My Two Favorite Dorks

My Two Favorite Dorks

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What's up with my back?

Welcome to the newly named "L Word" blog. I'm not sure why I felt inspired to make the change except that during a brainstorm one night I found it to be particularly clever - that and I had been a little disenchanted with the name "Catboogie's Dream."

As most of you know, I have been experiencing leg/back issues for the last several months. Now that I have some answers about what is really going on, I wanted to fill you in more in-depth.

A herniated disc happens when part of the disc (in most cases already degenerated to some degree) pushes through the lining and, in my case, pushes on the sciatic nerve

First, to review, how the issue of how my herniated disc came to be:
  • I have experienced lower back pain, with occasional flareups, for years (we're talking possibly since high school)
  • For several years, I noticed what I thought was just a "tight hamstring" in my right leg, but really only during yoga was it noticeable.
  • Last year, the issue became concerning enough for me to go to the doctor and pursue physical therapy (PT), but that fell through with a trip I had planned and other life stuff - and it eventually got better.
  • April of 2011 - major flare-up; I wake up one morning and can barely walk, can't stand up straight for several days; eventually right foot becomes partially numb which prompts me to return to the doctor.
  • Doctor does an xray, which is basically fine, and says my symptoms should go away with chiro and PT. I am loosely diagnosed as having "sciatica." I ask for an MRI but they say insurance won't approve it until I've tried the other things.
  • My first step in recovery is to ice frequently, not exercise (which kills me), and I am officially banned from yoga for the forseeable future. Unfortunately, I can't take Advil or any NSAIDs because I am still on coumadin for my blood clot. I am finally cleared to start PT after a couple of months.
  • After starting PT, I am improving. Yay!
  • 3-4 weeks ago, I am standing at the sink and cough, and feel something happen in my lower back. At first it doesn't seem bad, but I now point to this as the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • Things have been getting steadily worse since then. First back pain, then more leg pain: Now it hurts to stand for very long and sitting is also often uncomfortable. I am icing and taking Aleve like crazy.
  • Finally return to my primary care doc and we decide to pursue the neurosurgical route, if nothing else than just to get a diagnosis.
  • Neurosurgeon has me get an MRI, shows a large herniation. Brings me in and recommends trying local cortisone shots (also called epidural spinal injections) and then a revisit; says I am borderline for surgery. Gives me pain medicine. Tells me to stop PT, chiro, take it easy.
This is pretty much what my MRI looked like; a black disc means degeneration, lowest area (arrow) has a protrusion

That brings us up to now.

I liked the surgeon I went to see, who was recommended to me by my physical therapist (who I love, by the way) as the best guy in town. I was very glad that he wasn't trying to rush me into surgery. He understands it is a last resort, and that general anesthesia is especially hard on people with lung problems.

However, I am not feeling completely confident about the current plan because from what I have read about the steroid shots, there is such a varying degree of success. And sometimes they don't help at all! Not that I have anything better to suggest. [ I am so willied-out by the idea of a a spinal injection I haven't even been able to think about it, by the way. It's like flying. I just schedule it, then show up, and that is when I can start worrying. In this case, it will be Wednesday at about 2:30pm. :)]

There is a bit of a bright side here. I realized this week that this is really just a quality-of-life issue. I mean, sort of just. With my gallbladder issue, when I was facing surgery, there was a real risk to not doing anything. There was an added fear factor on top of the medical issue itself. However, there is no real danger that can come of this not being treated or getting worse besides pain and discomfort (as far as I know). This thing is going to heal on its own eventually, it just depends on how much time I can give it and how much help it needs.

Now, given that, with my CF, I need to be able to exercise (and, please universe, one day get back to yoga) and I will always be coughing, etc. And the fact that I don't like taking pain meds around the clock and being attached to an ice pack, there is an interest there to get this cleared up asap. I want to give this time, but it is hard to be patient when you are in pain.

Lastly, another bright spot. My lungs continue to be doing really awesome right now! (I actually have still been exercising a couple of days a week.) Possibly because of the new inhaled drug study I am participating in. Although that actually brings up another issue: in order to finish this drug study, I will need to hold off on surgery (I would think) until after it is completed, which is five weeks away. Hard to think of hobbling along like this for that much longer.

One step at a time. I go Wednesday for my injection, if that goes ok, I will get another one in two weeks and then go back to talk to the neurosurgeon. In the meantime, I am making a concerted effort to heal myself, and plan to read up a lot on all this stuff, and possibly pursue alternative treatments before surgery will really even be an option.

Photo 1: Herniated disc from Squidoo website
Photo 2: MRI of herniated disc from Peak Performance website


  1. Laura,
    I certainly hope the injections and pt does the trick for you. I know you don't want surgery, and I hope it doesn't come to that. So sorry you are dealing with such pain. Glad your lungs are doing good though. YAY!

  2. Oh and I like the new blog name. :)

  3. I'm sorry you're getting tired of catboogiesdream because I love that name, but "the L word" is fine too. Are you saying the herniated disk will heal itself? judy

  4. You have more coming at you in the average day than most of us face in a year. I'm amazed -- really -- at how you take it in stride. Good write-up, by the way. -- Dad

  5. Thanks, dad!

    Judy, to be honest, I'm not sure if this would heal on its own. Most herniated discs do. I'm sure it would heal somewhat eventually, but it's a matter of how much time I can give it, and how much worse it may get in the meantime. This is sad but I already notice the muscles in my right leg being more effected than when I went to see the doctor two days ago.

  6. I really hope these shots do you justice today!! BTW, Preston is *still* going through excrutiating pain as well with his back. It's brutal! When he stands it hurts, when he sits it hurts - it's terrible. He's had xrays and I think a CT scan of his back and the general practitioner and chiropracter both say "nothing is wrong with your back". He's been trying to stretch and ices it all the time but seriously nothing helps, and the pain continues. I'll have to ask if he's had an MRI. Something is wrong - that's what I think. Thanks for your updates, I want to share this post with him. I really hope you are on your way to some pain free time! <3


  7. And, how much longer are you on coumadin for? Hasn't it almost been 6 months?


  8. Kelly,

    I have been off coumadin for a couple of months now. Thank god for that.

    I agree that Preston should pursue this further. My xray was normal, too. But the MRI showed the herniated disc. Obviously I knew something was wrong!

    I think that they like for you to try basically everything else (physical therapy, resting it, ice/heat) before they will approve an MRI. But it sounds like you should push for that, if he hasn't already gotten one.

    One of the most frustrating things for me about this entire ordeal is that, well first I didn't know what was causing the problem, but then when I had an idea even I couldn't predict what would irritate it.

    For instance, things had been getting worse every day up until last weekend, and then - suddenly and for no apparent reason - it felt a lot better on Sunday, and then better still Monday. Unfortunately, even though I tried to stay consistent with the things I thought might have made that happen, on Tuesday it was again feeling worse, and then worse again Wednesday.

    Anyway, I feel for him. Keep me posted!


  9. Hope Wednesday's treatment went well. Your belief in your physician is paramount. As you know I believe in an integrated approach, western medicine along with alternative medicine for a 1-2 punch. Let me know how I can help. Back trouble is no fun. Glad to hear the lungs are doing so well.
    Healing thoughts,