I’ve been dealing with spine issues on and off for 30 years. At age 22, I acutely herniated my L4-5 disc playing tennis, and was off work for a year. After a discectomy, I felt great again. At age 30, I re-herniated the same disc while lifting a patient at work and again was unable to work for a year. I switched from relatively heavy work as a neurology rehabilitation physical therapist to much lighter work in orthopedics. Around age 36, I had a further herniation at the same disc while traveling in Asia. With both legs symptomatic, a second discectomy with scar removal was performed.
By the time I met Dr. Reynolds at SpineCare around age 45, I had been managing some level of chronic pain for 15 years. At this point, my spine had gradually changed, and I thought there might be a ‘surgical upgrade’ possible. I still did much of what I enjoyed. I had stopped doing much loved rotational and impact sports that were hard on my specific spine problems, like tennis, volleyball, and running, but I continued activities such as mountain hiking, swimming, and overseas travel. I had also quit physical therapy practice, and was doing the administrative work for my husband’s home practice.
Dr. Reynolds carefully reviewed my case, and concluded that surgery wasn’t recommended. Although I was disappointed with the long-term implications of multiple areas and levels of degeneration, I appreciated his care, thoughtfulness, and thoroughness in detail. Today, I continue to appreciate that SpineCare surgeons provide both surgical and non-surgical care, providing them with a broader information base to practice from. Despite being a 3-time spine surgery recipient, I believe non-surgical care is appropriate and correct for most spine problems. It’s delightful to be treated by a surgeon with this perspective.
Treatment and Recovery
About four years after meeting Dr. Reynolds, my function had gradually deteriorated. I’d also developed enough arthritis to require a hip replacement, adding complexity as spines and hips interact intimately. With painful and limited walking, my ability to lead an active life had dwindled; sitting and standing tolerance were poor. I’d developed a slumped posture due to pain in extension, and I experienced high levels of pain at rest. A new MRI revealed that my unstable L3-4 joint had developed a large disc herniation, which explained my primary complaint of buttock and leg pain. We decided on a single fusion at this level.
My recovery from the fusion went well. I walked shortly after surgery, and progressed normally. With carefully selected specific exercises, and challenging choices for recreational ‘’functional rehab’’, I made substantial gains for the first 12-15 months post-surgery.
My story doesn’t end with ‘I feel as good as new’, yet I live in gratitude. Much of the leg pain has resolved. And remarkably, stabilizing my L3-4 joint also helped reduce symptoms present for more than 20 years stemming from my L4-5 joint and L5 nerve. In doing the fusion, Dr. Reynolds also re-positioned my L3-4 joint, returning my degenerated, flat lumbar spine to more of its natural, arched position. I believe this enables my L4-5 joint to function better. Much of the time at rest I feel comfortable. I do many things that I love. Most importantly, I feel better than I’ve felt in 20 years while doing many of them.
I sit and stand tall…which is huge psychologically. We tend to slump when unhappy, and simply being mechanically forced into this posture affected my happiness and outlook.
Now that I’m older, I’m delighted when young friends carry the load when I backpack in the mountains. I enjoy travel again, including a recent three-month trip in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos. The plane ride was okay - which is good enough. The local buses were crowded, bumpy, and great fun. Motor biking the dusty country tracks was spectacular; the hiking, photography and people brilliant.
My advice to those with chronic spine pain:
· Learn what activities and positions increase or decrease your symptoms.
· Balance ‘pain management’ with a rich and activity diverse life.
· As much as possible, focus on life, not discomfort.
· Most importantly, do everything you can…every day!