I'm writing this story because most of the personal contributions on the Internet that I read when I was ill are less than positive, and I wanted to bring some hope to those who are have just suffered this condition. This is my story, not a generalisation, or a definite map of recovery, but I hope that it will help you to think positively.
My herniated disc finally occurred when I tripped over a carpet. I had suffered back pain for almost two years leading up to this, and taken paracetamol. In the weeks leading up to the herniation, the pain became worse. At the moment of injury I felt a 'ping' or 'snap' in my lower right back and fell to the floor.
On Monday I could not feel my lower leg or foot. I attempted to walk to my local doctors surgery, but my leg gave way and I fell to the pavement, unable to get up. I was very frightened and worried, and a passer by called an ambulance. When I got to hospital I was examined, given Tramadol and diazepan in the accident and emergency department and transferred to a ward for observation. I was finally given a CT scan an it was confirmed that I had a disc herniation at L4/L5.
On my final day in hospital, I was given a pair of crutches and taught to walk up and down stairs with them. I was given a physiotherapy appointment for 1 weeks time. At this point the pain was still almost unbearable and I was discharged with paracetamol.
The day following my discharge I spoke to my local doctor and discussed pain relief with him. He prescribed co-codamol and ibuprofen 400mg, which went some way to controlling my pain, but only if I set my alarm and took them in the night.
The worst part of this was that the diagnosis of 'a slipped disc' made people roll their eyes and claim they had suffered this a carried shopping home the next day. I found out that there are three categories in the 'slipped disc' range of meaning:
swollen disc - where the disc is swollen, causing local tissue pain
bulging disc - where the soft disc tissue bulges and causes tissue pain/nerve pain
herniated disc - where the soft matter from inside the disk leaks out and causes tissue pain/nerve pain/sciatica
It is likely that those people who carried shopping home the next day did not have a herniated disc.
Week 4. My hospital appointment arrived. I went to a spinal unit to see if I could have disc surgery. This was the first time I had been outside my home since leaving hospital. I was given a sick note for 6 weeks and told to go to physiotherapy. The specialist was reluctant to operate and informed my that the numbness I felt in my leg would probably be permanent. He told me that I could never wear high heels again and would probably always have a limp. He suggested spinal injections and morphine implants, but I was so shocked that the injury was permanent that I could not make a decision.
Week 5. I walked outside on crutches. I went round the block, and further each day. I went to physiotherapy and became upset when I couldn't lift my leg off the physio table. I started regular Mackenzie stretches and attended physio twice a week.
Week 6. I was still in tremendous pain, but I managed to walk on crutches to the chemist and bought a TENS machine. I also bought a knee support for my left knee which was now painful because of the adjustment in walking. I went to physio twice this week. No improvement in my reflexes.
Week 7. I decided I would try to go back to work part time. I was still taking a lot of pain medication, but I needed to keep my mind off my injury and keep my job. I managed to walk without crutches, but my foot dragged along the floor and flopped. I discovered through googleing this that I now had a 'drop foot'. The sciatica was very bad, but under control with pain medication.
Week 8. Christmas. Heavy snow meant I couldn't walk in the street, so off work for almost three weeks. I stopped taking co-codamol during the day, and changed to ibuprofen and and paracetamol. This stopped any drowsiness. I still could not sit on soft furniture, but could sit on a hard chair.
Week 9. I still hadn't been able to bend my leg enough to lower myself into a bathtub. I had been taking showers and badly missed bubble baths. I had not been far from home until now, but now I had to plan travelling with work. This involved rail and air travel, and it filled me with terror. What if it happened again on a train, or worse, a plane? How would I get home?
Week 10. This week I was discharged by the physiotherapist with an exercise sheet. I was far from better, and I remember looking at an exercise where I would bend forward from a sitting position to touch the floor and laughing, I would never, ever be able to do this. I still could not lift my right leg to a right angle and I was still in pain when lying down.
Week 11. The lift broke at work and I had to walk up two flights of stairs. It took me 1 hour to do this, but I did it. Until now I had only really seen my family, friends and regular work colleagues, who had not really mentioned my appearance, but this week I had a national meeting at work, and people gasped and looked very shocked when they saw my gait. I resolved to practise rolling my foot and walking better.
Week 12 At this point, my life had stabilised a little. I was still taking ibrurofen400mg and paracetamol. I had noticed that I wasn't in so much constant pain, and I made a visit to my local doctor to talk about my recovery. He told me that I would not fully recover, that I had the numbness and the limp for life, and that I may get the same severe pain at some time in the future if the same, or another disc, herniates.
Month 4 February 2011 - More snow and difficulty walking, but my balance was getting better. Still unable to lift or bend forward. My main aim now is to raise my knee to a right angle without searing pain.
Month 5 March 2011 - Went on the train from Manchester to London. I was able to sit for 2 hours without getting up in pain. Getting on and off the train was difficult as was the Underground, but all the escalators were working so it was relatively easy. Managed to stay in a hotel bed without severe pain, something I had worried about. Saw a colleague I hadn't seen for a year, who was shocked at my limp. Later in the month, I noticed that my foot was swelling badly if I walked any distance. My doctor advised this was normal as the physiology of my body was still adjusting to the injury.
Month 6 April 2011 - I still cannot lie in bed without pain, particularly if I put pressure on my right leg to turn over or get up. Sleeping much better with no need for painkiller in the night, but sill taking co-codamol before bedtime. Lifted a small box at work. I was able to put my socks on without too much of a struggle, but not sure if this is just due to a new technique rather than improvement in movement range.
Month 9 July 2011 - I'm finding it more and more difficult to think about the future with my leg like this. My birthday is coming up in September and I want to go out socially and want to wear heels, but then I remember that I couldn't walk at first and how that felt.
Month 10 August 2011 - I turn over in bed, pushing hard on my right leg, and there is no pain. I try it again, and there is still no pain. The numbness has not changed, and my leg is still weak, but the pain had lessened at last. There is no sudden nerve pain. I vacuum the carpet for the first time in ten months (my partner has been doing it for ten months!).
Month 11 September 2011 - It's my birthday and I go out in small heels. Unfortunately this doesn't really work as my shoe keeps slipping off - I can't grip it with my toes. I manage to dance in a nightclub and drink alcohol. No one comments on my walking and my partner notices that my limp is improving. For the first time since I had my injury I didn't feel like I was 'just coping'. I felt relaxed and hardly thought about my leg at all (may have been the vodka!)
Month 12 October 2011 - One year since I hurt my back and the only things I can't do are crouch down, sit on the floor easily and sit on soft furnishing. I can lift reasonably well, carry shopping bags, walk more than a mile, go upstairs on the bus, sit in the car for an hour or more. I changed the net curtains at my window and stepped form a window ledge with my left leg first...
Read my full back pain diary here:
Two Views of your Body Website and, as a consequence, thousands of requests for my full pain diary from my back injury, I have published the full version of my diaries along with some extra material on painkillers, physiotherapy, positive thinking and acceptance. I hope they help you to know that you are not alone on your own back pain journey.
US Back pain sufferers: Back Pain Diaries: My personal back pain recovery journey
UK Back pain sufferers: Back Pain Diaries: My personal back pain recovery journeyThis edocument includes a full diary of my back pain and my experience with pain, painkillers, movement, mood and exercise. The full diaries and articles are now be available on Amazon.
I'm also sharing the story of my friend Paula's hip replacement recovery story from her 'Birds on a Wire' blog, where she talks about positive mental attitude and overcoming obstacles.