32 y/o active male here. When deciding on whether to move forward with surgery, I read about 100 of these, and most of them were pretty scary. Thought I'd share my positive account.
TLDR: MRI to surgery in about a month - So far, everything's going great!
I've had lower back pain as long as I can remember, was treated when I was 20 for it. So this could have all started as far back as then, but for the last three years I've had severe flare-ups resulting in Urgent Care visits. Sciatic pain accompanied the lower back pain, mostly in the buttocks and hips. Flare-ups would happen once or twice a year and last one to two months. I was on a three-week bicycle tour in June of last year and the back pain was at a level of severity that I had not previously known. Still had to ride 80 mile days with 8k feet of climbing every day. Chocked it up to tight hamstrings (notoriously inflexible). When I went to the docs upon arriving back in the States, he also believed it to be tight hamstrings, but something wasn't quite right. I requested an MRI, he said no need, I urged, he ordered it. When the symptoms started resolving, as they usually had, I didn't schedule the MRI.
End of November of 2019, another painful flare-up, the sciatica being worse this time, along with tingling in feet and testicles (though the tingling subsided with core exercises). I still had the MRI referral so I got it. Results: herniations at l4/l5 and l5/s1 - the former being enormous (14+mm). Severe spinal stenosis, DDD, the like. Not tight hamstrings. Primary physician said surgery likely because of how long I've been having symptoms. First neurosurgeon visit, he scheduled me for Microdiscectomy / Hemilaminectomy / Facectomy. 2nd opinion said it was the right move. A neurosurgeon friend of a friend said "Holy shit, you need surgery."
I felt surgery was necessary, but was terrified of surgical failure and having to eventually get a fusion. The pain and severity of the MRI findings eventually made my decision, and I went through with surgery on January 9th.
Arrived at the hospital, told them how sick I get under anesthesia. Whatever they gave me for the nausea worked - no nausea in the slightest, a first for me. Woke up after surgery with zero sciatic pain and I felt more aware then the two other times I've been under. They wanted me walking right away, and I was home in bed before I knew it (less than two hours from waking up from surgery). Seemed crazy quick, but they must have it down pat.
The first few days were painful in the incision area. I was given only enough percocet for a day and a half. Put a call into the doc on Friday (day 1 post-op) and never heard back till the following Tuesday. They apologized for dropping the ball on this. After the perc ran out, I used Tylenol with codeine for a few days. I was up walking around the house a bunch on Day 1 post-op. Day 2 I took a really short walk around the block.
Day 3 I walked a little bit more, and was surprised with how mobile I felt. By Day 5 I was walking two-three miles a day, which I've kept up every day. Yesterday (Day 9) I walked 4.5 miles. I think this might have been pushing it, but I feel best when I'm moving so decided to listen to my body.
Recovery has been uneventful, and much easier than I anticipated based on other accounts. I've had a few "scares" - bumping into furniture, some weird aches and pains here and there, scared I was getting a blood clot - but everything seems okay still.
Tomorrow I have my first follow up. My body is pretty stiff and I can't wait to start PT / begin stretching. Though I still have surgical pain, I believe my lower back pain was helped with the surgery as well (doc said it could go either way on that front). Will follow up on this as surgical pain diminishes. Still no sciatic pain AT ALL. A tiny bit of tingling in the feet here and there, but almost phantom-like.
Happy to answer any questions and follow-up again if wanted.
A couple things that worked for me I thought I'd share:
Using a sports bladder to drink water. This way, when you're laying down recovering, you can stay super hydrated. And it also makes you pee a ton, which is good for forcing you to get up and move every hour.
Kombucha / probiotics / psyllium husk in smoothies - keep that gut healthy! Poops have been great, no constipation at all.
Grabber device is super helpful. As is a Sock Aid - put on your own socks!
Toilet seat riser - 5 inch rise, made it very easy for the first week to use the toilet.
Have a wife. Lots of yummy meals and I got out of cleaning the first few days