Herniated Disc Update (September)

Five months ago, I shared about my herniated disc; My Herniated Disc Experience. As mentioned, my x-ray turned out unremarkable. Of course, even then, I was not surprised because 1. I KNOW my body well enough to know that regardless of what the x-ray shows, something is wrong. And 2. x-rays only show hard tissues (bone) or dense materials like metal, air, and fat. To properly diagnose a herniated disc, the proper equipment would be the unfortunately expensive, but incredible nonetheless, MRI. This is because it has the ability of showing soft tissues from multiple angles.

Initially, after the pain medication did nothing but make me drowsy, I was referred to a Physiatrist who referred me to physical therapy. Been there, done that. This was my 4th time at physical therapy for my back. My therapist was great I must admit. He gave me numerous exercises & stretches to strengthen my core, back, booty, & legs. It provided decent compensatory strategies, which was helpful for the first few weeks. However, once I felt as though I were making significant gains, the pain worsened. I went from using compensatory strategies, to requiring pain management. In the meantime, I was also going to the chiropractor religiously, which did help quite a bit until the pain kicked back in.

After completing physical therapy, I was back to the physiatrist. This was in August, and my journey with therapy began in May. At my first appointment, my option was physical therapy, and getting an MRI or other methods of treatment (injection or surgery) were not really options at all. This time however, the doctor insisted I get an MRI. Sure enough, the MRI results arrived, indicating that I DO have a herniated disc. The first words out of my mouth were “I KNEW IT!”. Although I have only been in living in my body for 22 years, I believe I have come to know it quite well, in fact, better than anyone else. The options he gave me were either 1. Epidural Steroid Injection, or 2. surgery. Surgery is the last straw in my mind, so I opted for the injection. Due to my own conflicting schedule, my appointment was set for 2 weeks later (the doctor was willing to book me for the next day). During those 2 weeks, I swear, and I admit I said it, that I just wanted it amputated. The pain was GRUELING! Unlike anything I ever felt. I had shooting pain and numbness down my leg, excessive knee pain ( I don’t even have knee pain!), and difficulty doing anything.

Thankfully, I made it through those 2 weeks, and am still here today. To read more on my injection experience, see: Epidural Steroid Injection Experience

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Callie & Gabbie

 

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Epidural Steroid Injection Experience

    If you’re anything like me, the term “epidural” makes me nervous. I’ve heard about epidurals given to pregnant women, and that it was fine or they barely felt a thing. I however am not pregnant or in labor, so thinking of a large needle going through my spine makes me nervous. (Injections are nothing to me lol). So when I opted to receive an “epidural steroid injection” as part of my herniated disc treatment, I thought long & hard as to whether I believed it was actually worth getting over my fear. Hint: (it was!)

In preparation for the procedure, I was told to eliminate pain medication that contained blood thinners, however Tylenol was okay. I was also given a booklet that gave brief info of the procedure (the before, during, and after), in addition to some exercises. The info was decent, however, being a visual learner, I decided to YouTube some videos on the procedure & patient testimonials. The most common thread beside the procedure itself is that each patient will have different experiences. This is mine.

I was told to report to the Radiology department one hour prior to my appointment for pre-op. This timeframe was a bit long since all I needed to do was change into a gown. Once in the x-ray room, the radiology tech positioned me on the table. I laid on my stomach with my hands under my face, and a pillow under my abdomen to elevate the targeted area of my spine. Once in the proper position to access my L4/L5, the physiatrist, rad tech, and nurse worked together like a synchronized machine to position the x-ray machine, and get me ready to go. I was first injected with a numbing agent. One went into the muscle (which barely hurt at all), and one under the skin (this one stung for a while.) I required another round of the numbing agent since I could still feel the doctor poking my back, this for me is typical though.

Once I was numbed, the doctor and rad tech positioned the x-ray machine once more to place the guide needle. This felt like a small pinch, followed by mild cramping down the calf and as if my butt were squeezed (it wasn’t). Next came the actual injection needle & the steroid fluid. This felt like a significant pinch, followed by moderate cramping down my thigh and calf. Luckily, the blood pressure cuff went off at this time and distracted me from the pain. In a matter of 10 minutes, the procedure was over. 

I was then given post-operative care instructions, and was wheeled to general surgery for recovery observation. This took about 20 minutes. My vitals were monitored, and I basically hung out until the nurse allowed me to leave. Before leaving, the nurse asked me to use the restroom to ensure I could do so at home (& to ensure there were no further complications). Lowering myself to toilet increased my pain, but it was a lot easier than what it was before.

Once I was home, I kept activities limited, but to ensure I wasn’t completely sedentary (as recommended by the doctor), I did a couple loads of laundry and light decluttering. I felt GREAT! For the first time in months, pain was nonexistent! There was some discomfort if I sat for more than an hour at a time, but it was much more bearable. I even went out for dinner! The only difficulty I had was the walk across the street from the parking lot to the restaurant, and the walking around the grocery store afterward. Class the next day was incredible. I sat through my 3 hour class like nothing! Discomfort did occur, but again, it was significantly less than what it was.

Unfortunately, 2 days later, I was asked to assist in hosting a class party. The long day of sitting, plus prolonged standing at the party, and frequent sit to stand activity, exacerbated my symptoms without a doubt. However, I’ve noticed that going to sleep at night is my recent button, and I typically wake up fine the next morning. The one concern I have is that I still have numbness & tingling in 2 of my toes, and now through my calf as well. I’ve had the numbness prior to the procedure on occasion, and it usually indicated that I would soon have significant back pain, however it has remained constant since my procedure. I will be seeing the physiatrist soon, so hopefully that will be addressed.

All in all, I’m doing much better than where I was before!

Feel free to comment with any questions or share your experiences!

Gabbie

 

My Herniated Disc Experience

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.

Eyes Sealed Shut

It’s so easy going around living with your eyes sealed shut.

To live completely unaware of the world around you.

Oblivious to those who surround you.

You’d never know what people have been through.

That the inside of their mind is a fukin zoo.

Chaos. Pain & suffering.

Combustion of feelings.

Erupting through the soul and out of their eyes.

But even though you say you’re by their side

You have no clue

Because you keep your eyes glued.

To you

The world revolves around you.

The one person who

Seems to have the worst in life and

Battling the greatest demons and

Will never be able to empathize, man

Because they go around living with their eyes sealed shut.

Open.

See the beauty of the struggle.

The fall, the rise.

The disappointment and surprises.

That what you think you know

Is not so

and that no one is ever truly alone.

Because the struggle inside us

Could be the saving grace in someone else.

That what has been the worst for you

Was their greatest achievement to conquer

Or the epitome in the depths of hell.

That your worst is not the worst

But is becoming the best and

You wouldn’t have known

If you kept your eyes sealed shut.