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Friday, October 25, 2013

My Back Problems - Guest Article by Gerald Crawford

My prolapsed disc began with a pain in my foot. 

But first let me tell you how it got to that stage. I am forty eight years old now and have been totally pain free from back pain for over six years now, but before that I have suffered with back problems from my mid twenties. It can be a bit tricky to pinpoint how and when a back problem begins, but in most cases it is something that develops over a period of time through repeatedly lifting or sitting incorrectly. 

In my case I think that mine was caused by lifting heavy amps and musical equipment when I was a band roadie in my late teens and early twenties and sitting at an office desk for many years. Back then my experience of back pain seemed to go in cycles of every one or two years, whereupon I would feel that ominous dull ache at the base of my spine for a few days before my back muscles would go into complete spasm and incapacitate me to the point where I was totally immobile, and I mean totally immobile. I could not even roll over in bed because of the pain, and only us back sufferers know that this has to be experienced to be believed. 

So for the next twenty something years I put up with this cycle of backpain, recovery, feeling fine and back pain again. I went to many chiropractors and physiotherapists, some told me that my core muscles were weak and that was why they went into spasm and others told me that my discs were compressed and were pushing against the nerves in my spine due to poor posture. 

Poor posture just means that your sitting position is wrong, this link can explain poor back posture better than I can. The truth is that nobody really knew the exact cause of my problem and I blame myself for not taking action to address what was obviously a recurring problem that wasn't getting any better, but unfortunately that's a common attitude that most of us take. 

Once we begin to feel better and recover from our discomfort we put off pursuing treatment to get to the root of the cause of our condition, and I have learned the hard way that this is a BIG mistake. So, fast forward to the summer of 2006, I had been free from back pain for maybe two or three years and had pretty much forgotten about my back problems because I was feeling good and fit. We were on holiday in Vancouver and doing more walking than I would typically do, when I gradually started to become aware of a dull ache on the top of my right foot. I ignored it and put it down to our excessive walking but as the days passed I could now feel this dull ache down the front of my right thigh as well. These pains were bearable but uncomfortable and I could not understand what was causing them, I certainly did not think that they were anything to do with my back because you feel backpain in your back, right? 

I used to carry my mobile phone in my right side pocket and I began to suspect that this was the cause, that maybe it was something to do with the microwave or infra red signals from the phone. So I gave my phone to my wife to carry in her bag, needless to say that after a few more days the pains were getting more intense and now I was having difficulty in walking at a fast pace as I could not put my right leg forward as far as I normally could. We returned home to Ireland from our holiday and things went from bad to worse, at this stage I couldn't straighten out my right leg and I was permanently stooped over. Any attempt at trying to straighten myself resulted in unbearable pain which ran from my right buttock, down the front of my thigh, down the back of my calf and through the top of my foot. Note that there was no pain in my back, even though I was pretty sure at this stage that this is where the problem stemmed from. 

I went to the hospital accident and emergency because I was in so much pain, they gave me pain killers and X Rayed me. Having my back X Rayed was pretty much a waste of time unless you suspect a broken bone. My problem was muscular and cartilage related and none of these tissues were going to show up on an X Ray, but the hospital insisted that I should have the X Ray as a precautionary measure. 

 In the United Kingdom we have the NHS (National Health Service) where every citizen is entitled to free healthcare, well it's not actually free because we pay for it through our National Insurance Taxes which the government takes in addition to our normal Income Tax. Anyway, it's still a good service because you don't have any unexpected medical bills to worry about, the downside is that there is usually a long waiting list for treatment. I needed to have an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan to find out what was wrong inside me and I was told that the waiting list for a scan was about two months, however If I was willing to pay I could have the scan within a few days. The fee for this was £500, not cheap, but I went ahead and paid to have the scan done to hurry things along. The scan revealed that I had: "Loss of lumbar lordosis and type 2 end plate change on L4/5 and concluded that there was a right posterolateral disc protrusion". I didn't know what that meant either, but in plain English it meant that two of the discs in my spine were compressed to the point that they were bulging out against a nerve root in my spinal cord. 

 Any operation involving your spine has its risks and is only considered as a last resort, and in my case I had left things too late for there to be any other option. The surgeon explained that the operation would involve cutting away the protruding sections of the discs that were causing the problem. He explained that the success rate was 75% and so could not guarantee that I would be free from my back pain after such an operation. If only I had addressed my back problems sooner it might not have got to this stage. 

So I was put on the waiting list for my operation which could be up to three months away, again I had the option of having the operation within a few days if I was willing to pay a fee of £4000. I couldn't afford to pay this amount and quite frankly I felt that I shouldn't have to pay as I had been paying into the system for over twenty years for my medical care. Being in such a condition can really get you down, I was stooped over like an old man and it was doing nothing for my self confidence, but I had finally found the root cause of my back problem which had been building up over the years and that made me feel a little better. I resigned myself to waiting for my operation, but I don't mean just sit and wait, it's important to keep as busy as you can to fight off the blues. 

I decided that this was an ideal opportunity to use my free time to start learning to play the guitar again. So instead of moping about in my stooped condition I accepted my situation and made use of my time by watching dvd guitar lessons in front of the TV to learn blues guitar. I also spent a lot of my free time on the internet which ultimately led me to learning how build websites, so at least something positive came out of all of this. 

After about a month of being on the waiting list I phoned the surgery to see if they had a date for my operation, I was told that no date had been set but I was 8th on the list. I phoned again a week later and was told that I was now 12th on the list, when I asked why I had dropped down the list they couldn't give me an answer. So from that day on I resolved to phone them every other day to enquire when I should expect to have my operation. I got to be on first name terms with the receptionist and the more we became familiar with each other the harder it was for her to keep putting my date off. I know it wasn't her fault that my operation kept being put back, but I figured that by contacting her on a regular basis she would do what she could to speed up my appointment date. 

You see I realised that there could only be two reasons why my operation was being delayed. The first reason was because people who were paying to have the operation were jumping ahead of me in the queue which was fair enough. I know this because the surgeon told me that it would be him personally carrying out my operation regardless of whether or not I paid, so there was nothing I could do about that. The second reason was because He Who Shouts Loudest Gets Heard. I was in a lot of pain and unless the doctors knew this they would be bound to give preference to the patients who they felt needed the care sooner than others. So by constantly phoning the surgery and making them aware of the degree of pain I was in, I had my operation fifteen days after I was told that I was 12th on the list. 

 I can remember waking up from my operation with my wife by my bedside. The surgeon, who was fantastic by the way, came to see me and after a chat he helped me to sit up on the side of the bed and try to stand up. I didn't know what to expect, and after weeks of being stooped over in pain, I was waiting for it to come rushing back as I stood up. I stood up straight and it was almost surreal that I couldn't feel any pain at all, I was absolutely ecstatic. I walked up and down the corridor, I couldn't believe how good it felt to walk tall again. It felt very strange to be standing upright again, everything looked so low to the floor, the bed, the tables, the chairs, even my wife looked so tiny because I had been stooped over for so long I just wasn't used to the view. 

If you suffer from recurring back pain I strongly urge you to take action before you get to my stage, if you are not getting answers or feel that your problem is not being addressed then speak up. Ask for an MRI scan to find out exactly whats going on inside your body. MRI scans are expensive and in my opinion they are only offered if the doctor feels that they are absolutely necessary, but if you feel strongly enough that you need one to get to the cause of your problem then demand it because if you don't push the issue nobody else will.




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