I've always been a healthy person. I ate well, exercised regularly, and never smoked or drank alcohol. But then, one day, I woke up with a sharp pain in my back. I went to the doctor, and she diagnosed me with a herniated disc.
The doctor told me that I could try physical therapy or surgery. I was hesitant about surgery, but the pain was so bad.
Back Pain That Gets Progressively Worse
As someone who has suffered from low back pain on and off for many years, I am all too familiar with the frustration and uncertainty that often accompanies chronic pain.
Over the years, despite trying many of the recommended conservative treatments like physical therapy, pain medication, and lifestyle changes, my pain persisted and slowly got worse and worse over time until that morning when I woke up and things just seemed different. Worse than ever.
After numerous trips to the ER and many consults with my doctor, I finally decided that surgery was the best option (and it seemed like the only option) for fixing my low back pain once and for all.
In this article, I'll share with you the factors that led me to my tipping point for surgery. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help others who are facing the same decision.
What It's Like Living With Chronic Back Pain
Low back pain is a common and debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. There are a bunch of different causes for the condition. Things like herniated discs, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and spinal fractures can all end up causing low back pain.
For many people non-surgical treatments (like physical therapy, pain meds, and exercise) seem to work. For others, like myself, it seems as if nothing helps. My back pain was chronic.
It stopped me from hanging out with my friends. I couldn’t go to all the work activities that my co-workers went to, and it felt like everyone just thought I was always just making excuses.
Understand What Back Surgery Really Involves
My primary care doctor recommended that I try conservative treatments, like physical therapy and OTC pain medication, before considering surgery.
Initially I didn’t really want to have surgery. I was scared of something so drastic. But no matter what I did my pain just didn’t seem to want to go away. I did all of the recommended physical therapy treatments, although my insurance only covered about 20 sessions, and I think I ended up missing a couple because of work.
I also found that sometimes I didn’t want to do the exercises that the physical therapist gave me because I didn’t want to make my pain worse, especially if I knew the next work day was going to be a super busy one.
What To Do When Back Pain Is Ruining Your Life
Eventually my pain got so bad that I couldn’t really do anything without feeling the pain. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even go for a walk with my dog. I was feeling stressed and depressed and I felt like no one really understood what I was going through. My friends just thought I was always complaining and I don’t think they really wanted to hang out with me any more.
Looking back now, I am pretty sure that that was my tipping point. I was just lying on my couch, with my dog wanting to walk. I felt like a failure at work. A failure to my friends. Heck, I even felt like I was failing my dog. Basically my life sucked and I had to do something about it.
It was at this point that I realized that surgery was my best option for managing my low back pain.
What To Expect From Spine Surgery
I had done a lot of research on the different types of back pain surgery that were available to me. Before deciding on surgery, I had a comprehensive evaluation by a spine specialist, which included a thorough medical history, physical examination, and imaging studies.
The spine specialist confirmed that I had a herniated disc in my lower back and that it was pressing on my spinal nerve and was causing me significant pain and mobility issues.
The surgeon said that there were a couple of surgical options available to me and I asked him about the risks and benefits of each type of procedure.
In the end, we decided that a lumbar microdiscectomy would probably be the best option for my condition. A microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that would remove the herniated portion of my disc and it would relieve the pressure on my spinal nerve and help me feel like my old self again.
What To Expect After Spinal Surgery
The surgery was a success, and I was able to return home within a few days. Although I experienced some pain and discomfort in the days following the procedure, my pain levels significantly improved, and I was soon able to resume many of my daily activities.
Over time, my mobility improved, and I was able to engage in physical therapy and other exercises to strengthen my back and prevent future injury.
What Is The Long Term Success Rate Of Spine Surgery?
Unfortunately, we are now about 2 years post surgery and my pain has come back. I went to see my surgeon again and he told me that I have developed scar tissue around the site of the surgery which is now putting pressure on the nerves and is causing my pain.
The only option is to have another surgery to remove the scar tissue but my insurance is refusing to pay. Even though it was caused by my initial surgery it has been a while since the initial operation and I have changed insurance companies. So I can either pay $12,000 for the basic surgery or my co-pay of $10,000 which I just don’t have right now.
My doctor has suggested that I try physical therapy along with pain management techniques like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) for pain management.
I am so frustrated. I feel like I am right back at the beginning again. Except now my body has had to go through surgery, and I still had to pay a $5000 copay for the initial surgery (and that didn’t even include the initial consult with the surgeon). And I have nothing to show for it.
Back pain sucks. Let’s hope physical therapy works better this time. I guess I don’t really have a choice right now.
Considerations Before Spine Surgery
In conclusion, my decision to undergo surgery for my low back pain was not an easy one, but it was the best choice that I could make at the time, with the information that was available to me. While surgery is not the right choice for everyone with low back pain, it was the only option for me to alleviate my symptoms and improve my quality of life.
I would encourage anyone who is considering surgery to do their research, consult with their healthcare team, and make an informed decision that is best for their individual needs.
Potential Complications From Spine Surgery
It is also important to really go through the risks with your surgeon. While my problem was related to unexpected formation of scar tissue, other common complications include:
1. Pain At The Incision Site:
One of the most common complications following low back surgery is pain and discomfort at the incision site. Despite the minimally invasive nature of the procedure, many people experience significant pain and tenderness in the area where the incision is made.
This can make it difficult to move and perform your daily activities, and can end up with people having to rely on pain medication to manage their symptoms.
2. Mobility Issues:
Another complication that people sometimes experience is difficulty with mobility. Despite physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises, it can be challenging to regain full range of motion and strength. This can be frustrating, as people hope that surgery will improve their mobility, not impede it.
3. Psychological Challenges:
In addition to physical complications, I have also experienced emotional and psychological challenges. The pain and discomfort I have experienced following the surgery has taken a toll on my mental health, and I have struggled with feelings of anxiety, depression, and frustration. I have found it difficult to manage my symptoms and adjust to the changes in my life that the surgery has brought about.
Despite these challenges, I am determined to overcome them and return to the activities and lifestyle that I enjoyed before my surgery.
I have been working closely with my healthcare team and physical therapist to manage my symptoms and prevent further complications.
I have also been engaging in self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, and counseling, to support my emotional and psychological well-being.
Finally, while I had high hopes for my low back surgery, I was one of the people who experienced some unexpected and challenging complications. However, I am committed to overcoming these obstacles and working towards a brighter future.
I would encourage anyone who is considering low back surgery to be prepared for the possibility of complications and to work closely with their healthcare team to manage any symptoms and ensure a successful recovery.