This month Dr Iona Collins gives over her column to her patient Kate, to give a first-hand account of her recovery from back pain.
I work as a teacher and when I’m not leaning over desks offering help, I’m out and about adventuring around Gower with my young family. Life for me as a busy parent involves carrying unwanted scooters, lifting my youngest in and out of his car seat, along with the general Mum duties around the house.
One day, I noticed that my hamstring was aching a little when I was doing some basic day to day tasks.
I ignored it as a pulled muscle, however, over time, the right leg became more and more of an issue. What started as a minor ache developed into a major pain, like a constant toothache. I noticed that my world seemed to shrink around me, since I had to think about each family activity beforehand and gauge whether my leg pain would allow me to get through it.
One thing that frustrated me most was that my usual active-self had become more and more sedentary. My kids didn’t understand why their usually happy-go-lucky mum was unable to get involved in some basic ‘Mum’ duties.
When the supermarket pain killers were not helpful anymore, I checked in to see my lovely GP, who referred me to the local MCAS (Musculoskeletal Clinical Assessment Service), which is run by physiotherapists who have extra training to assess people like me.
At my appointment an advanced physiotherapy practitioner performed a thorough assessment of my spine and felt that I may have slipped a disc. He sent me off for an MRI scan and…. he was right!
Apparently, this wasn’t a standard-issue slipped disc, though. It was, as the surgeon who subsequently met me, quite a big one. I was shown some pictures from the MRI scan and I was able to keep these ones on my phone: (pic above)
The surgeon in Morriston hospital was concerned about whether I had any issues with going to the toilet and I learned about a (thankfully) rare condition called Cauda Equina Syndrome, which I had managed somehow to avoid.
Cauda Equina Syndrome is where the nerve supply to the bladder and bowels is compromised by having pressure against the nerves in the spine. If the pressure isn’t taken off the nerves promptly, then the nerves can develop permanent damage, which could potentially mean permanent problems with the ability to go to the toilet normally.
We decided between us to try and rehabilitate my spine away from surgery, which was the alternative treat-ment for my slipped disc. The thought of spinal surgery was pretty scary, but I was fed up with the pain in my leg by this point. Rather than pursue surgery to try and improve my ongoing left leg pain, I was able to have a steroid injection in my back called an epidural under X Ray guidance. The injection wasn’t a miracle, but it definitely took the edge off my leg pain – enough for me to start rehabilitating my back. That was the really hard and long task, which took stubborn determination.
I kept on taking pain killers and I worked on my back every single day, stretching backwards and avoiding bending forwards as much as possible. Slowly but surely, I found that I didn’t need to take as many pain killers and my mood started to improve as well. Here is another MRI (above) showing that the big slipped disc from three months earlier had significantly improved – result!
I kept on rehabilitating my spine.
When I felt ready, I decided to steadily get back into running. I am a member of the Paul Popham Running Club. Over time as my leg pain improved I was able to gently build myself up to running 5k again- this was a great feeling! I had good days and bad days, but I was always sensible not to over-do it.
All of this happened over a year and a half ago.
In September, I ran 10Km in just over one hour and I have just completed the Cardiff Half Marathon. If anyone had told me that I would achieve this before I slipped my disc, I would have laughed. But now, so long as I am mindful of my posture and continue to stretch my back, life is looking good again.