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So THIS is Recovery: Update on the “Bad Back”

By on June 17, 2017

So in case you haven’t been obsessively counting the weeks like I have, it has now been 8 weeks since I first hurt my back. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions, pain levels, and frustration. For the first 4 weeks it seemed like every two weeks I was back to being laid up, unable to move and having to take frequent “lying down” breaks to try to reset my pain levels. I’ve been prescribed muscle relaxers, ibuprofin, and narcotics, none of which did anything for the pain.

First time standing upright without having to support myself with my hands on my thighs

After a particularly bad “pain episode” I finally went to see an orthopedic surgeon and things started to turn around. At first they did an X-ray and confirmed that I didn’t have any fractures in my spine (and I don’t have scoliosis but I wasn’t concerned about that). They gave me a prescription anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling and hopefully reduce the pain. It did reduce the pain somewhat but it was still there constantly so they ordered an MRI. Although I had the MRI on June 2, I couldn’t get in to see the orthopedic surgeon’s PA until June 9. The MRI images came on a disk with a viewer installation on it, so I popped it in Jason’s computer and read an article about how to read an MRI of your lumbar spine. Based on the article, and my own eyes, it was pretty obvious that I had a herniated L5/S1 disc. I did some research of what treatments are out there for herniated discs, what I could and could not do to make it better, and how long the recovery usually takes. The traditional treatments weren’t particularly inspiring and frankly involved surgery that many reported didn’t even fix the issue.

The herniated disc is the large black “bulge” interrupting the white area on the right of my vertebrae. The grey lines in the white area are my nerves, which are being severely impacted by the herniation. This was after 6 weeks of healing! So imagine what it looked like originally.

Luckily I only had a week to obsess over the lack of treatment options before seeing the orthopedic surgeon’s PA. She told me that I was far too young for surgery and that the results were pretty much the same with or without surgery: it would take up to two years for the disc to heal itself. She offered me a cortisone shot, but said it wouldn’t actually help me heal faster, it would just dull the pain. Knowing myself and my desire to get back to running as soon as possible, I knew a cortisone shot would only prolong my recovery because I’d try to do too much, too soon without having pain as my guide. Plus, dealing with constant pain is good mental training!

My first “hike” aka 0.5 miles with a couple of sitting breaks in the rain with Moose

Anyways, things have only progressed in the positive direction for the past couple of weeks. I’m back to riding my fat bike outside on real trails. I’m back to taking Moose for his morning walks. I’m not back to running, and it’s looking like it will be at least 5-6 weeks until I’m back to doing easy runs. I had to bail on all my summer running races, but I’m still holding out hope for the bike races. Maybe this injury is what I needed to fully transition me from a “mostly runner, part time biker” to a “mostly biker, part time runner”. It seems like my body likes biking more. And now that I’m actually developing some mountain biking skills, my mind is starting to agree with my body.

The “Beginner Plus” group at the top of Centennial Cone during the Bell Joy Ride!

A couple of things have really helped me keep a positive outlook during this whole ordeal. The first is obviously Jason, who has been so patient and wonderful, listening to me moan about how long it’s been since I’ve run and how I’m losing all the fitness I worked so hard to gain. The second is my family, especially my parents, whose good advice convinced me to try the chiropractor and have been sounding boards for all the treatment options I’ve considered. Luckily my running friends haven’t abandoned me during my injury, and have helped me realize that baby steps are still progress (especially Tricia who came out to visit at the perfect time). I’ve also made new mountain biking friends thanks to the Bell Joy Ride I went on last week (post to come about it). Finally thanks to Blueprint for Athletes for being so understanding when I couldn’t meet for dinner because I couldn’t walk the 2 blocks from the parking area to the restaurant, when I couldn’t hike Mt Sanitas with everyone, and when I had to back out of two of the three races that I was planning on representing them at this summer. Luckily I’ll still be there cheering my teammates on! Also thanks to Qloom for supporting me through this and for offering words of encouragement along this crazy journey of recovery.

Splashing through puddles on Hellga when Jason and I rode part of the way up Rollins Pass

I’m not fully recovered yet – in fact I’m a long way off from being fully recovered. But I have great people surrounding me and supporting me, and a great team of doctors helping guide my recovery.