T Nation

To Have or Not to Have Surgery?


Hey All. I'm looking for opinions from a variety of sources about whether or not getting surgery is the right option for me.
About me: I am a 23 year old female. I am a 'semi-retired' runner (due to my injury). I ran track in college (sprints, jumps, and hurdles). I would still like competing on a semi serious level. I also used to enjoy power / o lifting which is hard if even possible for me to do. For my career when I finish grad school I'd like to be a college strength coach or a college track coach.
What Happened: During college I herniated my L5 S1 disc... this was finally diagnosed in Feb 09, after about 3 months of being tossed around athletic trainers and doctors not knowing what was really wrong. Finally got the MRI in Jan that told me I had a herniated disc. In 2009 I got two epidurals one in Feb shortly after the discorvery, and one in Sept. when I returned to school and the pain returned. The epidurals helped a lot and allowed me to continue to lift and run as I pleased w/o pain for about 4-6 month periods. More or less from Feb 2009 on I was in and out of training and the last yr and a half of my college career was ruined.
For the past year (until recently) I was out of school and in and out of training on my own. I still wanted to try to compete here in there in random meets. But of course pain liked to interfer.
Where I am now: This past Aug I started Graduate school and decided it would be a good idea to go see what is going on in my disc. I found a great spine specialist, and surgeon who works with the athletes at the school I am attending. We had one 'referal' appt. where we basically just discussed what was going on and set up an MRI. I got an MRI and had a follow up meeting. Naturally the MRI still shows the herniated disc and possibly more servere then it previously was. The Dr. explained to my my options 1. continue to suck it up and live going in and out of pain 2. actually be religious about the rehab / core work I should be doing (this may help with my pain) 3. go through another serious of epidurals (helped my pain in the past but only for a few months at a time) 4. a decompression surgery (a piece of the disc that is pressing on the nerve and causing the pain will be cut off).

With all of that in mind, I would like some help / advice in hopefully making a decision that is right for me. Thanks!


The way I see it, I would start doing a lot of rehab and core work as you said, and if in a decent amount of time I saw no improvement, I would go for the surgery. Will you be able to workout normally if you get the surgery? A right person to ask might be StormTheBeach, as I believe he had fractured completely on or 2 vertebrae. He didnt get a surgery, but after about a year or something more, I believe he pulled something like 800 pounds. I hope the best for you :slight_smile:


I second the core training option. Google Watkins Trunk Stabilization program. He was/is a surgeon who claimed that most back surgery could be avoided with core training, long before the word "core" became mainstream. Also google outcomes for neurosurgery- my understanding is that the success rate is quite low. I would give the core training every single day for 3 months- really just give it your all, because you would probably have to do at least that much work as post operative rehab anyway. Having said that, I know a man who herniated a disk in his 20's, strengthened his core and went on to become a world class rower. Now though at 55 he is having a lot of problems with that old injury. So just a word of warning that it may show it's ugly face again sometime after menopause- but it would probably do that even if you got the decompression surgery and by then advances in technolgy will probably have a really good fix for it.