Those of you who have been down this path, or a similar one, before…please share your experiences and help ease my anxieties. This is, pun partially intended, unnerving.
Two years ago a neurologist looked at my MRI and said plainly, “This concerns me. You can expect major problems in the future, and don’t be afraid of surgery.” :eek: The MRI showed dessication at L5/S1, a 4mm herniation (posterior) displacing the sacral nerve root, and a second bulge at L4/L5.
I get active. I exercise regularly…riding my horse. Before you freak, proper riding develops the muscles that support the back (the “core/center” as it’s referred to in riding). It’s similar to balancing on the large exercise balls; you strengthen your abs, thighs, upper back, lower legs, etc. while balancing against the horse’s movement. If you don’t know how to ride, then yes, riding around and getting your ass slapped in the saddle will hurt your back, and badly. I put more than 400 hours in the saddle over the next two years, am in the best shape of my life, and my back pain is all but gone.
Then I have a baby.
All was fine until I was seven months pregnant. Too large and awkward to ride anymore, my muscles weaken from lack of exercise. The baby, meanwhile, has grown large enough to pull heavily on my lower back; one of the two tendons supporting the growing uterus connects almost exactly at my injured site. I shave my legs one morning and feel a twinge; by evening I literally cannot move without severe pain (truly, it was worse than labor). I am put on early maternity leave and get physical therapy twice a week until delivery. It helps–I’m nearly pain-free by the time the baby comes.
He comes 2 1/2 weeks early, and I deliver him without pain medication (I didn’t want any needles anywhere near my spine, and just wanted to avoid any medication that wasn’t necessary). We are all healthy, happy, and exhausted.
Once I got home, the back pain returned–but different this time. It wasn’t the whole-body, sharp, severe, crippling pain from before; this time, it was hot, dull, and very, very localized. Now the area is tender to the touch–before I would beg hubby for a massage, now I can’t bear him touching it. Sitting is excruciating, but I’m nursing my son and must sit 45min at a time 8-12 times a day. Getting up from a seated position is worse–I’m fine for 3-5 steps, then the hot wave of pain buckles my knees.
I see a physical therapist, get some treatment, and once healed enough from delivery–I get back on my horse (carefully). I ride with great care, listening intently to my body, and perform exercises designed to strengthen my “seat” (core muscles and balance). After 8 weeks of pain, I awake to find myself in about half the pain I’d been in all that time. It’s still there–this is the longest I’ve been in back pain, ever–but I can function now. Three weeks have passed since this improvement, with no further changes.
I’m now referred to a pain specialist. He wants to load me up with opiates; I flat-out refuse and explain plainly I want nothing to do with medications designed only to mask symptoms. If there’s a problem, and it can be fixed, I want it fixed. I’d rather live with the pain, at least for now, then numb myself to it. If it gets unbearable, I’ll ask for the pain meds. He is a bit put off, but then warms up to me and refers me to an MRI and biofeedback (whatever that is).
I had the MRI this morning. The technician was warm and friendly, and wrote her notes as she asked about the pain before leading me to the machine. I lie under it quietly, listening to the muted serenading of Sade through the supplied ear plugs. When finished, the technician has a subtle, but still notable, change in demeanor. There is a mild element of surprise in her face. “I hope you feel better soon,” she says. “Yeah, me too,” I say, adding how curious I am about what this MRI will show versus the one from two years ago. “Well,” she says, “I can’t say anything…but…some people have higher pain thresholds than others, it seems. Some patients come in here and can hardly walk, and there’s nothing.” She pauses and looks me right in the eye. “Your pain is warranted.”
So now I’m wondering about the surgery the neurologist had mentioned two years ago. Vertebrae in my father’s back were fused 40 years ago, and it caused him a remaining lifetime of pain. Nowadays, they can do things like remove the section of disk pressing on the nerve, or increase size of the canal for the affected nerve. Three people I know have had surgeries that has removed their pain forever (or at least, until now). But I’m still afraid. I’m only 33; I fear something happening now that will worsen my condition…but I also fear doing nothing and my back completely wigging out on me and leaving me in severe crippling pain.
I know there are a lot of other things the specialist will want to try before surgery. He mentioned cortisone injections, acupuncture, and biofeedback. The injections are off-putting to me because my father developed scar tissue from the multitude of injections he received over the decades, but the others have me curious.
But beyond all this, I’m just tired of the pain and want it fixed. I also want another baby eventually, but fear what a toll it take on my body.
What new hope is out there about disk pain? Who has been down this path before? Anything will be helpful…