It’s Recovery Time, Post Hamstring Surgery

Post surgery with my Rogue taking good care of me.

Post surgery with my Rhodesian Ridgeback Rogue taking good care of me.

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:

  • massage
  • foam rolling
  • acupuncture
  • physical therapy
  • cortisone injections
  • dry needling
  • ART
  • chiropractic care
  • ultrasound
  • Raiki
  • 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.
Recovering in the hospital, I don't know if I'd actually woken up yet.

Recovering in the hospital, I don’t know if I’d actually woken up yet.

  • 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.

 

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9 thoughts on “It’s Recovery Time, Post Hamstring Surgery

  1. I have to have this surgery for complete avulsion. I am very worried about it. How hard is it to go to bathroom? Do I need raised toilet seat? Anything I should buy in advance that insurance doesn’t cover? Mainly I am scared because I don’t have any real help and will mostly be on my on so any advice or suggestions would be helpful. The doctor has agreed to wait til next month so I can try and work as much overtime as possible to make 3 car payments and pay my bills because I have no short term disability insurance this whole thing is just a very painful nightmare.

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    • Hi Chris, thanks for reaching out, and I am so sorry you’re going through this. Not to sound dramatic, but this experience was one of the worst things I’ve had to go through. That isn’t meant to scare you, I’d love for you going in to know everything that might happen or that you might go through. I couldn’t find too much info on the surgery, and certainly nothing to really give me any insight on the recovery. So my goal was to help others that might go through this. As long as you’re ok to wait for surgery, then saving some money will be crucial. They said a month off work, but I needed 3. I drive for work, and stand at events, so if you have a desk job or another non physical job, 1-2 months is probably more like it. I couldn’t drive for 3 months as I couldn’t sit on my glute/hamstring. And the surgeon make me keep the brace on, so driving was hard and unsafe.

      My surgery might be a bit different because of the amount of scar tissue and nerve impingement, however being a tough athlete, I thought I would be fine with just a bit of help. I was wrong and I would recommend you have a friend or family member with you for at least the first week. You might not be able to really get out of bed by yourself, get to the bathroom by yourself or prepare any food. Between the drugs, the pain and the brace/crutches, you really feel like a baby again. Thankfully my mom is retired and when we realized my husband couldn’t work full time, and take care of me, my parents came to pick me up and take me back to NY. Without someone’s help, it would have been terrible. I honestly think 2-3 weeks is a better time frame for help, but if you can at least get 1 week, that is key.

      Not to be graphic, but I couldn’t sit on the toilet for 3 months. And we tried multiple seats and even a plastic swim ring. It was just too painful to sit down. So, I managed to hover over the toilet in a pretty interesting way. You’re not going to be hungry, but you’ll want crackers and toast nearby for the first few days. I’d prepare food and freeze it now so you have it at hand. You won’t be able to stand to really prepare food for a while. Think easy things like crackers, cheese, PBJ, cereal, oatmeal, bananas, etc.

      Buy multiple pillows to put under your leg as it will be painful and you won’t be able to stretch your leg out for a while. You can rent an ice machine (Game ready, Breg) and the person who is helping you can keep it filled with ice. The pain meds did nothing for me, the other thing that helped was the ice machine. And you won’t be able to get ice yourself for the first few days or week.

      Recovery has taken longer then expected, but listen to the surgeon and the pt’s. If you try to do too much too soon, you can re-injure or cause too much scar tissue. I’m trying to think of anything else. I tried to document the journey, and I was actually going to write a post today to give an update. I just had another injection due to the scar tissue. It seems like a never ending process, but I think yours will hopefully be more straightforward then mine.

      Either way, find a friend or family member and make sure that you have help for at least 1 week. I am serious, you won’t be able to do things on your own. Even if you are stubborn like me. Please let me know if you have any more questions and best of luck!

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      • Not to graphic lol I WANT TO KNOW. I have tried researching and there is not a lot out there especially about the personal need to know stuff. I am going to ask the doctor about a visiting nurse or something hopefully 2x a week to help with showers. And my teenager will try and help but kind of limited beyond that. I can’t sit right now and a lot of my job is sitting and I drive to work so he said at least 6-8 weeks up to 12 weeks. So I have to work to make at least 3 car payments before surgery. And I am not athletic at all which kind of scares me more! I am just average and I will be using a walker because I am sure with crutches I would hurt myself 😉

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      • That’s wonderful that you have a teenager to help. Since they should be out for the summer hopefully they can be around to help quite a bit. I think talking to them now about expectations will be key. That way they know how challenging for you it might be. A visiting nurse will be good to help with showers, and a walker sounds like the right plan. Hopefully your house is one story or you can be on the bottom floor. We live in a two story home where the bedroom and bathroom are upstairs. So I had to stay upstairs where the bathroom was as getting upstairs (if down) was hard. I literally had to crawl/husband half carried me upstairs post surgery. The problem was wearing a huge brace make it awkward for him to truly carry me. And the pain was a lot worse then I’ve ever had. It was sometimes unbearable, but know you’ll get through it. I was hesitant to use too many pain killers, so probably if I had used more that would have helped. I did not want to become dependent though.

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      • How often do you have to go to PT and doctor? I live in L split foyer. You come in and either have to go upstairs or downstairs. I do have a adjustable bed and bathroom in my room which will be handy. Getting in and out of house may be tricky. Hmmm will have to seriously think on that one. How did you sit in the car? Or did you just lay in back seat? He told me first 2 weeks only 30° hip bend. That’s not hardly anything which has me so confused on how you can do anything.

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      • I go to the PT 1-2x a week, but didn’t start till month 3 post surgery. I went to the surgeon 3 days post surgery, and then every 2-4 months. I didn’t “sit” in the car for the first few months. I reclined or laid down. I couldn’t sit due to the constriction of 45 degrees. So I had a bit more then you. You really cant’ do anything except lay down or recline for the first 6-8 weeks.

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  2. On July 19,2013 I went for surgery for a greater than 50% tear of my left proximal hamstring but the surgeon told my wife that when he “got in there the tendon was almost completely off so he sliced it off and treated it as a complete avulsion”. I am still not sure what caused the injury though it manifested itself while I was running. My advice to anyone having this surgery is to practice navigating with the crutches and the leg brace and to especially determine how to sit on the toilet. Not an easy task considering the incision location and a leg that is held straight by a crutch. Lucky for me my wife found a 12 inch cushion for the toilet seat. She was great caretaker for me and very patient. Though I am about 15 months post-surgery I am hesitant to do any plyo exercise more than one inch off the floor. I never want to experience this injury again.

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    • Terry thank you for your comments. That sounds very similar to my experiences and I’m happy you’re recovering. I wish we could have found a seat for the toilet, but thankfully it only took 2 months to be able to sit down. Im 4 months out and it seems I have quite a while longer. Good luck with your continued recovery.

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  3. Cristina you are a superstar, definitely a superstar! I am so happy you learned the cause of this injury and that you are healing but sorry you are in pain. I am equally sorry that I have been asking so many questions of you since Sunday. What a natural beauty Cristina you look so pretty and you just had major surgery!

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