Ask the Expert: Pain after Back Surgery

Dr. Mark Borigini Health Guide
  • Dear Dr. Borigini,

    I had L5-S1 microdiskectomy surgery at the beginning of June. The pain going down my leg was excruciating for months, and after injections and meds, I chose surgery. The surgery was successful as far as I was concerned, but I still have pain in the back of my right leg. It's not radiating like it was pre-surgery, but sometimes it's almost as painful. My doctor had no explanation for me. I mentioned this to a coworker who had the same operation—he said that he had the same pain and it went away. Well, mine isn't going away and it's been 6 months. He said something about the nerves having to repair themselves. Is this the case? If so, how long does it take to go away? I think it's getting better, then it comes back full force. An MRI of my back revealed no connection. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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    As you know from conversations with your coworker, individuals respond differently to the same surgery. I have seen many patients who have no response to back surgery, and others who claim to never experience pain again after they have had surgery. It may be that some patients already have had small areas of damage to the vessels surrounding the nerves in the back even before surgery, which cause scarring and fibrosis which will always irritate the nerve tissue. And of course, during surgery there can be the normal interruption of small veins and areas of fat when a surgeon cuts the area involved. This is often unavoidable in the course of a surgery, and this could result in scarring which can lead to chronic pain. The fact that you feel you are overall better compared to before the surgery is a good sign. It may just take time before you “reach 100%.” In the meantime, talk to your doctor about things which might be done to help you cope with the pain, such as physical therapy, or medications such as gabapentin, which can help with so-called neuropathic pain.

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    Important: We hope you find this general medical and health information useful, but this Q&A is meant to support not replace the professional medical advice you receive from your doctor. For all personal medical and health matters, including decisions about diagnoses, medications and other treatment options, you should always consult your doctor. See full Disclaimer.
Published On: January 23, 2007