24 April 2012


At work about six years ago, I incurred a herniated disc (see cross-section image above, click to enlarge ~ a normal disc, shaded in blue, is at left, a herniated disk at right).  I was a professional driver at the time (one of a long and colorful string of jobs I've held over the years).  One of the company's vehicles had a defective driver's seat, with a poorly-padded transverse metal bar meeting the lumber region of my spine.  Over time, two repetitive motions (spinal compaction from road bumps, and concussion from the metal bar) resulted in a tear in the outer, fibrous ring of the intravertebral disc at L3-L4, allowing the soft, central portion of the disc to protrude past the ring's protection and press against the nerves in the spinal cord.  The result is debilitating pain.

My pain doc tried a number of therapies ~ epidural injection, TENS therapy, facet injections, along with assorted low-grade prescription pain medications.  None was effective in eliminating the pain, or even reducing it for more than an hour or two.  A psychological evaluation concluded that I was a stable candidate for opioid meds, but ultimately I decided I didn't want any treatment which carried the risk of addiction.

Ironically, the injury isn't physically severe enough to warrant surgery to fuse the two vertebrae adjacent to the herniation ~ an operation with only a 50/50 success rate anyway.  Long story short, the injury (in conjunction with a couple of other work-related injuries) forced me to take early retirement on disability.  This has meant learning to live on minimal income, but more importantly it has meant learning to live with 24/7 pain.  I do daily physical therapy (PT) to strengthen the muscles adjacent to each injury plus my core muscles .... as well as to keep my body as supple as possible.  The only pain meds I take are an elevated dose of ibuprofen as needed, plus, as a result of qualifying for a medical marijuana card, a measured dose of marijuana tincture at night to help me sleep (there's no high or other side effect with tincture, just pain relief).

I face chronic pain for the rest of my life.  PT is a life saver.  But the bottom line is that I cannot remain in one position ~ standing, sitting, or lying down ~ for very long without the pain forcing me to shift positions.  Nor can I engage in an activity which approximates the posture or the movements in which I was first injured.  Long drives leave me in agony.  Kayaking, bicycling, motorcycling, long hikes, all the recreation on which I once thrived, are no longer possible.  Doing simple housework can be a strain.  Even sitting at the computer for long periods becomes untenable, and I'm forced to take frequent breaks.

Today's post is necessarily brief, because my back is in unusual pain.  Tomorrow should be better.  I definitely don't like dwelling on my infirmities, but I thought the absence of my usual substantive post deserved an explanation.  Tune in again.

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