My name is Drew Conroy, and I have been plagued by chronic back pain since 1997 and still do to this day. I am just one of the millions of people in this world who suffer from back pain. Adults, men and women alike, nearly 80% of us will have the misfortune of having to deal with lower back pain in their lifetime.
My list of back-related treatments, therapies, and procedures runs long. Here are just some of the things I have used: pain relief patches, physical therapy, acupuncture, topical creams, tens therapy, steroid injections, spinal fusion, chiropractor, surgical spinal decompression (laminectomy), ablations, inversion therapy, yoga, walking, biking, a variety of back pain products and more.
I will attempt to share with you my story regarding my chronic pain. Brevity has never been one of stronger traits but I will do my best.
There are a few causes for my Back Problems. They seemed to have started after what I thought was a minor injury at the time. It happened while climbing over a fence. I fell and ended up twisting my back. It hurt but did not feel that bad at the time. Slowly the pain progressed with any physical activity.
I can remember many times while getting out of a car or just standing up from a chair. Immediately, I would end up flat on my back in excruciating pain. It was almost six months later to the day that I went under the knife for my first back surgery. I had a ruptured disc.
After my first surgery, I did feel a significant improvement with my back. That first year after my surgery has been my best year since then. I would still feel some underlying pain after walking and the same applied after other forms of exercise. But I chalked that up to overdoing it or using muscles that I had not used in a while.
I was just very thankful not to have any more episodes that literally would drop me to my knees, leaving me flat on my back. Those episodes would happen without any warning, anywhere at any time. Sometimes I could feel them coming on but many times that was not the case. On the pain scale from 1 to 10, I would go from about a 2 to 10+ in a split second.
The image to left is me on the table for one of my surgery’s. (OK, I can not lie it’s not me but the image is from actual back surgery that was done).
In the following years, I did a ton of walking just about every day. I do like to exercise but I knew walking was very good for your back. That was a win-win situation for me. I would walk at least one to two miles a day and some days even more. I got to the point where I was walking at a very fast pace.
The best part for me was about halfway through my walk I would feel that “Runner’s High” and loved it. At the same time, I would still feel pain but it was a fraction of what I had previously experienced. It was kind of like that annoying fly that keeps trying to land in your soup. It tries to get close and almost lands a couple of times but you swat it away. You finally get it to stay away for the most part but you can always hear it lingering around you.
As more time passed, my back was gradually getting worse again. I kept thinking “I just need to build up the muscle strength in my back and I will be fine.” Ignoring the amount of time that had come and gone since my surgery. I knew something was still not right but I was in denial. Plus, I am driven, very persistent and I’m OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I get something in my head and lock on to it never to let go! The only way I can set myself free is to either; is A – stop someone from doing repetitive fidgeting actions, B – line up the objects that are not perfectly lined up, C – clean something that needs to be cleaned, and last but not least, D – just leave the damn room! I digress… Getting back on track.
I made it a point to walk every other day thinking I was overdoing it. That did not help. Then I cut down to only twice a week. Finally, I just stopped my walking exercise routine. It was not worth it because of the amount of pain I was feeling in the following hours.
During those years I did all that walking, I was gradually introducing myself to a number of things to deal with the pain. I used an electric massager, massage therapists, heat, cold packs, medicated patches, back brace/belt, Advil, Tylenol and so on. Yes, I did get some relief but it was intermittent. At this point, I was riding the roller coaster of pain and it was up and down continuously.
When I had my MRI prior to my surgery I was told I had degenerative disc disease. In case you are not familiar with it? Degenerative disc disease is basically neck or back pain that is caused by the wear-and-tear of time on your spinal disc(s). Some people develop it earlier in their life and I was one of those cases.
Additionally, it can cause numbness, weakness, and shooting pain down your arms or legs. Degenerative disc disease commonly consists of low-level chronic pain with periodic bouts of more extreme pain. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to experience every single pleasure the disease offered me and more! That’s my sarcastic sense of humor coming through. It’s either laugh, or cry, so I laugh:)
Then to add to it, during that time I was lifting heavy sound equipment because I was a DJ and worked a variety of different events. I did not always use the best lifting techniques at the time. I was much younger and would just do it and then think about the consequences later. I went from go, go, go to slow, slow, slow. Now I am somewhere in between and that works for me. But it’s not like I have any choice in the matter?
Meanwhile, I had been back to see the doctor and another MRI was done on my back. The degenerative disc disease had progressed but they had also found I had another herniated disc. So, I was back under the knife again. I was feeling very frustrated at this point.
After that surgery, I was not feeling the dramatic relief that I got from my first surgery. I was really wondering if the surgeon had actually done anything after he cut me open? I went back to see the surgeon and he assured me it would get better but it could take up to six months before I felt the full benefits of the procedure.
Needless to say, it was six months and then a year had passed and I was not any better. Meanwhile, I was trying a variety of different things like I did before on my own to deal with the pain. I also started my walking regimen again shortly after my surgery. The doctor really wanted me to start walking again as part of my post-surgery treatment plan.
I was really bummed, irritated, stressed and all the above at least this point. The walking and any physical activity just seemed to irritate my back and make it hurt. But I was not about to start living a static lifestyle and become a couch potato either. That is the worst thing that you could do. In fact, it will make a situation like mine worse.
Then I got to thinking about degenerative disc disease and what happens with it? Degenerative disc disease is when a disc or discs between your vertebrae break down. Those discs are often referred to as “jelly donuts” because they are rubbery and allow the flexing and bending in your back. They are basically shock absorbers but when they deteriorate or break down that will cause pain. When you no longer have those protective donuts it’s bone on bone with a bunch of nerves getting smashed in between.
One day when I was out walking I got to thinking? Even though I am wearing cushioned sneakers when I am walking. It still may be too much pounding for my spine? That’s when I decided to purchase a recumbent bike. Recumbent bikes are created for people who suffer from lower back pain. They provide added support for your back and will help to strengthen it.
Like I have with my other exercise regimen, I started out slow with the recumbent bike. Because of the way the recumbent bike seat sits it really made a difference in how my back felt as compared to walking. Do not get me wrong, walking is great exercise for many reasons. But for my particular situation, it was not working for me.
I spent a couple of years using the recumbent bike and I really enjoyed using it. I just wished my back would have cooperated. At that point, I was feeling very discouraged. Any physical activity was still causing pain. It was not always a sharp piercing pain like I was used to. The pain was now more of a deep ache that included muscle spasms. But just the same, I was not going to sit back, throw in the towel and give up.
During those couple of years I continued to try other treatments, procedures and products like epidural steroid injections, nerve block injections, and acupuncture. Again, I was hoping to find that one thing to completely make all the pain go away, never to return.
Like before, any relief that did provide any relief was short-lived. But none of it really made that drastic of a difference at this point.
Again, I decided to look for a new doctor thinking there must be something that can be done? Then, I found an orthopedic surgeon who was confident that spinal fusion would be the answer. There are never any guarantees when it comes to something like this but I was willing to give it a shot. You know what they say “the third time’s a charm.”
The surgeon wanted to fuse L-4 and L-5 together which is the lumbar part of your spine. Having that done would not affect my range of motion. However, my dream of becoming a contortionist and having my own show in Vegas would be shattered. The dream was no more but I managed to move on.
Anyway, I went through with it but it did not work out – Ugh!
There is a saying we have all heard a million times before “you know your body better than anyone does.” I have always known the source of my pain was coming from my sacrum area a little further down my spine. All of my previous surgeries were at the L-4 and L-5 level just above where the worst of my pain is located. This is something I have clearly explained to each doctor. But they know better right? After all, they are the doctor, the expert. True, many of them are great and there is no denying that. However, I know what my body is telling me.
Currently, my intermittent back pain relief comes from nerve ablation procedures, yoga, and pain meds when my stomach can handle them. Taking pills and having certain nerves in my back cauterized a couple of times of year is not ideal. But its what works for me, for now.
The nerve ablations have lasted longer than anything else I have tried. They do not completely take away the pain but it helps. I know that is only putting a band-aid on the problem. Having temporary relief, even if it’s only for short periods of time it is better than nothing. Those times where I can ease the pain is what keeps me going.
Meanwhile, I continue to look for healthy ways to deal with chronic back pain. I fell like I am dealing with a never-ending jigsaw puzzle and I can not seem to find that missing piece?
So, as a result of my experiences, I decided to create a blog “Back Pain Remedies”. It provides resources and curated product reviews for back pain relief products. I would like to think my experiences could help others by saving them some money and time. For more details about this website, you can check it out here.
Moving on… When you have chronic or recurring pain, no matter what level it’s at, it wears you down physically and mentally. If you have experienced back pain for an extended amount of time, you know what I am talking about.
My search continues to find a healthier remedy to ease my Back Pain. Ultimately, to find a permanent solution. You know, Its too bad spines were not “plugin and play” like many electronic devices. I, along with millions of others could have a new spine in seconds!
The following video completely demonstrates how I feel at times… Can you relate?
So, my back pain experience rolls on – To be continued… If you have any questions or comments do not hesitate to send me a message or leave a comment below.