things, and generally being in pain most of the time can affect your enjoyment of life. Also, you may be aware that there’s a baby boy coming along, and it worries me that I may not be as physically able to handle the job of raising a child.

For now, it’s still early days. I’ll be seeing an orthopedist and other specialists to discuss treatment options that don’t involve surgery. Because of my back history, I’ve known that this day would come again, the only question was when. So now it’s here again and we’ll deal with it. The goal is to maintain a “normal” lifestyle and avoid surgery as much as possible. Reduction in the amount of pain would be nice, but as long as I avoid some of the other symptoms such as numbness, loss of strength, and loss of organ function, don’t expect any notices that I’m going the surgery route. It’s a long recovery.

  1. I say 9 because on the “Tell me your pain on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine” scale, I can always imagine more. Anyone who says 10 hasn’t though through the implications, in my opinion. []
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4 Responses to On Lumbar Disc Disease

  1. Cindy says:

    Sorry to hear this Billy, I hope you can avoid surgery. You’ll be able to take care of junior just fine I know lots of people in worse shape that have managed to take care of their kids and do things.

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