Okay, I'm ready to throw the towel in. I've struggled with back pain from bad discs since 1985. Years ago the surgeon told me I should have the bad ones taken out. I guess I'm ready but a thought occurred to me when I made this decision. Is it too late to do something about this problem? Have I waited too long?
Disc degeneration is a common cause of chronic low back pain. Most people recover from back pain with a little time and attention. Those who don't are often treated with medications such as pain relievers or antiinflammatories. Some seek the help of a chiropractor, physical therapist, acupuncturist, or massage therapist. If the symptoms haven't gone away after three months, the condition is becoming chronic. But the pain can become so constant and intense that surgery to remove the disc and fuse the spine at that level becomes necessary. Can you wait too long to have spinal fusion surgery? Some research has shown that waiting too long may mean a poor result -- the patient doesn't get the pain relief hoped for. But how long is too long? A recent study from Great Britain followed over 200 patients with degenerative disc disease to see how well they did based on how long they had symptoms before surgery was done. Some had back pain as long, if not longer, than you. Everyone included had at least two years of pain and had tried at least six months of conservative (nonoperative) care. But in the end, they all had discectomy (disc removal) and spinal fusion. The results were very encouraging. Everyone got better. And the improvements (pain relief and improved function) stayed. The idea that a long period of pain leads to a poor prognosis wasn't supported by the results of this study at least. Even taking into consideration factors like mental health (depression, anxiety) and general health (presence of other diseases or conditions) didn't change the fact that the majority of these patients got better after surgery. There is good reason to believe that if disc degeneration is the only problem you suffer and you don't have other serious problems contributing to the pain (like fibromyalgia or arthritis), it's not too late for that operation you've put off for so long. You'll have a better idea what is possible and what to expect once you see your surgeon who will re-evaluate and advise you.