Kim is a patient at Lockside Medical centre. Here she shares her story of living with and managing back pain.
Just before my 50th birthday my back, after 24 years of problems, decided to go completely. Tablets had always been a last resort for a flare up, but my usual 'bag of tricks'; bed rest, heat packs, acupuncture, and physiotherapy were doing nothing.
Initially I had gone private to see a physio who, to help me, had put me on traction, but it had the opposite effect and the pain levels went through the roof - I couldn't sit, stand or walk without being in excruciating pain in my lower back and both legs (sciatica). I lay at home literally crying with the pain and couldn't see any quality of life if it didn't stop. I knew it was finally time to ask for some form of pain management and an MRI scan.
After a referral from Dr Bircher I was sent to Salford Royal Hospital to see a neurologist who confirmed that my lower disc had completely slipped back and herniated. He gave me three choices, pain management with drugs, an epidural injection which may or may not work, or surgery. I was told very clearly that my back was irreversibly damaged, the slipped disc would never go back into place and the only thing that could be changed was the nerve pain in my leg by doing a microdiscectomy which had a 75-80% success rate.
It might seem to some that it was an easy decision to make, get the surgery and move on. However it was the list of possible risk that made me decide that although surgery was a fairly quick and convenient option, it would always be an absolute last resort solution because of the smallest possibility of it going wrong, which could lead to, amongst other things, double incontinence, paralysis or worse.
For about 3 days I was totally freaking out, then after the shock of what I had been told I decided to be more proactive and get back some control over what was going on with my body. I asked to see a different physio who showed me some different exercises to do. She told me I needed to look at these the way a diabetic would need insulin. That I would need to do them little but often every day for the rest of my life (annoying but not as bad as the thought of paralysis!)
I asked the neurosurgeon if I was okay to swim and do pilates. He said yes so I enrolled myself straight away and now go to classes every week to improve my core which will help support the muscles around my lower spine. I took ibuprofen, Co-Codamol and Gabapentin (pain blocker) for about 8 weeks, I didn't like these. They made me sleepy and lights at night seemed to dazzle, but they were necessary to get me through the first couple of months. Now as I have begun to et better I have cut back to just using Ibuprofen.
So the point of me telling you all this? In my opinion surgery should always be an end of road solution. The helplessness you feel can be counteracted by taking a proactive approach to your pain management. You may have to accept that you might never be able to change what is wrong with your body. That annoyingly there are no quick fixes, that you may have to exercise (even if like me you hate it!) and it will be something that will impact on your time daily, but it's better than taking a risk when you don't need to.