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Back Problems Message Board

Back Problems Board Index

Recently had an MRI and my doctor just let me know that I have a 5-millimeter tear on my L5-S1 disk. I had the MRI because of numbness and burning down the front of my left thigh and leg. I've also developed pain in my lower back. Does anyone have general advice on whether this is common or serious? The doctor has prescribed physical therapy so far. I've also tried altering my sleeping position -- trying to sleep on my back vs. my stomach, but I have to say that seems to make my back feel worse although I understand it's the meant to be the healthier way to sleep...Appreciate any thoughts/advice.

Welcome to the board. Did you mean to write that your symptoms include burning down the FRONT of your thigh? (like the quad rather than behind, like the hamstring)?? This would be rather unusual for the disc you mention.

Unfortunately, disc hernations are not that unusual, and while painful, are not usually dangerous. However, if you develop bladder or bowel problems, you will want to call your doc immediately to let him know, or go to the ER if you cannot get a hold of him. This rarely happens, but is a sign of cauda equina syndrome and the results can be permanent.

There is quite a bit of good information, including photos and videos available on the web if you want to really read up on your situation.

You should try all conservative treatment first, such as rest, NSAIDS, ice, physical therapy. If after about 6 weeks things are no better, you will want to find a spinal specialist for consultation, if you are not already seeing one. Do not let a family doc or any old orthopedic doc treat you further.

The good news is that many people are able to treat this condition conservatively and have it resolve on its own. The herniation can heal by itself or can be reabsorbed by the body. My husband herniated a disc on Christmas Eve over 15 years ago. It was very, very painful for awhile (several months). When he returned to work, I went along to carry his briefcase for him! He went to several spinal specialists and each told him that he was not a candidate for surgery...not yet anyway. They told him that studies have shown that at the end of 5 years, the condition of those that had surgery for a disc hernation and those that treated it conservatively and non-surgically were statistically identical. Some were still in pain; others were leading normal, painfree lives and you couldn't tell who'd had surgery and who had not.

Are you sleeping with a pillow under your knees? If not, you are putting stress on your lower back. The preferred position is to sleep on your side with your legs slightly bent and a pillow between your knees-- the pillow should be just big enough (about as thick as your hips are wide) that it brings your knees and hip into alignment (top leg!).

Try not to engage in any sports that will require quick turns, or where you back is in extension. Leaning gently forward is OK, but be careful twisting, turning and lifting. Try to avoid lifting anything heavier than about 10 pounds. Be careful getting in and out of the car, coughing and sneezing. Learn good back "hygiene," meaning use good posture at all times, learn to pick things up correctly, etc.

Oh, my husband never needed surgery. He is careful and he does his back exercises faithfully -- never misses a day. He keeps in shape and runs between 3-4 miles every day, much to my chagrin! (He is now 59.)

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