Do you have back pain, buttock pain or leg pain and scans identify that you’ve got a bulging disc? Is surgery the answer?
“Trials indicate that only a small proportion of patients do well from surgery”1
Constant and pervasive low back pain, buttock pain or leg pain is debilitating. It takes over your life and limits how you live it. It’s understandable that you want to escape from the pain and you’ll do anything to get your life back!
What I don’t understand is why so many Doctors recommend surgery as the first port of call! It seems that if you present with low back pain, buttock pain or leg pain, you get an MRI which shows a bulging disc, the first sometimes only option provided is surgery.
Surgery doesn’t come without risk, the most annoying being that the bulging disc may not be the source of the pain, or the only source. Problem is, once you’ve had the surgery there is no going back, it can’t be undone. And, if there’s a complication then it’s been all risk without reward.
So, should this really be the first option?
The presence of a disc bulge on an MRI is not a definite cause of the back, buttock or leg pain and definitely not categorical to determine that surgery is required. I’ve seen many cases where people have bought in MRI’s with an incidental finding of a disc bulge or bulges but have no low back, buttock or leg pain. But I’ve also seen a large number of patients that have intense low back, buttock or leg pain and have no MRI disc bulge findings.
There are several different areas where nerves can be irritated that have little to do with the disc and there are numerous structures in the low back area that if dysfunctional and inflamed can create similar pain in the low back, buttock and leg areas.
I find it a little crazy that some practitioners don’t recommend conservative treatment as a first port of call before irreversible surgery. I see patients all the time with low back, buttock and leg pain get resolution of their pain with simple low risk approaches.
Here’s my top tips to help you determine if your disc may be the cause of your pain:
- Numbness or pins and needles – If you experience any tingling sensations or a lack of sensation anywhere in your lower leg then if could be a sign of nerve impingement coming from a disc bulge.
- Lift your leg up straight whilst sitting – Often when nerves are impinged with disc bulges there are some movements that are hard to do and as a result used as a form of testing. Sit up straight and try lift your leg whiles its straight. If your shooting leg pain is worsened by doing that then there is another indicator of disc bulge.
- Buttock pain – Often if discs are bulging but not hitting a nerve root, they can still give you some hints that they are there. Sometimes you may feel a pinpoint pain in one buttock muscle.
If you are thinking about surgery to resolve your back, buttock or leg pain and you’re unsure of whether it is the right approach for you, give us a call on 9318 7758 and let’s quickly assess you to see whether conservative care might be an option for you.