Chronic lower back pain…and what I did about it.

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment I realized I had chronic lower back pain. You don’t just wake up one morning and say, “wow. My back has been hurting a long time.” It sort of dawns on you that 1. Your back always hurts, and 2. You can’t remember when the pain started.

A couple of months ago I realized my chronic pain was affecting my daily life, so I scheduled an appointment with my physician. The MRI revealed nothing too alarming: mostly typical degeneration with a couple of herniated/bulging discs and some bony changes. My ortho referred me to a pain management specialist for further treatment. The PMS explained to me that the majority of my pain was most likely due to the facet joint nerves (btw, if you speak ortho or neuro, I’m really dumbing this down because it’s not my area & I don’t feel like going back to look up the proper names/words, so bear with me). He recommended I undergo test injections to see if I would be a candidate for facet joint injections.

The first time I woke up from heavy sedation (I was awake, but don’t really remember much), I realized I had absolutely no back pain. Unfortunately, by the time the sedative wore off, so had the anaesthetic that was injected into my facet joints. It’s meant to be short-acting–the procedure is only a diagnostic.

When I met again with my PMS, (lol) he advised me that based off my results, I was a good candidate for neural ablation. That’s a fancy way of saying he wanted to burn my nerves using radiofrequency energy. I was pretty apprehensive, so I did some research. The naysayers suggested that burning the nerves minimized your body’s ability to use core muscles, but since the procedure only burns a select number of nerves coming off the facet joints, that point is really not supported. The only real negative I could find was that for some, the procedure didn’t really provide any relief. (And of course, with any procedure, there is always a minimal risk of infection.)

facet-joint-injection-xray-guidance

facet joints

Friday morning, I welcomed the sedative and settled in for a good nap. And they must’ve upped my dosage this time, because this time I have no recollection of anything past moving onto the table.

Saturday morning I woke up, put my feet on the floor, and waited for the shockwave of pain to run down my back to my feet and back up again. But it never came. And for the first time in a long time, I immediately felt motivated to go outside and ride, rather than laying around.

It’s now Sunday, and I now realize just how much chronic pain was affecting my life. My pain was not debilitating by any means–I was fully capable of doing pretty much anything I wanted to do, but I had zero motivation to do it. The pain made me tired all the time, and I found myself preferring to lay on the couch rather than go work out or even clean my house.

The procedure is not a permanent ‘fix,’ and it doesn’t cure anything. My biggest concern was, as active as I’m prone to be, that I would go out, overdo it, and further damage my spine. However, my PMS assured me that the pain and numbness resulting from the damaged discs would still persist, especially if I overdo it. Unfortunately, there’s not yet a good way to treat that type of pain. The sacroiliac pain was referred pain carried by those facet joint nerves, and that is/was my source for chronic pain. The disc pain results when I get out there and try to run on a regular basis. (The PMS and his nurse did give me a really odd look when I asked them about running before telling me, “You should probably find an alternative form of cardio.”)

I could probably keep typing and give you more information, but if you’re interested, just drop a comment below. I’ll do my best to answer any questions!

 

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