Dealing with chronic pain is no fun, especially when it limits the activities you can do, affects your personal life or keeps you from doing what you have enjoyed all your life (in my case, running).
Back pain affects eight out of 10 people, whether it’s acute or chronic (source:www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/backpain.html). Recently I had another episode with my back and had to lie on the couch for most of the week to do my work. Luckily, I was able to talk to some clients and hold meetings over the phone, instead of meeting in person.
Waking up every morning has been the worst, getting up from or sitting on the couch or driving have all been extremely painful. There’s nothing worse than nerve pain. Pulling a muscle or feeling sore after a workout is a feeling almost felt on the surface and usually something you, a doctor, chiropractor or massage therapist can work out. Nerve pain however, is felt deep inside. When I go to the doctor, he asks if I am feeling any of the following – burning, stabbing, numbness, tingling, radiating heat and the answer is always yes. I also sometimes feel weak, and my leg feels like it’s been put into a freezer.
Quick background on me: One morning in 2010 I went to put on my shoe and felt tightness in my back. I went to work and then the real pain began. I couldn’t sit, and then I couldn’t walk without using a chair to push down the hallway. The doctors said it might have been a problem I have had for years (in fact many people have bulging discs and do not know it) and the straw that broke the camel’s back (I know, cheesy old saying) was probably when I worked part-time at a wine shop, lifting cases of wine.
My L3, L4 and L5 (or lumbar vertebrae) are herniated and bulging. I have sciatica through my legs. One doctor said “your spine is aging faster than most people your age.” What is sciatica? It is “a set of symptoms including pain that may be caused by general compression or irritation of one of five spinal nerve roots that give rise to each sciatic nerve, or by compression or irritation of the left or right or both sciatic nerves.” Yes basically it all sucks. My Mother had surgery on her back when she was about the same age as I am now (and I’ll never forget how frightened I was for her). I have to say through all of this, I have a better appreciation for people who have chronic pain, are in wheelchairs or who can’t participate in sports. If I could I would pull out a magic wand and change everyone’s lives because no one deserves this.
I hope this never happens to you, but if I can leave you with any advice, it’s to be as active as possible (I have always been active and Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. preaches about the need for as much movement as possible); never pick up heavy objects (it’s not worth it) and to stop sitting. Sitting is bad for all of us. A study found that “adults who sat for 11 hours or more a day had a 40% increased risk of dying in the next three years than those who sat for less than four hours a day.” (source Alexandra Sifferlin, Time Health & Family). Sitting can lead to poor vascular health, inhibit healthy digestion and put your spine under great stress. I have learned all of this through my experience. When you sit, the lower back must prop up the weight of the top half of your body, but what happens is you then compress the base of your spine and place added pressure on the lower portion of your back. Due to gravity, the lower vertebrae (lumbar vertebrae) are larger than the cervical and thoracic. These larger vertebrae help to bear the weight of our bodies and support the entire torso. They are built for power and flexibility – so we can lift, twist and bend.
Due to my recent (fourth) episode, I am considering surgery and lining up appointments this week to see a sports medicine doctor, a few neurosurgeons and a naturopath. No matter what anyone tells me, I will not get lumbar spinal fusion surgery, but I am considering a discectomy or a laminectomy.
I am going to continue writing about my back problems, my doctor’s visits, talk about mental and spiritual wellness, share recipes and talk about the foods I eat. My diet is essential right now because I cannot work out. Walking is painful but I will try swimming. I will attempt to share my experience in the hopes of helping others that have the same or similar problem, and I also look to inspire others to be a little more careful in their day-to-day lives. I am currently researching material for my next post: “What to Eat When You Can’t Workout.”
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