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Bulging Disc: Surgery or not?

About 2 years ago, I started feeling classical symptoms of sciatica - pain radiating down my right leg, all the way to the knee, mostly on the side of the leg. This happened right after I made about 10 consecutive jumps. A year later after that episode, I had MRI done. It showed that I had 2 bulging/herniated discs and 1 herniated disc. The bulging/herniated discs are at L1-L2 and L2-L3 position. The mildly herniated disc was at L5-S1 position. My leg pain is always there, however, its severity is on and off. It's never extreme, such as inability to get out of bed or not go to work. However, at times it's distressing resulting in inability to exercise at gym or do various physical activities fully.

I am 25 years old and sports has always been a somewhat large part of my life. I have a gym membership for 10 years, I play basketball, tennis, soccer and other sports recreationally. This pain has inhibited some of those activities and I had to cut out many of the exercises that I used to do in the gym (squats, back rows, military press and etc.)

Recently I had 2 epidural injections done, about 3 weeks apart. The first one helped for about 10 days and the 2nd one I had done less than a week ago and the pain has already come back almost fully.

I have seen 2 surgeons and both recommended surgeries after first trying more conservative treatment. I have been prescribed by one surgeon to undergo a PT course for 6 weeks. While I didn't start it yet, it's unlikely to help in my view.
The first surgeon recommended a laminectomy and the 2nd one microdiscectomy.

Is it worth going through one of these surgeries given my age and somewhat nagging pain, should PT fail (as I predict it will)? If so, how successful are these surgeries in terms of pain relief? Will I ever be able to go back to gym again at at least 80% of how I used to? In other words, do the benefits outweigh the costs of recovery, pain and some risk?
Is PT any help in situations like these where the pain is chronic and according to MRI and X-Ray, I have some bone spurs and somewhat degenerated discs?
Thank You for your time and attention,
- Igor
113 Responses
Avatar universal
My mother had the same problem bulging/herniated disks a few years ago.   She is in her 50's and very active.   WOrks out with a trainer 5 times a week.   Her doctor reccommended PT too and her pain persisted because she ended up shattering her disk.   SHe had the surgery and is back in the gym, skies, plays golf, you name it.   If you have to choose between the 2 surgeries the microdiscectomy is a smaller incision and quicker recovery but make sure you have  an neurosurgeon who is well versed in this surgery.   Good luck.
Avatar universal
That's interesting because I hear mixed results from different people and even doctors. My primary physician recommended me a good surgeon, who did a surgery for one of her patients and she said the patient has not complained of pain and is the 70's and doing much better. Yet she would rather me avoid the surgery given my age.
Other people say that surgery is extensive and is very long to recover from and has some risks.

What surgery did your mom have and how quickly was she able to recover? Walking? Workout? And etc.?

I will probably start PT next week, but honestly, I don't hope for nor expect any improvement.
Avatar universal

My sister had a blown lumbar disc that disabled her, the surgery really helped. She's not into sports but does vigorous work. I think you may find alot of variation in results, maybe each person is different. I know one who had a fusion and has never been right since. Something I thought of reading this is an injection therapy called prolotherapy or something like that, think it is hyaluronic acid, not sure I recall the details exactly. I remember a holistic MD who did that and saw an article by the previous surgeon general Everett Koop advocating it. Just a thought as you sound like you are not eager for surgery yet. I have read things that imply not much difference for herniated discs whether you have surgery or not, maybe you could get some objective stats on that. It sounds like your quality of life is not affected alot as you are very active so it may be worth waiting or trying alternatives for awhile longer. Maybe acupuncture would help with the pain?
Avatar universal
I had disc surgery on C-6 and C-7. All the radiating pain is GONE!!! It was the worse pain ever. The worse part of the surgery was the morphine. I had the surgery and was discharged the next day by noon and was at my friends for dinner that night. Of course PT followed and is very important. I recommend the surgery.
Avatar universal
My quality of life is somewhat affected, just not to a very high degree. Some days it's worse than others. But you are right, Billsdaughter, I am not lying in bed nor struggling through each day. I have been recommended to do PT for 6 weeks by the surgeon and I will probably start this week and see how it goes. But given that I have at least 2 moderately bulging and herniated discs, I doubt it would help very much. I do think that at the end, I will likely go with the surgery. I guess my biggest question is how long does the recovery take, for me to be active, and will the surgery renew me to the degree that I would be able to go to gym and play sports normally again, without severely restricting myself?
But thanks for input guys!
Avatar universal
Hi, how are you doing? are you trying the PT and is it helping? I'll bet a sports med doctor could answer those questions for you. I hear there is a good spine clinic in the San Francisco area who has worked on well known football players.
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