Hey everyone. I'm a 25 year old athlete: mostly cycling, some triathlons, gym workouts, etc. Four years ago I got into riding in the Bike to the Beach MS150: 161 miles in 2 days from San Antonio, TX to Corpus Christi. I rode for my friend Cesar who was diagnosed with MS when he was 24 and is now a paraplegic. I rode for those who could not and now I find myself not being able to do the MS150, but more than that I'm unable to do even simple daily activities because of the herniated disks in my back.
I first hurt my back in Feb '07: I was in an aerobics class at the gym which I'd been doing for 6 months and we were doing some back strengthening exercises. I didn't feel a pop or any immediate sharp pain, but by the time I had showered and was on my way to work, the muscles in my back were tight and starting to ache. By lunch time I could not stand up straight: I was in so much pain and was having so many muscle spasms that I had to leave work early and took the next two days off work because I was having trouble just getting out of bed to go to the bathroom, much less sitting for hours on end. I had no idea what was wrong and started talking to friends/family about what I should do. My mother had herniated disks in her back several years back and had to have surgery, but she is obese and felt hers pop when she lifted and twisted something at work. Her pain also went down to her toes (sciatica). By contrast I was an active, fit young'un at a healthy weight and my pain was mostly localized in my back with some aching into my left quad down to my knee. I thought I must have just pulled some muscles back there overdoing things working out. I had an added complication of being in the process of coming back from a 6 month workout hiatus and I made the mistake of starting weight lifting too early after losing all my stabilizing muscles. Didn't really think about it while I was doing it, obviously, because I was young and healthy: can't happen to me, right? WRONG!
Anyway, a coworker of mine swore up and down that his chiropractor was awesome with his back pain. I had never been to a chiropractor before, but I was in so much pain that I was willing to try anything to get rid of it. I went to the chiropractor every week, then every 2 weeks for 5 months. The chiropractor never did any x-rays, just did her adjustments then hooked me up to an interferrential stimulator. She gave me no strengthening exercises during this time; in fact she told me not to do any activity other than walking. Her "treatments" relieved my pain for a few days, but it would come right back. I've since learned that this is the key to a successful chiropractic business (don't offer long-term solutions, just keep them coming back for more!) and that she was a very poor quality chiropractor as well since x-rays should have been the first imaging she should have done, although that may or may not have shown my herniated disks but may have shown some of the bony changes around my worst disk.
After wasting that much time at the chiropractor, I went to my general practitioner to see what my options were. She gave me some pain meds and muscle relaxers for the spasms as well as a lumbar support brace and sent me to a specialist. I was not a fan of the lumbar support brace: it did keep my back stabilized and reminded me not to bend over, but I felt like it was keeping my ab/back muscles from doing their job and those muscles were atrophying as a result. When I finally got in to see the specialist 6 weeks later, he didn't do any imaging either despite being surprised that the chiropractor had not done imaging either. He was confident that I had herniated disks in my back and sent me off to physical therapy.
The people at PT were awesome: they were the first people I'd met in my quest for diminished back pain who acted like they gave a shit about me getting better. I spent 2 months there re-learning how to use my back properly. I learned that being active is essential to healing a herniated disk, but doing the RIGHT activities. In that time, my pain actually went away to the point that I could start riding my bike again. I felt so good that I did the MS150. Due to a combination of spending that long in a flexed position, having no good ice packs at the ride's medical office (which I was counting on to minimize disk irritation), and ignoring returning pain during the ride, my back was not the same after that ride in October. This January, I reinjured my back during a weight lifting session: still no popping or immediate pain, just worsening pain throughout the day and as soon as I felt those same muscle spasms I knew exactly waht I'd done. I went straight back to the specialist and DEMANDED an MRI. Turns out I have THREE herniated disks: L3-4, L4-5, and L5-S1, all likely made worse by my stint at the chiropractor. L4-5 is the worst of the three. The doctor put me on 2 rounds of oral steroids from which I saw incredible results. He also offered to do epidural spinal injections, but I wanted to try physical therapy again before going that route because 1) it helped so much last time and 2) needles near my spine do not sound like a comfortable thing. I went back to physical therapy where I combined my existing knowledge of the gym workouts I should be doing to minimize my recovery time with some new pool workouts.
I've spent the past 4 months continuing those exercises, an insane amount of icing, and using a home use TENS unit. I'd gotten up to 4-5 pain-free days at a time, mixed with some muscle pain if I skipped a stretching session or icing, but my referral pain down my left quad has been gone for 2 months. My workouts have only consisted of cardio on an elliptical machine a lot of ab/back work on the floor to support my back, hip strengthening exercises because my hips are hypermobile, and some upper body workouts to support my back work. Last week I had five amazing symptom-free days, but Friday I spent a few hours sitting on a hard stadium seat at a baseball game. Saturday morning I didn't do anything out of the ordinary, but by lunch time that same pain was back and by the evening I couldn't stand up straight. This morning after stumbling around the house a bit I went to stand up from being seated on the couch and the muscle spasms took me to my knees. My referral pain is back, still just to my knee but not as bad as last time.
I don't know what to do this time...When the pain is this bad I want to call up my doctor and scream "I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU DO, JUST TAKE AWAY THE PAIN!" but I know that making rash decisions (like wasting that time at the chiropractor the first time I hurt my back) can have serious long term consequences. I have researched so many options...accupuncture, spinal decompression, the epidural steroid injections... This time I did everything I was supposed to do, didn't do anything out of the ordinary that would have hurt my back, I hadn't even started flexion recovery therapy yet. But it still didn't make any difference: the pain is back anyway.
I'm leaning towards getting the shots because I am desperate for relief, but I'm worried about potential side effects. I hear so many women who have had epidurals during child birth having complications during the injection so that they have MORE back pain afterwards. This is essentially the same procedure only with steroids instead of a spinal block. I am afraid that having these injections will make my back pain WORSE, and I don't think I could handle that. The doctor insists that I'm not a candidate for surgery because he only does surgery for the following reasons: paralysis, gastrointestinal complications due to nerve impingement, and exhausting all other options (including these steroid shots). Is it just a chance I'm going to have to take?? :( Sitting still for 15 minutes drives me crazy so being stuck on the couch on an ice pack is making me INSANE. I can't live this way...