Well, here I am 5 days post hamstring surgery. A surgery I wasn’t sure I would have, but I am so thankful for having it now. Even though I’m still in quite a bit of pain, I know the surgeon removed the scar tissue tethering the sciatic nerve to my hamstring and other additional inflamed tissues (ischial tuberosity bursa). And that means that when I’m not in pain from the surgery, I’ll not be in pain from the damaged hamstring/nerve.
Surgery is often used as a last resort or used to remedy acute injuries. I belong in the first column, with injuries that won’t heal. Literally won’t heal, for months and years. My life has always been as an athlete, so for the past two years I’ve searched for the answer to my glute and hamstring pain, desperately trying to find relief, so I could once again be the athlete that I once was. If you had told me two years ago it would take 2 years to figure things out, I would have told you no way….praying that you were wrong. Only with a lot of prayers, doctors, patience from my husband and family, and money did we find the answers.
I won’t know for sure, but what I believe happened was this. I tore my hamstring while in a big cycling block, back in Oregon. Thinking it was a strain, I did the usual RICE and gradually returned to exercise. Moving across country, I had to wait 3 months for the insurance to kick in. So, months later, I was doing PT for the hamstring, believing it was a hamstring strain or high hamstring tendonopathy, they weren’t sure. After months of no answer, the sciatic nerve started to bother me while still dealing with the hamstring. I finally found the best physiatrist in the world, Dr. Victor Ibrahim in DC. He saw the tear, and we promptly did 4 PRP injections to heal the tear. This worked, however the scar tissue from the hamstring had tethered the nerve to the hamstring. After several saline injections to release the hamstring from the nerve it seemed like we were back at square one. In all, before I met my surgeon, this is what we tried:
- foam rolling
- physical therapy
- cortisone injections
- dry needling
- chiropractic care
- PRP injections
- PRP with lysate
- saline injections into the nerve
Then, I somehow stumbled across an article about a rare occurence in athletes called Proximal Hamstring Syndrome. Proximal hamstring syndrome is (I’m quoting from the British Journal of Sports Medicine) a gluteal sciatic pain in which posttraumatic or congenital hard fibrotic bands irritate sciatic nerve compressing it at the insertion site of hamstring muscles to ishcial tuberosity. That’s it exactly! So once I found that, Dr. Ibrahim agreed, a year and a half was long enough without an answer. He referred me to Dr. Andrew Wolff, a fantastic hip surgeon in DC. Dr. Wolff’s plan was to make the incision right under the glute cheek, remove the hamstring, release any damaged hamstring, release the sciatic nerve from the hamstring, remove the ischial tuberostiy bursa, then reattached the hamstring.
I’ve never had surgery before, and I was admittedly a little scared. Scared of the anesthesia, not waking up, something going wrong, specifically something like the sciatic nerve getting damaged or cut. And then the recovery. Since I’ve never had surgery and really couldn’t find a lot on hamstring surgery, I thought I would share my experiences in case others have to go down this same route. It might not be exactly the same, but it will give you an idea.
- You’ll set the surgery date and get fitted for a leg brace (it looks like a knee brace)
- The week of surgery you’ll speak with the hospital or surgery center, going over allergies, specifics for surgery and more. You won’t be allowed to take any anti-inflammatories this week, but nothing else too different
- The morning of surgery, you’ll arrive 2 hours prior to surgery, You can not eat or drink anything for 12 hours before. Not even water, that was hard.
- The nurse will come in, ask you your name and birthday. They will have you mark the leg you’re having surgery on, just to make sure they work on the correct leg. That’s happened too many times before I guess.
- You’ll go to the bathroom and give a urine sample (if female/pregnancy), change into a gown, put a hair net on, have your blood pressure taken, EKG electrodes attached and an IV started.
- The anesthesiologist and the nurse anesthetist will come in, go over your medical history, and tell you their game plan. I didn’t know until that morning that I would be intubated. That was a scary thought, but luckily I was out before they did that.
- Then, your surgeon will come in, go over what will happen, ask you if you have any more questions and you’ll give your loved one a kiss and hug goodbye.
- They’ll wheel you off and the next thing you’ll know is the surgery is over and you’re in the recovery room. You’ll be bandaged, have your leg brace on and have your portable ice machine on. For my surgery we could either rent one, or buy one for the same price. The one you buy is of lesser quality, but still good. The rental is called Game Day or something like that. It’s used by professionals and runs in the thousands. We purchased a Breg Kodiak ice machine for less than $200. It was the best money spent so far.
- After recovering for a bit, they’ll help you change and you’ll be wheeled to your car. At this point you’ll still be so high from anaesthesia that you won’t feel any pain. You’ll feel like you’ve been knocked out but most likely fall asleep for a good chunk of the day.
- When the anaesthesia wears off, you’ll be in pain and for the next 6 weeks have to adjust to a life of sitting about, laying about, not putting weight on your leg, using crutches, etc. Hopefully it’s less than 6 weeks, although I know I’ll be using crutches and the brace that long.
Some things I didn’t know would happen:
- You won’t want to eat for a few days. You could feel nauseous, you might vomit and you won’t be very thirsty.
- You won’t be able to do things for yourself. You will have to rely on others for help for almost everything. At least for the first week or so. And for an independent person, this could be hard.
- Even though you know your having surgery on your hamstring, and you know your hamstring attaches at your glute, you won’t think that you’ll have to be sitting on the same place that you had surgery. And it will hurt!
- You won’t be able to sit on the toilet. I’m on day 5 and I still can’t. I can sit on the edge so my bad leg isn’t touching it at all, but no direct pressure, it’s too painful.
- You’ll get frustrated when you can’t do simple things like reach for something, put shorts on, get into the shower, etc.
- It will take you an hour to walk across your house, when you only go 30 ft.
- You’ll get mad at your significant other or they will get mad at you when you’re in pain and they have to help you with something you think you can do, or they are trying to help you and get frustrated. Be patient with each other and thank them.
That’s all I can really think of now, maybe by week 2 things will be different. Hopefully only in positive ways. I spoke with my surgeon earlier, who if you need hamstring or hip surgery in the DC area, you should see him. He called me the same day as surgery, the day after surgery, I saw him 3 days after surgery and spoke again 5 days post surgery. And I am not a famous athlete or superstar in any way. He is awesome! I’m in quite a bit of pain, but it’s all normal, so let the healing begin.