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herniated disc, dropped foot, spondylolisthesis!

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Boy, that's a lot of stuff going on in that title! The (somewhat) short version is that last summer, I had six weeks of nasty leg/back pain due to a newly-diagnosed herniated disc at L-4/5 and "slipped disc" which I have probably had for many years but didn't really have problems with. Three out of five neurosurgeons whom I saw told me that I should have a spinal fusion, since I was likely to keep having problems in this area due to the "slipped disc" and a simple discectomy would not do the trick for me. My sports doctor and another two surgeons said to hold off on surgery for the time being.


I got much better (only treatment was three back injections, which may or may not have helped, since disc problems themselves usually resolve on their own) and ended up with only a couple of numb toes leftover and a little back pain periodically over the fall/winter/spring. I swam 1-1/2 miles a week and actually went skiing a few times, and my back always felt great for a few days after any of those activities.


Then out of the blue this mid-May, I started having funny feelings in my left leg and within three days, I had foot drop, due to the L-4/5 nerves. Not total foot drop (thank you, God), but close enough that I had to get an orthotic brace (AFO) to allow me to walk without tripping. Since I work in the medical field and have great insurance, I of course saw about five more doctors/specialists this year, with just about as many different opinions about what to do. So far, just back injections and no surgery, though I was told this week again that I WILL someday have to have a fusion when it is "convenient" for me, but no rush as the "damage" has been done, but I guess it is expected that I will probably have more problems down the road. Though another neurosurgeon told me both last year and this year that he never wants me to have surgery, ever.


Besides my foot drop, the pain (which has waxed and waned over the past two months) varies from day to day, but never enough that I have to take more than a couple of mild pain pills per week. Lots of numbness and tingling stuff going on, though.


Of course, the scuttlebutt in the medical field is that sometimes by fusing one area of the back, you end up with problems in the next area of the back, as it gets the strain of the fused area which can no longer flex. So the thought is that "active" people such as me (even in their fifties) should hold off on surgery as long as they can, to hold off the other degenerative changes as long as possible. Though some surgeons wanted to operate on me as soon as last year!


No surgery now can guarantee that my foot drop will resolve -  there is no way of knowing, according to all of the docs. Had I had the surgery last year, I might not have gotten the foot drop, but again, surgery sometimes causes foot drop. So no sense doing all of the "what-ifs" which can accompany any medical decision-making. I thank God every day that I don't have the terrible medical problems of others which I see every day at work.


So, now after two months of foot drop and a month of PT, I am very excited that I am walking around the house without my AFO!! It feels SOOO great! I walk a little slowly (but not too slowly), and slightly wobbly at times due to some lateral leg weakness, but at a glance you might not even know that there is anything wrong with me. I am still wearing my AFO for work in the hospital and wherever I have to do more walking. When I do spinning, I do it without the brace and I'm fine - need to get outside on the bike and do it too! I am very optimistic and I will continue my recovery while planning for the best.


So last night I got out my ski boots (nothing wrong with doing that mid-July, is there?) and tried to put them on. A month ago, I could not get the toes to flex up enough to aim toward the toe of the boot. The orthotist who fitted me for my AFO used to work with the Three-Trackers and told me that he could put something slippery in my boot footbed which would help the toes to slide forward, and I might still take him up on that. BUT. . . .I was so excited that I was able to force my foot into the boot! I had to really push it in, using my hand to push the heel down in, and when my toes touched down at the bottom of the footbed, I carefully concentrated on making the toes bend toward the toe box - and they did!!! After I took my foot out of the boot I started to do it one more time just to see if I could replicate it, but my arthritic toe complained so I stopped (that toe is next for fusion!).


Several of my surgeons (both neuro-spine surgery and ortho-spine surgery) told me to go ahead and ski, whether I do or don't have surgery.


Does anyone out there know of any boots which are easier to get into than another? I absolutely love my Tecnicas which are nice and wide for my wide feet, but they are three or four years old, so if I need to get another that's okay. I'm thinking that I am ready for geriatric ski boots which I can put on with the long-handled shoe horn, along with the one-level condo and handicapped accessible bathrooms and med-alert button (which I can use when I have fallen while skiing and can't get up).


Has anyone had spinal fusion at L-4/5 and returned to skiing, and have you had additional back problems? Has anyone continued to ski with spondylolisthesis? Or a herniated disc?


Has anyone had foot drop due to back (not peroneal nerve/knee) problems and gotten better? I am asking on this forum where active people get on with life, and not on the other internet forums where you read all of the sad stories of people stuck in front of their computers. So only tell me good stories, please!!


Long enough entry - gotta go outside and play! Thanks for any info!

post #2 of 12

Hi Kitty, sorry to hear your tale. Here's a good news story to cheer you up. When I got foot drop at about age 45 it was from herniated L4/5 disc too. Plenty of pain initially but that faded quickly, leaving significant weakness (I couldn't stand on my heel and had wasting of my lower leg) and that flop flop sound as you walk around the supermarket! I talked to all the experts and read the internet. Had an MRI which clearly showed the goo that had come out of the disk, and went to see a neurosurgeon. He said "I'll operate if you want me to but it probably wont help". We were looking at just removing the bad stuff (discectomy?), not fusion. From my reading the indications for disc surgery seemed to be pain, worsening symptoms, or bowel/bladder problems (which is an emergency). I had none of those, so decided to wait it out. I have enough friends in the medical world to know that surgery is generally a last resort.


It took a few months for the foot drop to recover to a point that walking was kinda normal. Probably another year or 2 before putting on a ski boot was easy, I found that was one of the most difficult things. But I always skied alright, for several years my big toe would go numb if I pounded my back too much. The parasthesia in my shin and big toe lastest ages, I can't remember exactly but maybe a year or more. One of the best things I did was lots of one on one Pilates with a physiotherapist skilled in nuerological stuff. Using a reformer and other equipment, and building up core strength and stability.


And now, several (8 or 9?) years later the foot (well, tibialis anterior actually) is 98% recovered in strength and my leg looks normal again, parasthesia is all gone except for some movements bring it on. Kayaking on a sit-on-top was the latest thing that bought it on, but it faded as soon as I stopped. My back still gets sore easily, I have been through about 4 different beds to find a comfortable one, but I'm glad I never had surgery. And lucky me, my partner is a physio so I get a little extra TLC from time to time.


I can't say what the right answer for you is, but given that you've seen some improvement there is no way I'd be having surgery at this stage. It's amazing what the body can recover from if you give it a chance. Disc fusion is pretty serious stuff, I would expect some consequential issues from that. Be cautious, those surgeons tend to be optimistic.


All the best, let me know if you have any specific questions.


post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your reply, Graeme, and the wonderful news!

Those are exactly my symptoms with my foot right now, though again, I feel that I am doing quite a bit better than I was even a month ago. LOVE walking around the house without my brace and am tempted to do it soon for work!

I am just finishing up physical therapy in the next few weeks and she has done wonderful work with me on strengthening my core, though not specifically in Pilates (though some movements are Pilates-based). Almost everyone who is "in the know" says how great Pilates is, so I will need to search out something in that area. There are group classes at the YMCAs, but to get into the real-deal with Reformers and everything, I think you have to go somewhere and pay privately because it is generally not an insurance-based therapy.

I did go canoeing last week for a few hours and was fine, though my strapping 26-year-old nephew was in the rear providing most of the power, so I did slack off here and there. Even though my back felt a little "worked out", there weren't any changes in my symtoms that I could notice. It was nice to do a "normal" activity!

I am encouraged by your story, and will hope for the same positive outcome!
Thanks so much!
post #4 of 12

I know you were hoping for a person with nerve injury because of their back, but I spiral fractured my tibia 7 months ago and I'm still dealing with the complications because of my peroneal nerve. Besides devoting every minute of my free time to cycling (a great sport I found because of this injury), some of the resorts here have already begun to make snow and are open. I still have a foot drop and I'm really hoping once I get out on the slopes it's not a problem. It's taken months and months just to see a quarter of an inch progress so I don't have the back problems but I'm right there with ya!

post #5 of 12

 Hi, I have issues at L4/L5 and associated sciatic pain and nerve damage, I've had my coccyx amputated too.

 I can still ski but have massive issues getting my boots on too. I am seriously considering rear entry boots. My toes naturally point up, I don't have much feeling (walked around for hours before I realised I'd dislocated my big toe) in them so can't always tell if they are pointed, and the act of forcing my foot in the boots can in itself trigger the disc pain.

 I'm thinking with rear entry boots the pushing forward of toes in front of knees will be easier than the point, stuff, stomp that I'm currently having to do.

 What do you think? Could rear entry boots help both of us?

post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hi Angelea and Lilywhite! And nod to Graeme!


Just a quick note as I am smack-dab in the middle of massive holiday prep - will write more another time.


Angelea, I am sorry to hear about your fracture! I am extremely pleased to report that even though I feared the absolute worst with my foot drop, my foot is SOOOO much better six months after it happened! I had been afraid that I would have to live with it forever and was investigating hinged AFOs and trying to figure out how to continue with hiking and other sports needing good ankle flex. But everything must be growing back really well, because this past month I had a bunionectomy on my opposite foot (that had been a huge problem when I was trying to find AFO-friendly shoes), so the "formerly-dropped" foot had to be the sole support for the first two weeks while I was non-weightbearing - and it held up like a trooper! I am amazed at how much I can lift my forefoot when standing - it actually looks like the "good" foot - actually, maybe even better, since my good foot is still healing from the bunionectomy. And my balance on that leg is so much better - I am very happy with it and will keep at strengthening. I think that spinning had really helped with allowing me to strengthen while keeping me safe despite my impaired balance. So hopefully your biking is doing the same.


Unforftunately, due to increased pain in my ankle on the bunion foot, I had that checked out, and found out that I have a medial talar dome osteochondral lesion - so probably looking at surgery for that before long. I keep telling myself that it is okay because ski boots cover up ankles!


Lilywhite, I am also sorry to hear about your problems - wow, that sounds as if you have had tons of issues! But so glad that you can still ski - good for you for hanging in there!!! I too am very interested in "easy to get into" ski boots. Between my toes/ankles/whatever - that would be so wonderful to get that "hardship" out of the way so we can start out on the strokes without being in pain from the boot donning! Surely there must be something good for us.


Perhaps we should post in the "bootfitters" forums and they could help us. . .


Graeme - thank you again for your encouragement a few months ago - it was priceless!! (Sorry that you are not in the States with us, or we would share some holiday tradition and turkey. . . .!!)


Gotta go do stuff! Happiest holiday to all!!



post #7 of 12

Herniated Disc Pain Relief and Treatments Guide.

Herniated discs are a major cause of disability in people under 45.
I am one of those people.
For the past 3 years I suffer L5S1 disc hernia, the most common type of hernia.
But each case is slightly different and that makes it very difficult to treat.
In my case I also have hyperlordosis, scoliosis and spina bifida.
I have been trying countless treatments and supposed cures. I was often left in disappointment but fortunately found some sources of relief.
I'm not a doctor, just a student with lots of experience with a mother which is a doctor.
At this time, despite my efforts, I have reached a point where I need surgery.
But if I have had the experience and the knowledge I have now I could have avoided this complicated situation for sure.
That's why I made a PDF with my experience and everything I’ve  investigated and used to relieve my pain over the years.

I offer this guide for FREE to those who ask me by mail to this address.

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If you share this link, make a donation or just  give it a like on facebook or tweeter you’d be helping me greatly.
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There I explain who I am and where I come from, watch it if you can and share it if you like it.

post #8 of 12

Hi Kitty,


I've just stumbled upon this thread. In case you are still having problems finding ski boots try Full Tilt. I had a hip replacement 3 years ago that resulted in a damaged peroneal nerve and total foot drop. The only boots I could get my foot into were Full Tilt and then only by taking the shell out and inserting my foot into that before putting the shell-encased foot into the boot. You can do this with Full Tilt boots because of their unique style - check out their website.  




post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 
Gosh-golly, Mick! So great that you just sent this message!!! I just had my second foot surgery today - the big toe fused last week, and I went ahead today and had them fix the bunionette ("little" bunion next to my little toe). The foot drop is SOOO much better - no one but I would ever know that I even had it, I have recovered so well (very blessed and grateful for that!!).

But since I just had the big toe fused, my boot worry was the same - how could I get my foot into a boot if I couldn't get the "normal" flex of my toes to curl appropriately into the boot?

So. . . since my son just bought some Full Tilts, I know exactly what you are saying about the inner boot coming out. I will try his on for fun, and I am so encouraged that that might remain the hot set-up for me if I can't (yet?) get into my normal boots - might need to spring for some Full Tilts if I can't get in otherwise.

Thank you, thank you for stumbling upon this, and replying!

If you are three years out, do they think that there is not much chance of your peroneal nerve recovering any more? I hope that you are able to still get out and do the things you want to do. When I had the foot drop, I was helped so much in my normal gait by having that nice Toe-Off AFO, but the already bad big toe didn't like it one bit, as it kept it flexed up. So getting that toe fused made its way onto my bucket list, and now I can cross that one off and hopefully still do okay without that toe pain.

I also have a hip resurfacing (first option) or a hip replacement on my someday to-do list - hoping to hold off on that as long as I can, and when I do, I will pay attention when they discuss various methods to find the one with the least risk of nerve injury - been there, done that!

Wishing Thanksgiving blessings to you and yours!

Kitty (still pretty chipper post-anesthesia today!)
post #10 of 12

Hi again Kitty,


It was great to get your response. I hope the recovery from your latest op. is going well.


The reason I had my hip replacement 3 years ago was so I could continue the active life I was used to e.g. walking in the mountains and skiing. Although the surgeon had planned to just resurface the hip, after opening me up he found that the calcification was so bad that he had to do a complete replacement. There were also other complications and so the op. took over 4 hours. So, having expected to be able to run out of hospital straight on to the mountains & ski slopes, I had to cope with foot drop. A neurologist did conductivity tests and said that there would be no improvement. I was determined to remain active so, to cut a long story short, I bought an AFO to keep the foot straight and MBT shoes to help the foot roll when walking. This worked fantastically well. The Full Tilt boots enabled me to try skiing again. The problem I found on the slopes was a lack of balance and lack of power in the bad leg. I then started exercises to improve balance (standing on one leg with eyes closed etc) and squats to improve the leg strength. Over the next 2 years my skiing and hill walking improved and I also noticed that I was getting some movement back in my toes. This continued to the extent that I could walk barefoot without tripping over and was able to stop wearing the orthotic. Last winter my skiing was as good as it has ever been if not better.

Like you, I've now reached the stage where the foot drop is not noticeable to others. I am now also able to get my ski boot on without taking the inner out first. I've finally achieved my goal of extending my active life with no loss of performance. So what do neurologists know!!

Oh, and by the way, my new hip is perfect. Over the last 3 years it has given me no problems whatsoever. The only way I know I have an artificial hip is when I see the scar in a mirror or when it sets the alarms off in an airport security scanner (it is the metal on metal type).


Where there is a will there is a way. So good luck with your total recovery.




post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 

HI Mick!


So good to hear of your determination to keep active and your success in doing so! Stories such as yours are always so encouraging to hear! It must have been devastating to come out of surgery with such an unexpected setback, but you managed to pull through and thrive.


I am particularly happy to hear of the "perfect" new hip! Being so freshly post-op from these two foot surgeries, I am trying very hard to ignore any of the hip symptoms which I have been having for the past several years and thinking that I will delay resurfacing/replacement as long as I can.  But I do remember storing into my memory that at my last spinning class prior to foot surgery, after thirty minutes I was wondering how much longer the class was going to last as my hip was getting pretty uncomfortable - and that is SO not an attitude I am used to having nor want to have! True, I was on a huge pre-op conditioning binge in the last several weeks prior to my foot surgery, and maybe it was too much for the hip. But again, I am not wanting to be limited by hip pain then or in the future. I am penciled into the OR books for a February hip resurfacing, and we'll see how things feel by then. The doctor said that they might have to consider a replacement instead of resurfacing for me as well, in part because my size femoral head is the smallest of the sizes for which they have resurfacing parts, so I might be too tiny. So I am so encouraged to hear of replacement "perfect" hips!


Back to the foot drop - you are so right about the exercises helping to restore the nerve function. Not that anyone can or will predict that it is possible to have a full or even partial return of function, because nerves are so unpredictable. But my physical therapist had me work so hard on having me practice exercises where I made the nerves try to go through the motions of doing the "jobs" which they were supposed to do (even when it didn't even feel or seem that I was making any visible progress), and I really think that that was a big part of my recovery from the foot drop. Due to my back issues as well, I still do lots of balance work and core work. I have even worked into my repertoire that I try to wash dishes by standing on one foot (but not while washing knives, nor with eyes closed!), and that helps so much with my core strength and balance (and probably with saving from one-legged near-falls on the slopes!). The "eyes closed" exercises I save for when I am standing between doorways! I am so happy, while I am currently one-legged, that I have built up my balance and strength - it has been so helpful.


Also, my back has complained on some days due to my wearing the cast and having an "off" gait - even using crutches or the knee walker I have does throw off the torso. So those core exercises, including crunches and being aware of ab tightening/support, have been very important for keeping my spine aligned. I need to do anything I can to avoid spine surgery in the future!


I know that some people really like the MTB shoes for a number of reasons. I think that I tried them for my toe issues? Anyway, I had the misfortune (or poor coordination status) which caused me to catch the bottom of that rocker sole on a step because I failed to lift my foot high enough to clear the edge of the step when going downstairs, and I painfully hyperextended my ankle. So I got rid of those types of shoes, though again, I know people who love them.


Right now I am just wishing that I could wear ANY shoe instead of my cast. . . patience, patience. . . . !



post #12 of 12

#kittygal #gjoyce


Yoga is another great practice that will improve strenght, flexibility and build core muscles (quite a bit of Pilates and rehabilitation exercises have a base on Yoga). It is a faboulous way to complement any sport. It also helps in concentration and focusing issues.


I have been suffering from back pain since I was 16. At 18 I spent a full month in bed to avoid surgery. Finally, I had surgery on L5-S1 at 35 (no choice). Four months ago (I am 51 now) another big episode on L4-L5 with foot drop and sensitivity loss. My spine is quite weak and already deteriorated from a degenerative condition.


I have been able to sky and practice other sports such as raquettball, tenis, golf... all my life without problems. Actually, golf was the hardest since everytime I played took my a couple of days to recover; which made me forget about it after 5 years of practice. With the rest of sports I am an sporadic practicer; but I was/am able to enjoy them every time a had/have the chance.


Back to yoga. If you are interested, find a good professor, preferably a YRT500 or YRT200 with background on Iyengar practice, to guide you.


Thanks and keep up the good times practicing skiing or anything else!!!

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