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A Letter to Sheri about back pain

First I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV. This is simply my opinion based on my own experience.
First a little background so that I don't come off as preachy.
I've had 2 back surgeries, the first was a discectomy. The second was a spinal fusion.
For the first I had a herniated disc at L4, L5. This occurred due to a fall I took. Immediately after the fall I pushed myself to get up and try to work as normal. The fall took place on a Saturday, by the following Friday I was in so much pain that I had to crawl to the toilet. When I could no longer crawl I had to have the EMT's come to carry me out of the house to the hospital where I spent a few days on Morphine. After recovering from the pain to the point where I could have physical therapy I was able to get myself to the point where I was pretty much pain free. When the pain returned I opted for surgery. The discectomy surgery wasn't that bad. Recovery was pretty easy and the pain was almost immediately gone. A year later it returned. Apparently I re-herniated the same disc. I didn't know you could do that but apparently you can. Again after a long physical therapy rehab I was able to resume normal life. I had some loss of motion in my left leg but that returned with continued exercise, mainly walking. It was about 9 months after this rehab stint that I stepped out of my car after my long daily commute that I felt that twinge, and yes a day later I could barely stand. Bring on the second surgery. The doctors told me that since I've re-herniated the same location on multiple occasions the chances of another discectomy fixing the problem were slim. They suggested that I needed to sure up the weak area by fusing the area with a double surgery including a discectomy and a Spinal Fusion. Seeing as each time I had hurt my back I ended up losing many days from work I elected to have the surgery even though it would cost me 10 weeks on my back.
The surgery went well. The recovery was HELL! The pain immediately upon waking from the surgery was the worst pain I've ever had. Weeks went by and the back pain, as I knew it, was gone. Physical therapy was great and after a few short months I was back in the gym and working out. Hell in less than a year I was doing 600 lbs. leg presses without even a twinge. (I probably still can if I could get my ass in gear)
Anyhow, the back pain that put me on my knees, crawling to the toilet, was gone after each surgery, but it was replaced with a new pain. First, I have had recurrences of the pain that puts me on my knees since my last surgery, but now I know how to deal with it and I know what it isn't. Second, since my last surgery, I've been in pain every day. My last surgery was in October 2001, you do the math. Now the pain I have every day IS different from the pain that takes your legs away, but I would caution you not to have surgery due to this new pain. This new pain is from the fact that when you have back surgery they have to peel away the muscle from your spine to get to the spine and that muscle never really attaches itself quite the same way it was before. Also, for spinal fusion, they need to take bone from your pelvic bone that they then use to help fuse your vertebrae together. This bone is chiseled out of you from a second incision. This location probably is more troublesome to me than the actual spine incision. And finally to top it all off I still have time when the good old pain comes back and I can barely stand. Now don't give up hope! Had I known then what I know now I would not have had my surgeries. Sadly when you're in so much pain that you can't tie your own shoes or wipe your own ass you don't really care what will stop the pain. Please, please take your time and relax. You need to understand what is causing the pain in order to learn how to cope with it. Now I can't tell you that you will never be in pain again. But I can tell you that you can manage the pain and for much of your life you won't even know you have it. Don't worry; I'm not going to tell you the pain is all in your head. It's not, it's real and it hurts. However, the cure for your pain starts in your head and by using your head, or your mind, along with exercise and/or physical therapy you can beat this pain. I'm going to stop typing now and recommend you read some books that helped me. Read and walk. Learn how your body reacts to stresses and how you can work to teach your body not to cause you as much pain. If you are currently in so much pain that you can't walk please know that I have been there and I know what it's like. But also know that from the other side of surgery you won't be in any better position to deal with the pain that will probably return. You will just have some nice scars. Read the books, get physical therapy, walk, walk, walk, exercise, relax, stretch, relax some more. It's a job but it's worth it.

Recommended reading:
To Be or Not To Be... Pain-Free: The Mindbody Syndrome by Marc D. Sopher
Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection (Paperback) by John E. Sarno
any other book by Dr. Sarno.


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