There Is Life After A Herniated Disc
After graduating from physical therapy school I was faced with a serious rehabilitation case that scared the heck out of me. I developed a very severe herniated disc of my low back at the L4-L5 level, (one disc between two bones), on the right while playing tennis. I had a drop foot, (inability to pick up my ankle as I walked), was incontinent of urine, (I peed even though I tried not to), and had an absent L4 reflex, (when the doctor hit my knee with the reflex hammer nothing happened; no jerk response), on my right side.
I was horrified and scared. I first saw a neurosurgeon who recommended that I try physical therapy. “But I am a neurologic event here with my missing reflex, urinary incontinence, drop foot and excruciating pain” I stated. “Yes I know, but try some therapy and I will see you in a month” he said and then walked out of the room. Humph, I thought and then I went to work… on myself.
I had just started working at my first job in private practice; I was in charge of my own clinic and really had to prove myself. And here I was with a debilitating injury that had me physically incapacitated. I could not bend forward and learned how to manage getting my clothes off/on, shower, (including shaving my legs), with minimal pain shooting down my right leg. I could not sit for more that 10 or 12 minutes so I managed to adjust my car seat so I could tolerate the 25 mile drive to work and back. I realized how to tolerate standing most of the day without aggravating my back by twisting, pushing, bending, leaning, etc with a new concept of body mechanics. In essence I devised my own back protocol as those in the field were good but there was not one set protocol out there that worked as a stand alone program for my pain, weakness, inability to walk correctly not to mention my incontinence.
My recovery from a herniated disc
I experimented on myself and was using my new found techniques on my patients as well. We were all learning along with one another, and it was working! What I discovered over time was that I was able to manage my pain, regained my strength, stopped peeing my pants and was walking normal within 8 months of my initial insult. What did I do that was so amazing? The first thing I did was change my body mechanics so that my movements at work and at home did not cause or increase my pain, used physical modalities to enhance pain relief as well as led my assistants through massage and manual therapy to control my soft tissue and bony restrictions. After a few weeks I began to exercise my central trunk/spine muscles to help me move with control while avoiding exercises that would cause pain to jab down into my hip or lower leg. All along I was in the clinic pool after hours exercising. I also went through a trial of back braces and found one that worked the best.
I am happy to report that after my episode I returned to tennis, skiing, biking, running 10K’s, and took up golfing as well as getting married and delivering two beautiful children. Yeah, all that after a badly herniated disc! In fact if one were to look at my MRI one would be surprised that I am even moving as my L4-5 level is completely fused, and the nerve rootlets are fully compressed; its not a pretty sight.
Jean McConnell, MS, PT, ATC is the owner of Pinnacle Health Concepts physical therapy located in Boardman, OH. You may reach her at 330-480-9362.