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My Story - a life with back pain

Started by Tippysnail on 06/10/2010 10:26am

Hi All

I just wanted to join in the discussions and after reading some of the posts on here I figured the best way to start was to post 'my story' which I'm sure a lot of people will be able to relate to. Whilst I am no expert - I am a Registered Nurse and have been for 26 years. I have a lot of knowledege that often the general public don't have; but that can be a disavantage too - as per the old adage 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!!'

I would just like to tell you a bit about my history with my back. So please have a look and hopefully I won't bore you to death!!
I have had the odd problem with my back for many years, but things took a turn for the worst after I went on an adventure - driving alone from Cairns (N Queensland) and in Northern Australia to a place in Victoria in far south Australia called Warnaambool. As you will guess I live in Australia. The round trip was about 7000Km. I took 4 days/3 nights to drive each way and I stopped for a holiday when I reached my friends in Victoria. However starting out on the 2nd day into the drive and stopping for petrol - I slipped on an oil patch but thought nothing of it at the time. Only on my way back - just reaching (hardly bending at all) for some milk in the hotel fridge, 3 hours from home - I felt a little click - shortly followed by agony. The 3 hour drive was certainly a trip to remember. This was the start of my back problems for the next 11 years.

Firstly I was diagnosed with two broken bones that help to stop your vertebra slipping forward - and I had recurring slips of L5 over S1 medically called a 'Spondylolisthesis' for about 3 years. Medication of Panadeine Forte, Brufen and Diazepam really helped and I took it only when I had a 'slip' - roughly every 2-3 months.

Then - in 2002 I had a tummy bug - not a nice part - but vomiting for the 3rd time - I heard a 'click' and thought - Oh great another 'slip'. Oh how I wish that had been the case. For about 4 hours - no real pain. I accompanied my friend to the dentist as I had had a shot for the nausea earlier. Once she had gone inside I made my way to the car and half way - incredible, awful, shocking, terrible, distressing, unrelenting pain. I literally crawled back inside and when my friend came out she obviously wondered why I was prostrate on the floor. She drove me home (about 25Km) with me sqealing at every little bump. I spent 2 weeks on the couch as I couldn't walk as far as my bedroom. My friend and flatmate had to vare for me with every need. I should have gone to hospital - but I expect you have heard that nurses are not good patients and tend to expect people to "do as I say - not as I do". I won't go into more details except to say that I am very greatful that my boss sent a commode, wheelchair and wheelie walker to my home for me. At this time I was put on Oxycontin 20mg twice a day, Brufen, Diazepam and Endone.

When I was able to get a CT then MRI - I had ruptured my L4 disc. I had to take 3 weeks off work and returned very carefully. As I was in management it meant that I didn't have the usual heavy lifting, walking of a nurse on the floor. I sought specialist advice and was told that usually the disc will shrivel as time goes on. Well - not for me of course. I have suffered constant pain since then and though I fought against it am now up to 50mg Oxycontin morning and night, Diazepam 5mg up to 3 times daily, Brufen 400mg twice daily and Endone 10mg for breakthrough pain. I learnt to accept that the narcotics were a necessary evil that allowed me to get up in the morning and function to varying degrees depending what sort of pain I had - a good day is 4-5 / 10 a bad one 9/10.

I have constant pain in my lumbar region, have had numbness in my left foot since my ruptured disc, can't feel four of my toes and get severe muscle spasms in my back, calf and sometimes hamstring. I tried having a lumbar epidural - but after 45 minutes the anaesthetist couldn't get the needle in. I suspect that I have some pretty dense scar tissue. I've probably missed a lot out but I want to explain but keep it reasonably brief too.

In September 2008 I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis which makes my back worse and gives me just a bit more pain to deal with (tongue in cheek) in most every joint in my body. So I am now on a heap of meds for that too. So my life revolves around where my pain is worse and how bad. Most days I accept it - but others ...... well I guess you all know the answer there. I have not been able to work since March 2009 and I doubt things will improve that much in that area in the forseeable future.

I do know that surgery up to now - meaning fusion - is not a good option for disc degeneration. My friend who now also has back issues after a car accident had a nerve block - and was in agony for days with no subsequent improvement. Her Dr wanted to keep doing it until he got the right spot!!!! It goes without saying - she didn't go down this path. Another friend had her ankle fused for bone degeneration and she said that she wishes she never did as she had multiple issues and still does. My neurosurgeon said that fusing lumbar vertebra just shifts the stress to the next level and I've read enough stories both here and elsewhere that support that. However I saw an orthopaedic surgeon who wanted to operate and fuse my back at three levels - that did not happen.

I hope to be able to join this group and give and receive support - because I don't believe people can understand unless they have experienced this level of pain and disablity. I look forward to hearing from you all

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4 Responses


Hi Tippysnail-
your story did not bore me, we all have a story, and we never forget the details that make our lives different from that moment forward. I cannot imagine all that you have gone through. I think we read others stories and sometimes can put our own into some perspective, I feel terrible most days, but I am not on the meds like you are taking. I thought about mentioning some books, then realized you are in the medical field, so you know things. I did some research over the winter on my own for what criteria warrants a certain type of surgery. I had a flair up 15 months after a decompressive disc surgery and some books actually said why surgery does not always work. I made notes to myself and I recall hearing that a fusion is not good for leg pain, but may be effective for back pain. A decompressive surgery can be helpful with having leg problems. I also recall that if there is slippage of the spine they do recommend a fusion. I know if your anything like me, you have held off. I also think sometimes less is more. I also had pain that just immobilized me, and after 2 weeks of crawling on the floor I had surgery for a severe herniated disc at L5S1, which was two years ago. I have sciatica, crampy pain and spasms in my leg and foot, and a back pain that is now much more noticeable.(I sleep pretty good, and the first half of the day is much better than the last half.) Sometimes at the end of the day, my foot seems so numb and hurting. I have gone to several doctors, each telling me something different. 2 recommended different surgeries, one said that I have a degenerated disc and I should have a fusion, the other said I should redo the decompressive surgery to free up space around the spine and trim a protrusion from the disc. The doctor that gave me my shots said neither is wrong, it is just that one gave you one strike your out, and the other is going to give you two strikes your out. The second doctor says everyone has a degenerated discs. I have gone through resting, pacing myself, nerve root blocks and physical therapy. The only thing that helped to give me hope to get up and move around was the physical therapy. The final doctor who is a specialist in my area, said it looked iffy to him that it would do much good. I will see him next week. I think the ortho doctors want to mess with our bones, the neuro doctors want to help us with our nerve issues, it is so hard day in and day out. I know what you mean about accepting it, I feel like most times throughout the day I just go on, then at night I start to feel weak and doubtful about my choices. We just go on, saying the past is water under the bridge and try to be optimistic. Hang in there…..


I am so sorry to hear of your long and painful journey!!! I too suffer from symptommatic spondylolisthesis. Mine caused severe bilateral foraminal stenosis which caused significant bilateral root nerve compression at l5/s1. 11 months later, after dealing with severe leg weakness and nerve pain that far surpassed my back pain, I had aone level fusion surgery with instrumentation. Its only been 3 1/2 months since my surgery so its too soon to tell if it has been a success. I'm very concerned with my decision as I worry about above level instability. It has been a journey. I hope you find relief!! *hugs*


I just wanted to add that my leg pain has seemed to be brought under control with my fusion surgery, as I have only had it occastionally, but now my lower back pain surpasses my leg pain. Its as though I traded off one kind of pain for another. I guess I'll take it this way because id rather have back pain as opposed to that horrid no-one-can-touch-or-put-pressure-on-my-leg pain


I also had a severe Spondylolisthesis and dealt with it for 3 years in order to build up enough sick time at work to cover me while I got it fixed. I read so much and visited so many sites to find out all the pros and cons so that I could make the best decision. I went in for a fusion of L4 to L5 and it was the best thing I have ever done. I was back to work as a building inspector on light duty 3 weeks after the surgery and on the 5th week began to work 40 hours. I was very fit and only 36 years old, non smoker so I healed very fast. The doctor was located in Scottsdale Az and was highly recommended. The incision was on my back just above my belt line and the doctor fused the bones with titanium rods and pedicle screws as well as 2 bone cages between L4,L5 and he also used bone fragments from a cadaver on the sides of the vertebrae. I had a friend who went to another doctor for the same procedure and they opened up his back one day to start the procedure then flipped him over and worked on him from the front the next day. Needless to say his recovery was much longer and more difficult. I will admit, the recovery during the first 2 weeks after the procedure was intense and uncomfortable. I had to rent a hospital bed, use a walker for a week and a half,needed help getting dressed, getting in and out of the car for follow up visits etc. Things quickly began to improve at the end of the second week. It's been 4 years now and the only thing I would have done differently is get it done sooner. My simple little outpatient shoulder surgery that I had done 2 years ago has given me a way harder time that my back ever has after recovery from the fusion.