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Spine and Back Health

Disc Fragments in the spinal canal

08/02/2010

Question:

Hello:

I had 6 disc fragments in my spinal canal (caused by a cortisone shot). The fragments cause extreme pain (off the charts), numbness, weakness and loss of reflexes. I went for the suggested operation by the neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon informed me that the L3 nerve was so rigid and swollen that he almost had to stop surgery. What he did was cut scar tissue next to the nerve which allowed him to move the nerve and remove all the fragments. He said it was like removing a broken coke bottle from my back. The surgery was a month ago on June 24th. My question is how long before the leg returns to normal (reflexes come back, numbness is gone, strength is back and the leg stops buckling (I use a cane to walk)? I can`t really feel a difference except some tightness in the front thigh and a little pain in the knee. I`ve been doing swimming therapy but as I said with exception of no pain, nothing has really changed since before surgery.

Thank you!

Answer:

Hello, thank you for your question. This is really a question that you should be asking of your neurosurgeon. If your surgery was a month ago, you should be seeing him/her soon, yes? S/he can answer that question better than anyone else. The answer depends partly on how long the nerve was under pressure and other factors that aren’t discussed in your post. As a general rule, numbness and tingling take much longer than pain to resolve after disc surgery – I often tell patients to expect 3-6 months, with a final recovery by 1 year. Weakness takes even longer, often not improving for 6 months or more, with a final recovery by around 12-18 months. Be sure to discuss this with your surgeon, and find out what his/her expectations are. Good luck.

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Response by:

David J Hart, MD David J Hart, MD
Associate Professor of Neurosurgery
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University