The beginning and end of my story is no different from many of those I’ve read in “Spine Tales.” Degenerative disc disease of my lumbar spine had progressed to the point where surgical intervention was necessary, and I now live a full life completely free of back pain. What I want to convey in this story is the importance of educating yourself about your condition and possible treatments, the importance of appreciating the advances in surgical technology and expertise that are available, and the importance of being grateful for the possibility
of living your life fully again.
Lower back pain flared up occasionally throughout all of my adult life, typically following some type of activity that strained my lower back. My first nasty back pain came at age 19 after simply chopping wood in my parents’ backyard. Episodes like this continued intermittently for the next 30 years, usually every six months. For treatment, I would rest, take ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and the pain would go away in a couple of weeks. Looking back, I vividly remember my dad dealing with back pain, and I remember stories of my grandfather’s back pain being so bad that he was occasionally hospitalized.
In the summer of 2011, my spine health began to decline with a progression of new and more severe symptoms. With agonizing and constant pain in my hip, I made a visit to an orthopedic surgeon who ordered an MRI of my hip, which showed nothing amiss. A subsequent MRI of the lumbar spine showed a herniated L4-L5 disc, and a prevalent bulge of the L5-S1 disc. Physical therapy was prescribed, which I diligently completed. By September of 2011, I was relatively pain free.
Fortunately, we live at a time when diagnostic imaging studies are conducted at specialty facilities, and patients are the custodians of their own study media. We take MRIs with us to our office visits, but we can also load the imagery onto our own computers and view the same images our surgeons examine while they diagnose our problem. As I was recovering from my disc herniation, I poured over my MRIs and did an initial bit of internet research in an attempt to learn what was wrong with my spine and why I kept having recurring back pain incidents. It was easy to find very informative videos, spine condition descriptions, and treatments at a number of highly reputable web sources. Given the extent of information available, I was able to become appreciably informed about my condition and options.
In February of 2012, I was catching curve balls from my daughter (a committed NCAA Division I softball pitcher) when all of the pain came back immediately, with additional excruciating pain located just above my sacroiliac joint. I was miserable and went to see the orthopedic surgeon again. After another MRI of my lumbar spine, it appeared that the L4-L5 disc had emitted more material, and my orthopedic surgeon recommended a microdiscectomy of the L4-L5 disc. I underwent the procedure, and immediately felt complete relief. Unfortunately, this feeling only lasted for three months.
Pain returned for no apparent reason in May 2012, and worsened daily. At the time, I was thinking that I would need an additional microdiscectomy, and I made another visit to the orthopedic surgeon’s office. From August 2012 through February 2013, I was given several sets of steroid injections, four facet joint rhizotomies, a lumbar CT scan (from which I was able to generate a 3D model of my spine), a nuclear bone scan, an EMG, an MRI of my thoracic spine, and an additional MRI of my lumbar spine. Also from September through December, the pain reached a level that was nearly impossible to bear. I was using two canes because I couldn’t walk more than 20 feet on my own, I was taking maximum recommended doses of several opiates, I couldn’t sleep, nerve pain constantly shot down my legs, and I had extensive trouble just staying upright. If I were a horse, they would have shot me.
During this time, I again focused my attention toward my imaging studies and internet research. In addition to reviewing my MRIs and CT scans, studying the radiologist reports, and searching for MRI images of lumbar spine problems, I did the hard homework. I conducted extensive internet research to gain a basic understanding of spinal health vocabulary, nerve anatomy, surgical interventions, surgical indications (and contraindications), and non-invasive treatment options. Through my diligence and desperation, I had learned more about the spine, spine disorder diagnosis, and surgical options than I ever thought possible.
More importantly, though, I became a well-informed advocate for my own health.
No matter your age, we all can reap the benefits of incorporating the recommended amount of calcium in our diets. The recommended intake may shift depending on our age, but it remains a constant necessity throughout our lives.
The bones that make up your skeleton are made up various minerals, including calcium. Without calcium, bones are weakened and have less density which might lead to osteoporosis. This means an increase risk of fractures, including spinal fractures. To keep those bones strong, it is necessary to replenish them with sufficient calcium intake. A doctor or nutrition professional can help you determine the appropriate amount of calcium you need.
So what foods can you include in your diet to make sure you get the calcium you need for bone health?
Milk, cheese, and yogurt
This one is probably not a surprise. Dairy products reign supreme in getting you the calcium your body craves. A glass of milk has about 299 mg of calcium; a slice of cheese has about 307 mg; and a container of fruit yogurt is about 313-384 mg of calcium. Alternatives to milk and dairy products have been gaining popularity in recent years, but if you are switching to almond, soy, or other varieties of milk, make sure to supplement your calcium intake in other ways (calcium-enriched alternative milk options may be available as well).
Green leafy vegetables
This includes kale, bok choi, and broccoli. Kale has been an increasing popular vegetable in recent year that has 100 mg of calcium; Bok choi has 74 mg per cup; Broccoli has 21 mg of calcium for ½ a cup. Add these vegetables to a salad at lunch and/or dinner to easily include more calcium in your diet. Also, eating green leafy vegetables would be a great alternative to those who are unable to consume dairy products.
You might have noticed the label on some of the foods you purchased already, including orange juice (261 mg a glass) and cereal (100-1,000 mg per cup). These products are to help you meet your nutritional needs.
Evert, A. (2013, February 18). Calcium in diet. Retrieved from Medline Plus website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002412.htm
Calcium. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2015, from http://www.iofbonehealth.org/calcium website: http://www.iofbonehealth.org/calcium
Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2013, November 21). Calcium. Retrieved 6, 2015, from National Institute of Health website: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheet/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
If you happened to see our race training plan for Spinal Champions, you might have noticed the plan included hip strength. Not quite ready to train for a race yet? Not a problem, because these exercises are still relevant to you since hip strength is an important part of spinal health as well.
Trainer Carrie Seifert of the Virginia Therapy and Fitness Center shares 3 different exercises for hip strengthening, and shares tips on how to perform the exercise safely and effectively.
One of the Spinal Research Foundation’s favorite ways to celebrate Spinal Champions is with our We’ve Got Your Back national race series. For many, imagining participating in a race after overcoming spinal health challenges might seem overwhelming. However, with the Virginia Therapy & Fitness Center’s 2 Month Training Program, you might discover that you can walk or run at our race events with proper preparation and a positive attitude. And if you are not ready this year, we still encourage to enjoy the WGYB Health fair and cheer on fellow Spinal Champions.