In 2008, after months of pain and hobbling around, several radiographic images discovered that I had a herniated disc in my L4-L5. I was 13 years old. I had no clue what that even meant! I knew that men could get it if they lift heavy, but a herniated disc was new to me.
There are many nicknames for herniated discs such as slipped disc or even pinched nerve. To paint a basic visual of the definition, in-between our vertebrae (spinal bones) are padded cushions that absorb shock. Sometimes, due to injury, the nucleus of these cushions press against the outer ring, and in severe situations, seep through. This causes pain throughout the back, and can cause symptoms of sciatica such as pain through the leg(s), numbness & tingling, loss of sensation, and weakness.
I herniated disc after falling off of my horse…7 times, and I guess the seventh time was the charm. The pain was excruciating! My most comfortable position standing up, was leaning forward at a 45 to even near 90 degree angle just to alleviate the pain. When I could stand “straight”, I was often torqued to the side or scrunched downward, as my right hip was higher than the other, and quite swollen. After multiple physical and neurologic testing, in addition to radiographic scans, I was diagnosed with having a herniated disc. This set my snowball of events; triumphs and tribulations into motion.
I began with physical therapy. Traction was used, in addition to a TENS unit, in attempt to stretch and relax my back. Physical exercises were used to strengthen my muscles, especially my core. After several months of therapy, I was able to walk again! In fact, I even joined a soccer team! I thought that with the pain gone and my mobility back to normal, I could live out the rest of my life in peace…WRONG!
Flare ups are the worst. I could literally be asleep in bed, and wake up to what felt like a baseball bat striking my lower back. Just as I was certain everything was in control once again, I was the victim of a hit and run accident. The impact of the other car jolted my back, continuing my snowball. This time, the physical therapist taught me wonderful compensatory strategies to use while at school, in the car, or whenever my back began to ache. And again, I was on the road to recovery.
I was proved wrong once more this past week. I have returned to the gym in hopes of losing weight, but more importantly, strengthening my core to support my back. Well, how am I supposed to do that if my back gives out anyway? The pain this time has been worse than the first time I was ever diagnosed. Walking has become nearly impossible, and I struggle to maintain my independence in completing activities of daily living. My x-ray returned unremarkable, however, I failed my patellar reflex (I didn’t have one), even when using the Jendrassik maneuver to exaggerate the reflex. Unfortunately, even after 9 years of dealing with this, my options are physical therapy or steroid injections into my back. The only time surgery would be considered is when I am in my 50’s or 60’s and nothing else has worked. Just great! My first round of pain medication has been unsuccessful, so I am in desperate need for the new dose to work. I sympathize and now even empathize for those who have to go through this on a daily basis.
My back problems have been exhausting, but have made me much stronger. At this point, I believe that a herniated disc, is basically how effectively I can roll, scoot, and hobble my way around life.