Living With A Herniated Disc
Previously in “My College Experience: Dream Vs Reality”, I wrote about how a back injury ended up affecting my schooling and forcing me to find a new career path. What I didn’t write about was exactly how painful this condition can be, triggers for pain, ways I treat the pain, and how I mentally handle knowing that I’m permanently disabled to some degree. I’ll also briefly talk about my work accident, but for the full story check out my post above!
June 2013, a few days after high school graduation. I officially started my first job at Petco as a grooming assistant. My duties were to wash the dogs, trim their nails, clean up any accidents (poop or pee), sweep the salon and schedule appointments. What I failed to realize is how bad some dogs can behave when their owners aren’t around. The dog I worked with that day had to have a muzzle placed on and of course I was working on this dog alone at the time. So how did I get hurt? After dogs are washed and dried in the back, you bring them up front for haircuts and nail trimmings. Most dogs walk up on the grooming table all by themselves, which is lowered almost all the way to the floor. But the dog that I was working on wasn’t cooperating so I tried to guide and lift it on the table myself. I immediately heard a loud pop but wasn’t in pain at the time so I finished my shift that day. It wasn’t until the next day that I experienced severe pain and ended up going to the hospital. Now for those wondering what breed of dog could possibly be that heavy, keep in mind at the time I was 5 feet and only about 115-120 pounds, aka very fragile and small. The dog was a chow mix which can weigh up to 70 pounds. I put a picture below for you guys to see what I’m talking about.
As I was writing this I also looked up some information on this breed and was shocked at what I found. Out of 5 stars for all around friendliness, this breed got rated 1 out of 5 stars! I guess that’s why we needed to put a muzzle on at the time I was injured?! For more interesting facts, feel free to click the button below.
How was I diagnosed? I remember getting an x-ray at the hospital but I’m not sure if that showed anything wrong. I do remember eventually getting an MRI that showed I had a herniated disc between L4 and L5 (lumbar disc 4 and 5), which is in your lower back.
How does it feel?
Just so you get an idea, after my injury I was out of work for almost 2 years so I could fully recover. That’s how painful it was in the beginning. I remember barely being able to walk and even laying down was horrible. There was a constant pressure in my back that I couldn’t get rid of. Another complication I had was that I developed sciatica (when a herniated disc presses against nerves, it can create a sensation of pins and needles and numbness). My legs would often have those pins and needles sensations and would go numb from time to time.
The first thing I learned to ease the pain was to lay on my back flat on the floor with my legs bent at 90 degrees resting up on a chair. So just picture a chair that fell backward with a person still sitting in it. That helped temporarily relieve the extreme pressure I was feeling. From there, I was prescribed muscle relaxers. I ended up not taking those for long because I was scared I would become addicted to them. They made me feel high and like I was floating, which is good when you’re in extreme pain, but I didn’t like feeling like I was outside my body. After that, I went to physical therapy where they made me do certain exercises that ended up irritating my back even more. I was never a fan of physical therapy and absolutely hated going. I was in more pain leaving than when I showed up. My last line of treatment was a chiropractor. He cracked my back once or twice but I wasn’t a fan of that so he ended up just using a TENS machine (it gives off electrical stimulation, basically like thousands of pins poking you) and using ultrasound with a warming gel to help relax the area. The last two things did help but I had to stop going since my workers’ compensation case was closing and it wouldn’t be covered anymore. Mind you, this all happened in a 2-year time span.
Lifting anything heavy. Seriously, I pretty much can’t lift anything anymore. I was told by my doctor to avoid lifting anything over 20 pounds which is fine and dandy until I go on a job interview. Most employers don’t want to hire someone already injured which makes my job search even harder. Another trigger for me is sitting for long periods of time. Sitting places pressure on your lower back so I have to get up and walk around to prevent painful-flare ups. My last trigger is touching the area. I’m now extremely sensitive there and sometimes even the lightest touch will have me in pain, but only for a short period of time. And for that reason, I don’t like anyone touching my back! A bonus one that I’m not too sure about is stress. My doctor mentioned that stress can irritate my problem because when you’re stressed you get tense, which can trigger muscle spasms like I had in the beginning. I’ve noticed a few occasions where I was stressed and had back pain but I’m not completely convinced yet.
Living With It Today
This year makes it 6 years that I’ve had my herniated disc. It sucks knowing that my life was changed at such a young age but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made. Most days I almost forget that I have a back problem as I’m rarely in pain anymore. But the one thing I’m always on alert for is my triggers. I try to avoid those as much as possible but I can’t 100 percent of the time. Job hunting is harder now and I was made aware that when I eventually become pregnant, I might have a painful experience due to the added weight and pressure from the baby. When I have that rare flareup, I usually use a damp heating pad (it’s better than dry heat since it penetrates the muscles better). I try to not take any pain medicine because I’m not a huge medicine fan and like to try natural remedies when I can.
I hope this information was useful for you guys. Remember that these treatments and triggers may not be universal for everyone, they’re just based on my personal experience. And most importantly, don’t forget to lift with your knees and not your back! For more information, click the button below.