One Year After Back Surgery

One year ago today, I went under the knife and had a microdiscectomy and semi-laminectomy.   In short, a neurological surgeon cut away a protrusion of a spinal disc and carved away some bone to make more room for the spinal nerve.  Prior to the surgery, I could not stand up straight, and was at times confined to a wheelchair.  My left leg had gone completely numb from above the knee down.

The surgery was a success by every measure.  The only remnant I have of the spinal injury is that my left foot is still numb from the nerve damage.  That may heal, or it may not.

The 20-minute surgery cost as much as a small car, and I had to pay 20% of those costs.  I finished paying it off in December.

So, if you’re debilitated by back pain, and people tell you that surgery is the last option, that it’s risky, and that you should think twice before having it, I’m here to tell you that, at least in my case, it was a great success and worth the risks and the money.

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  • And whatever you do, ALWAYS have a neurosurgeon do the surgery. An Orthopedic may say they can do it, but the neuro has the touch. I learned it the hard way. I had a laminectomy i 08 on my neck and an orthopod messed it up. A Neurosurgeon has the touch, and the experience.

    • Carl, I was told the same thing by several people. My original consult years ago was with an Ortho, but I’m really glad I went with a Neuro for the surgery. He obviously did a great job. And he told me that mine was the largest herniation that he’d ever removed.

  • Jeanie McGowan

    I had a laminectomy in 1983 (were you even born yet?!) on L5, supposedly the least successful spot to have! It was amazingly successful! Prior to then the pain was excruciating–so much so that I couldn’t even keep pain pills down. A wonderful Christian neurosurgeon from Jamaica did the surgery. I shall forever be grateful. I know not everyone has the success that you and I had (I also have some numbness in my foot, but only in spots), but I always encourage others to go ahead and give it a try!

  • Ben

    when ever I hear a story like this I am glad I live in a country with free healthcare and cheep (by world standards) private health insurance for those who want the extras like private rooms and choice of hospital.

    Over last the 10 years we have had many trips to hospital for lots of procedures and never had to “pay off” a hospital bill and even if I never use the healthcare system again I’ll happily pay the 2.%% Medicare Levy each year, a small price to pay for a more just society.

    • rach

      Where do you live???? free healthcare?? I will start packing today!!! lol

  • Rachel

    I JUST had this surgery done a week ago. I had the exact same pain (except on the right side) for 2 months. I’ve been bent over hobbling around with a cane and at times in a wheelchair. I also was referred to an ortho doc first (who said this was one of the top five largest herniations he had ever seen) but ended up going with a neuro guy for the surgery. He didn’t have to remove any bone and I was out of the hospital the next day. My back feels better now and the nerve in my leg is “waking up”. I can get around fairly well on the cane now but I seem to be having a problem straightening up. Did you experience this? Is there anything I can do to help regain my posture? I suppose my body got used to the Quasimodo position I had adapted over the past two months. 🙁


    • Rachel, I recommend a good physical therapy regimen. I had to leave one PT clinic and go to a better one. But I could stand up straight when I walked out of the hospital, so I’ve not used a cane since.

  • Michael

    Wow Rachel! I had the same exact surgery and my symptoms are that similar to yours on February 25th! It is 3:15am and I am up searching for things that make since after having this surgery.

    It is my left side that has the constricting/tightness feeling around my ankle while I stand and severe numbness/tingling in my foot. Okay, I’ll go along with the nerve waking up, but will I ever be able to stand on my feet without there being pain?

    I’m not using a cane, but I’m not walking a great deal because of not being able to put weight on my left leg. Are you sitting comfortably yet?

  • Rachel

    Hey Michael!
    Today was actually my first day back at work. The numbness is getting better. I’m still walking with the cane though. I don’t NEED it but it helps me to push my torso up a bit. I’m still bent over but it’s not as bad as before. I’ve had one follow up visit with the doctor since the surgery and he says I’m healing well. The reason I can’t stand up straight yet is because of the amount of time I was inactive and leaning over to my left side (about 2.5 months). My muscles are weak now and so I’m doing some back strengthening exercises the doctor recommended. I can sit comfortably… It’s actually my most comfortable position. Lying down is frustrating at times because it’s difficult to roll over and/or adjust but it seems everyday I can do a bit more. Sometimes I feel like my back/muscles get “stuck” when I go from lying down to sitting up. I also get winded walking just about anywhere. My stamina is way down. I wish I would have had the surgery sooner. I feel like being in so much pain for so long is making it more difficult to recover. I also have a problem putting my right heel down on the ground when I walk. Not because of the tingling (which is slowly decreasing) but because my calf muscle is so tight.

    I’m hoping that the exercises will help me stregthen my back so I can stand up straight and my stamina will slowly come back as I’m able to do more. How is your recovery going? If you’d like to email me you can at

    • Taaj Middleton

      Oh my goodness! I had a microdiscectomy and lam at l4 l5, walking right after surgery was hard due to numbness and nerve pain but I’ve regained feeling and the spring pains have stopped. Now I can’t walk because I can’t stand up straight. My back feels like it gets stuck and I’m gonna fall over. I’ve had to have my husband lift me out of bed. I’m back at work and school and trying to get in with my life but it’s really bad. I’m blessed that I can walk on my own, have feeling and minimal pain but I was able to walk better right after surgery and now I’m concerned that the surgery didn’t work. I’d toy could please tell me more about your recovery, I’m really depressed.
      Thank you.

  • joe

    Hello everyone and thank you for posting your stories. I have a question for you all.
    I had a microdiscectomy and semi-laminectomy on April 20th on levels l3l4l5 and after I woke up I felt numbness on the top of my right foot and on the side of my calf. Before the surgery I had no such symptoms and now I have a drop foot. I’m so scared because I’m on a walker and it has been over a week.
    Any advice. will I regain the feeling. The doctor said there were no nerve damaged and we asked him twice he said it was because of the swelling. Is this true. He also said there was a dura tear that he repaired but it makes me wonder how does he know it was only a dura tear and not the actual nerve. Please help

  • Jeanie McGowan

    I experienced the foot drop for several months after surgery, but it came back just fine. There was some residual numbness down side of my leg and under foot pad. However, that has really been a minor thing. Occasionally I get the sensation that something is wadded up inside my show and it’s so real that I always take off my shoe and look, but there’s nothing there! Guess it’s a little like the phantom pain that amputees feel, although it certainly isn’t painful and a small price to pay for the relief from pain that the surgery brought. I pray that you will see progress soon and not get discouraged.

  • joe


    Thank you for your reply. Will I be able to drive and walk eventhough my foot is numb? Or do I have to wait all those months? Were you on a cane or were you able to walk without any aid.

  • Jeanie McGowan

    Well, back in those days (1983)we had a full week of recovery in the hospital and then I was commanded to stay home for a month, so I didn’t even try. But, yes I could walk and if I walked slowly you didn’t notice the foot drag so much. Didn’t try using a cane. But nearly every day I would try to stand on my tiptoes and couldn’t for weeks. My neurosurgeon who did surgery told me that what hadn’t come back in about 6 months probably wouldn’t. Don’t know if this helps or not. But don’t give up hope. Keep doing any exercise they recommend. I had PT for a couple of months after the month of staying home, as I recall.

  • joe

    Great! Thank you for sharing your history with us.. I’m keeping positive.

  • Fran

    Hello Everyone,
    I wish I could say I had the same luck. 5 years ago I had level3-4,5-6. and S-1 lamenectomy and fusion done by a well respected neurosurgeon. I woke up with w dropped foot and no use of my left leg. After therapy for many months I am happy to say I walk with a limp….however I experience pain in my right foot that is like a jolt of electric that comes and goes. I do not have it everyday. Sometimes I do not have it for weeks. But when I do, it will take you right out of a dead sleep and have you jumping with each pain. It is tourture. I am up now at 1 a.m. with the shock coming every 1-2 minutes. It has changed my life in oh so many ways. There are times I feel I cannot do this any longer. It is like relentless and goes on for hours. They said it is because my nerves were compressed for too long. Anyone else have similar problems and if yes would you like to share how you deal with them. I have been doing it for years and tonight I am at the end of my rope!!!

  • Karen

    Just had back surgery on August 23rd at L4, L5, and S1. Besides for using the metal they also used some cadaver bone. I hurt worse now then I did before the surgery. My left leg is numb from the knee down basically and even my left foot doesn’t have as much color as my right. I am a nurse so I understand what has been done and why this is happening but am wondering how long it took some of you to get feeling back in extremities after surgery?

  • Thorn11acr

    Your comments are so encouraging. In 1967 I hit an anti tank mine in Vietnam, it compression fractured almost my whole spine. Being young I just toughed it out with 6 weeks light duty…

    The pain was there for 42 years and finally around September 2011 it got bad and I began holding myself up on things. The VA injected steriods into my worst disc L-4 L-5 and the pain stopped…I didn’t even feel the disc explode until the steriods wore off 3 weeks later. Then I got the pain, so bad that my wife hid my pistols.

    I finally got into a neuro specialist and after he took a look at the MRI he ordered, he scheduled surgery for the next day. He told me nothing fancy he was going to cut me open like a Catfish…I didn’t care what he did as long as he made the pain stop.

    I’m 5 weeks post op…no back pain but I have drop foot right foot and not much feeling below the right knee. The surgery left my right side below the waist that I cannot walk “yet”. I had shooting electric like pains down both legs for a couple of weeks. Being an herbalist I pulled everything in the book and finally the nerve pain is almost gone. It still “shoots” on my left side but I have both hips replaced and I think its nerves to that area just acting up.

    As much as I hate it, physical therapy has helped with the pain a whole lot. I would highly recommend it.

    According to my MRI my entire lumbar spine is herniated with a couple of disc’s bulging. Oh, well there is no pain and I am NEVER letting anyone shoot steroids into my back again. Its just not worth it. If it hurts that bad…get it fixed as it will only get worse. My doctor cleared up the whole lumbar area and made room for my Sciatic nerve that had been pinched going down both legs. 6” scar nothing fancy, opened me up like a catfish and cleaned up the mess.

    5 weeks and I can take a step or two but its going to be a long road back to normal, I’m 64 and beat my body up really bad as a soldier and later as a Cowboy…I’m just grateful to be out of that horrible pain.

  • rach

    well… since i enjoyed reading all the “war”stories of former back surgery patients I too thought I should post mine in hopes of some words of encouragement or advice…. so here my story… 8 months pregnant i start having sharp shooting pain in my back, now keep in mind I have had back back most my teenage years, I blamed it on cheerleading and would see a chiro but nothing severe.. at 20 years old and never been pregnant before I wasn’t sure if those sharp shooting pains were labor pains or not, so i went to the ER.. they ran tests, nope not labor but were concerned with the pains so they had a ortha take a look at old MRIs from a year ago that were taken for something else and he found the herniated discs. As you guessed it there wasn’t much to be done at 8 months prego… so after I had my girl they started me on cortisone shots and therapy, nope nothing worked so I had a in and out surgery of shaving the discs, very simple very easy i was walking the next day, heres where it gets hard…. after 6 years of trying to live a normal life as a young mother and a country girl… I did more damage to my back, from lifting my toddler to lifting bales of hay… and this past November I had to have three discs fused from them rupturing… I had woke up that morning mentally preparing my self for the pain i knew i was going to feel the min i got out of bed because it had been bothering me fora few months by that time, only to be frightened to experience pure agony when i stood up, so much I had to collapse back into bed in tears, I screamed for my then 5 year year old to get me my phone so I could call my mother to come get my lil one to take her to school and then me to the er… as soon as I walked in they had me in a MRI and within 20 mins were telling me I was being admitted That i had ruptured three discs, terrified I knew something had to be done.. I held onto my moms hand in fear, (she herself had already been though everything I was about to) after 4 1/2 hours of surgery I woke up and couldn’t feel my right foot, (I felt every toe and foot before surgery) So I of course freaked out…. The doc assured me that it could take 6-12 months to get feeling back but then again it may never come back…. Im 26 years yeas old and going through this…. I was crushed, I spent a week in the Hospital worrying that I would never be able to drive again or walk in the park with my little girl… it is now may and even though the pain in my back isn’t as bad as it was, i have gained some and i mean very little feeling in my foot, I can walk I can drive, and you wouldn’t know that i cant feel my toes or foot by watching me but at night the pain of the nerve spasms are horrible sometimes, some nights not as bad as others, but there are nights that i literally have to shake my foot so that it doesn’t spasm and i can fall asleep hopefully…. my doc office doesn’t really think prescribing me with medications is going to help the spasms, in my opinion if they gave me anything to help me sleep i would be grateful…. but be it as it is they don’t believe in drugs to cure the pain which in a sense is good but without sleep for so long you feel drugged in the head anyways! I’m sure most of you know this feeling!.. so any suggestions???

    • Kim

      The drug prescribed to me for nerve pain is called larica, I’m from Canada and not sure if it will be the same brand name in the USA! Hope this helps!

  • Kim

    Wow! It’s comforting to hear all your stories! Mine started as a young nurse, I took an awful fall while at work. About three years later and a couple of good falls I ended up being brought into the hospital unable to walk. I was in the hospital for two weeks, the second week and a lot of meds I was walking again with a cane. At 26 years old with a cane, had surgery a couple months later and wow, I recovered quickly, but at 31 i put out my back again, second surgery six months later and quickly recovered again from that one. Now three weeks ago at the age of 34 I had to have emergency surgery on my back. Felt sharp pains the one day, rested and next. Morning when I woke up, had no control over my legs. I realized in the ER department that I had no sensation to my feet, ankles and calves on both legs, the pain was only to the left but the feeling was on both! That night got n MRI and at midnight was in for emergency surgery, 6 days in the hospital, drop foot on both sides and only able to wa with a walker. Everyday I get little bit more sensation to my legs and feet, the pins and needles feeling. I have no balance and undergoing home physio. I am a nurse and know the recovery time is long, it’s frustrating! I also have a 3 year old at home and thanks god for family! I would love to hear from the people that wrote in 2010 and see how there back, loss of sensations have come along.

    I still getting the electric shooting pains down my legs but getting less, my family doc prescribed a med that is helping out with nerve pain.

    I also experiencing numb buttox! Has anyone else had this?

  • Carol

    Hello everyone I’m Carol I’m 35 and had Spainal surgrey on Nov last year…I stayed in the hospital for month all together I end up having five surgreys and now I feel I should have stayed the way I was. I can no longer balnce or walk without a walker and when I go outside I have to be in a wheel chair…i cant’t get up my stairs very well my whole life has changed. I can’t feel my feet they are numb I have no contral of my legs and I can no longer take care of my nine year old child and I’m very depressed…before surgrey I walked with a limp but I walked alone no walker and I could drive now I can’t walk balance or drive…I was at rehab for three month before I came home….the last surgrey was April of this year…I would like to know if anyone else had this problem after l4 l5 surgrey and if the feeling ever came back… Please get back to me thank you so much…

  • Emma

    In Febuary 2010 coming out of a resturant I lost all feeling in the lower part of my body. A MRI showed an Arachoid Cyst on my T10 to L4 compressing the spinal cord nearly closed. I had surgery in March. At the time I could not work and had no insurance at all. Four months after the surgery rehab paid for 4 weeks of physical theraphy. Til this day I have not regained the strength back in this leg and it is still numb or dead it really feels like an atrificial limb. It has been three years now. Will I ever feel this leg again?

  • Liz

    TO CAROL AND ANYONE ELSE IN SAME SITUATION.I had surgery 25th feb for L4/5 DECOMPRESION & LEFT ROOT IMPINGEMENT.A discectomy was performed. I also came bCK FROM OPERATION WITH A L/H NUMB leg from top of knee to bottom of feet.. My back seems to be getting better each day staples /stitches all 27 of them are out now.But my L/H leg IS DEAD I believe i have drop foot . I came out of hospital 2 days after operation on crutches as i could not walk properly I am due to have Physio next week.No-one tells you about what can go wrong all I was told by nurses and surgoen this is normal ande will go in 6/8 weeks I just hope this helps anyone but i do not believe this i am going back to see neorosurgeon and I am going to ask to look at my operation notes i do believe every one has the right to see these.My world has turned upside down now am having to learn to walk properly again it feels like a nerve disruption and as my middle leg is very
    cold and knumb, alos my whole bottom foot feels like it is in vice and being sqaushed I cannot feel much . I just hope it will get better but how long it takes I do not know?? I hope i dont have to have another

    • Emma

      Liz, All I was told was that if my cord had have completely closed then I would not walk again. MRI’s I have had since the surgery show nothing no scar tissue or anything. But til this day no one not even the neurosurgeon can tell me why my leg is numb and weak. I stand on this leg it drags when I walk but to touch it, hit it stick it, rub or burn it I feel nothing. I use a cane at times to get around but I don’t want to use it or depend on it when I clearly see my leg there. This nerve damage has to be something I am going to have to live with the rest of my life. But no one is able or has told me how I am going to have to do this.

  • liz

    I am so sorry to hear about this .Are you in pain if so it may help if you get some LYRICA from doctors, it does seem to help I am now taking 2 Codiane, 2X Paracetamel, EVERY 4 Hours. & 1 LYRICA 3X A DAY. It seems to help but i still get breakthrough pain, the worst i have had experienced worse than my back ache problem before the operation
    i hate taking all this medication which also makes you constipated I dont know what the answer is on this All I know is that no-one tells you what can happen after surgery.

  • Michelle

    I have to join in on the conversations I see here. My son is 23 years old and has had back pain for the last couple of years, it would come and go. Just last week he woke up and couldn’t walk!!! the pain shooting down his legs “Horrible” I called 911 he was taken to the hospital where they did x-ray gave pain shots and sent him away, NOT ABLE TO WALK! Stating bulging disc and it would heal. 4 days later called 911 again asked for transport to Bay Park, insisted on MRI. They found a congenital disorder and transported him to Toledo hospital and referred to a neuro surgeon. The surgeon told us surgery was the only option. The next day they removed two bones on each side and ligament was stuck to a disc that they had to move and repair. He still has numbness on both sides and being transferred to Flower hospital for physical therepy. The Neuro surgeon explained he should be walking and may never get the left foot back, praying he is wrong! As a mother I pray I helped him make the right decisions and he is going to be able to return to normal life. Not sure what to think at this point, but would for sure be ok to see him walk with a cane and pain free!!!!!