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Herniated disc

Hi, I'm new here. I’m writing about my back experience in hopes to help others
who are having a similar experience so sorry that it’s a long read. When I was
in pain and searching for answers and hopeful personal experiences I couldn’t
find any, so I hope this finds someone who needs it.

My timeline starts in November of 2015.  I started having a stiff lower back where it
was hard to stand up straight after sitting. I thought my back was ‘out’ and
tried to rest it the best I could, but I am a mother of my then 5 month
old.  The pain and stiffness came and
went for about 8 weeks. In January, my back hurt really badly if I tried to
bend forward, I could hardly set my daughter on the floor or unload the dish
washer.  One night in January it was so bad
that my back started having spasms and there was shooting pains down my legs. I
woke up and my spine was curved, and I was standing hunched and slanted.  I saw a chiropractor the next day and I could
barely stand. He took xrays and used a tens unit on my back that day.  I saw him 3 times a week for about three
weeks. He suggested that I take it easy, lay in bed, use ice and not heat, and
not stretch my back.  This was the worst
advice I received. The last time I saw him I left in so much pain that I was in
tears and went to an afterhours clinic. 
There was a large spasm bulging from my back and the doctor injected cortisone
directly into the spasm.  This helped a
great deal but it was a week before I could stand up straight. 

I swore off all chiropractors and felt stupid for not seeing
a medical doctor at this point, but the chiro was very convincing that the medical
doctors would just push pills and not help me fix the issue.

I went to a few D.O. doctors who looked puzzled, and was
referred to a spinal specialist.  I ended
up seeing five spine specialists, because after the chiropractor I learned my
lesson about not getting opinions for more than one person!  Everyone was telling me I have scoliosis and
it must have been there slightly all along. 
No one was listening that I had x-rays from a few years prior with no
indication of scoliosis and I just woke up slanted one day. Finally, after an
MRI they found my L5 S1 disc herniation. 
The doctor explained that my back was protecting itself so it was
pushing me away from the disc causing the curve in my spine.  They said to take pain meds and do physical therapy.  Pain medication was not an option for me as I
was breast feeding my daughter.  Physical
therapy was helpful but in the end it didn’t get me far enough.  Also, I purchased an inexpensive inversion
table, which helps me now more than it did then.  At this point it was March, and I had been in
pain for months.  It was downright
depressing and discouraging. I tried an epidural steroid injection, which
helped but once again I was still in pain all day every day. I decided my only
option was to do surgery even though 4 of the 5 doctors didn’t recommend it and
the one that did recommend spinal fusion. 
I was planning to get the surgery in October.

I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen in almost a
year.  I told him about my problem and he
also has a disc herniation at the same level and had a similar experience as I
did.  He urged me to try Pilates before
my surgery.  He gave me the name of his
trainer.  I decided that I may as well
try it because after the surgery I would have to go through core strengthening
anyway, so I may as well give it a shot now. 

Going to Pilates sessions one on one is expensive and I have
to admit, at this point my mind was made up that surgery was my only option. I’m
only 30 and don’t want to live in pain and want to have another baby. But, even
though it’s expensive (and honestly, we could barely afford it), I had to give
it a shot because surgery is a permanent choice.

I signed up for 10 one on one sessions, by the 6th
session I could really feel a difference in my pain level. I signed up for
another 10, by the 14th session I was almost pain free.  I was still stiff in the mornings and after
car rides and tender after busy days in my lower back. I also want to note that
driving for more than 20 minutes was extremely uncomfortable. I would have pain
in my leg, hip, butt and low back. I bought one of those fancy pillows with the
cut out for the tail bone. It did help but didn’t solve the problem. I still
use it sometimes.  I have been working
with the Pilates instructor for about six months now and I get stiff but I have
little to NO pain, and car rides are no longer uncomfortable.

As I worked with the instructor we took baby steps and
started with the very basics.  We found
that my pain was coming from tightness in my muscles and weakness.  Tightness not only in my back but my legs,
and psoas as well was leading to the lumbar pain.  My theory (I’m not a doctor), is that my disc
injury caused my body to work in ways that it shouldn’t have to help compensate
for the injury which lead to muscles getting tight and other muscles that were
getting weak because I wasn’t using them correctly.  Taking the advice of the chiropractor actually
hurt my recovery for two reasons.  One,
not using the muscles caused them to become very weak and anyone with a disc
injury needs a strong core to help with the pain; and two my body purposely pushed
itself out of alignment to protect the disc so when I allowed him to push me
back into alignment it caused more harm than good for my body. (I am not saying
that is correct for everyone’s body, but for my situation). 

So, I made it. 
It is now January of 2016 and I have been feeling amazing since around
November.  My (not a doctor) advice to
someone with chronic back pain would be to really do your research. Find
someone who is knowledgeable about how the muscles in your body connect and is
willing to take baby steps with you. Listen to your body (I didn’t do any exercises
that made me bend all the way forward with my spine until just recently because
that always seemed to bother it).  Read
about the muscles that are hurting in your body, research stretches, and use
youtube. I found great videos on helping with pelvic rotation and tight psoas
stretches on there for free!  But having the
personal trainer that knew her stuff was really key for me. She is extremely
strict on form and working out with no pain. Also, I went to massage therapy the first part of the year regularly and used a heating pad instead of ice, which was helpful for me. I really hope that my experience
can help someone else find what what works for them.


  • sherrygirlssherrygirl ontario canadaPosts: 162
    It's good to hear non surgery therapy worked. Gives me hope. Thanks for sharing
  • I'm my original post I said it's January 2016, but I meant 2017 (sorry!)
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  • catapamcatapam AustriaPosts: 207
    "and working out with no pain"
    I beleive in this statement is the key for any exercise someone with back pain may perform.

    Where is pain is no gain.
    This is what I believe 
  • catapamcatapam AustriaPosts: 207
    Another comment 
    Let imagine that you would have this surgery performed before balancing spine muscles 
    The forces remain unbalanced on your spine then a new herniation came as for many people in this forum.
    After that the doctor will tell you about back stability issues and a fusion is next step.
    After that a pain management doctor will come into the picture with opioids 
    All will said this is normal.
    I would say that normal is to find the cause and to solve it properly 

  • Catapam, I agree with you. This has definitely been a learning experience for me. When I was in constant pain I felt hopeless and it was difficult to find guidance that would actually solve my problem. The doctors would say the words 'pain management ', and that freaked me out, like they were indicating this was the new norm for me and now I had to live on pan killers and shots. I know that's the case for some people, and surgery is necessary for some too. But I think finding the cause like you said is really important.  
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  • TJBETTJBE Posts: 8
    edited 01/10/2017 - 1:14 AM
    I so appreciate your story!  My back gave out 2 days before Christmas and I've been in and out of doctors / chiropractors.  I had an MRI which showed L4 and L5 S1 Protrusion / Herniations, Stenosis and Disc Disease.  However, the Clinic also saw a Rupture (free floating disc material) at L5. This kind Chiropractor showed these findings to the original Radiologist as well as a Neurosurgeon.  Neither see the Rupture.  So I have conflicting reports and am very confused.  I am encouraged that you found so much help via Pilates.  I am severely hunched, and using a cane.  I feel deformed and embarrassed much of the time.  Today for whatever reason was much better as far as the pain levels - so perhaps I'm now on the mend.  However, after paying cash for an MRI, I wish I actually knew from the report if I have a Ruptured Disc.  Thanks for sharing your inspiring Story!
  • Best of luck to you TJBE. I definitely understand feeling embarrassed.  I was slanted for so long I actually got use to it for a bit. I hope you find something that helps you soon.  
  • MarWinMarWin OhioPosts: 699
    @JBelleR85 wrote: "My theory (I’m not a doctor), is that my disc injury caused my body to work in ways that it shouldn’t have to help compensate for the injury which lead to muscles getting tight and other muscles that were getting weak because I wasn’t using them correctly.  Taking the advice of the chiropractor actually hurt my recovery for two reasons.  One, not using the muscles caused them to become very weak and anyone with a disc injury needs a strong core to help with the pain; and two my body purposely pushed itself out of alignment to protect the disc so when I allowed him to push me back into alignment it caused more harm than good for my body. (I am not saying that is correct for everyone’s body, but for my situation)."

    I'd like to offer an alternative way to look at this theory: The disc was damaged because the body was already out of alignment. The body was out of alignment because the muscles were not balanced. The imbalances occur over time as a result of our daily habits through lack of motion and lack of variable movements. Most of us either sit to work or work a job that requires limited motion, the same is true for students. Our bodies react and respond in kind and our posture/alignment takes on a form that no longer our original blueprint [An aligned and pain free blueprint]. The muscles are now at war so-to-speak. The result is a misaligned musculoskeletal system. The misalignments are just too much for the discs, ligaments, and joints to handle and the result is bulges, herniations, tears, spinal narrowing, spinal compression, fluid buildup, bone spurs, etc, all of which put pressure on the nerves. Hence pain.

    Muscles need motion to both sustain and grow. Lack of motion allows certain muscles to go dormant rather than become weak. The trick now is to both allow the dominant muscles to relax and the dormant ones to awake. This would be the balance we need. To say we need to strengthen in order to help with pain, while filled with good intentions, may present a problem if at first you don't become balanced. Strengthening may further exacerbate pain due to increasing the imbalances proportionately. I think this is where many PT's get it wrong. 

    @JBelleR85, you should hold on to this instructor. In my opinion, she balanced you first and then strengthened you. Thank you for sharing your story. Keep in touch!     

  • @MarWin Yes, I definitely see what you're saying about my initial injury happening because of poor posture or poor use of my body. This instructor is amazing and not all pilates instructors are created equal! She has taught me so much because she truly wants me to be able to help myself even when I can no longer afford to go to her. 
  • MarWinMarWin OhioPosts: 699
    @JBelleR85 It really is a daily habitual thing to keep the pain away. Glad for you! 
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