This year I made the resolution (goal) to heal. I have had many years of back pain and spent years going to the chiropractor, then and last year switched to physical therapy. And yet I am still in pain, off and on. Or I guess I could more accurately describe it as really super duper achy- I don't have any sharp or shooting pains. Spasms in my lower back on really bad days. Sitting is almost unbearable at times. I am standing and typing this as a matter of fact. So. Back to the resolution part. I am actively trying to heal! I finally made an appointment to see a back specialist (took 3 weeks to get in to see him! These doctors must be worth their weight in gold.) last Monday, and he recommended I get an MRI to find out what is really going on. Waited another week, and this morning I spent 25 minutes in a very loud tube with the air on full blast and my eyes closed. I've had an MRI before, for my shoulder (that's another long story involving a water polo incident, a LOT of pain, and 9 total dislocations before I had surgery on that thing), but I don't remember it being quite that loud. Maybe because the tech forgot to turn on the music... Anyway, this time I was sent home with a disc of the images that I could look at on a computer (wish I had gotten one of my shoulder- that was gruesome! And I'm missing out on bragging rights there~), which I did and promptly started to freak out. I did my online research before I went in on the possible problems I could have, including bulging spinal discs and arthritis (freaked out looking that up too). If I can recognize the problem with no one to point things out, then I know that it's bad. Really bad. It was gross, and I had to stop looking at all those pictures. I took the disc directly to my doctor and he called me tonight after reviewing both the disc and the report sent by the radiologist, and as it turns out, I wasn't seeing things when I looked at the images myself. I have a bulging disc and tear between the L4 and L5 vertebrae, and a herniated disc between the L5 and S1 vertebrae. He even saw a little bit of arthritis in that L5 spot too. Apparently these things take 6-12 months to heal on their own. I really don't feel like being in pain for that long (plus the chances that I'll do something to irritate my lower back so it doesn't heal are pretty good too- and that is me saying this and not my doctor because it seems no matter how careful I am or how good I am about doing my exercises it will happen again- more on this in a bit), so I'm opting for the cortisone epidural that will inject medicine right to the source to reduce inflammation so the healing will go quicker. I understand these are pretty painful too. But if it's only a couple days worth, I'll take it.
This picture is kinda gross, isn't it? And yes, I, a librarian, am including a link and a picture from Wikipedia! (I don't have one to share of my actual back- maybe if I get the disc back I'll share one with you if I can figure it out...)
We discussed the possibilities of causes- he said it's not necessarily because I've been running regularly for the past 14 years (with time off due to pregnancy, babies, and injuries of course). He said that having a strong core is very important to supporting the spine (I have rockin' hard abs 'cause I work 'em hard! (even if there is a little layer over them- that post-baby fat never seems to go away!)), as well as stretching and exercising, so I'm not sure what exactly I'm doing to earn a herniation here and there. He recommended that I wait a week or two after the shot before I start slowly into running again (I know, that's it?!), and I intended to go super slow and supplement my lack of running with time in the pool. Which I'm happy to do. If it happens again, we can do another shot. Ultimately though, my doctor said that it is my decision whether I should stop running or not. What am I willing to live with? And NOT running doesn't guarantee I'll never bulge or herniate again. Life altering decisions. I feel WAY to young to have to make this kind of health decision. And too young to be in this much pain.
Well, that's about all the news I have so far. I'm staying positive because he didn't say at this point that I should consider "retiring" from running (if you consider recreational running something one retires from). I'll post on this subject again in a couple weeks to share my progress. I hope all you runners out there will keep me in mind and do an extra lap on my behalf.