Monday, February 25, 2013

The great disc degeneration debate.

I've been doing oodles and oodles of research since my back issues started.  After all this research and after seeing doctor after doctor, I have one conclusion. No one really knows squat. Doctors can only use their educated guesses mixed with their own opinions to try to diagnose and treat their patients. Don't get me wrong. I don't mean that to be demeaning in any way and I value my doctors. But at some point, I had to understand that I have to take everything I've learned over the last decade and make my own assessment. I'm a smart girl, too, and more personally familiar with my issues than my doctors are.

I have premature degenerative disc disease and have been told this by two doctors. Now here's where it gets sketchy. Some doctors scoff at the notion that it is called a disease, others will say no such thing exists because an injury to a disc doesn't mean it is a degenerative disc condition. Degenerative disc refers to what happens to your spine as you age. Your discs start losing fluid gradually, making them more brittle and prone to injury. Most people won't have symptoms at all and those who do won't usually notice anything significant until they are 50 or older. I started having symptoms in my late twenties. At the time I began having symptoms, I was not overweight and I was a fairly active person. I was not a super-athlete who took regular blows to the body that would've caused such injuries. These herniations, bulges (yes, multiple; the worst right now being between L4-L5), and facet joint problems I'm suffering from now are not normal and are not typical of a 30-year-old. So while many doctors will dispute the terminology of "disease", I will call it one because I am in a unique position to know that there is no rhyme or reason for my discs to be behaving like they are. A friend of mine has the same thing. She is my age, has been having symptoms for years, and is now in a wheelchair because a disc slipped and compressed her spine. There is no rhyme or reason for it; she is a social worker, not an Olympic athlete. So I dare anyone to tell her she doesn't have a disorder or disease.

Is there anything I can do about it or any way I can get better? That is a debate in itself. I have a feeling that many doctors are just as jaded as any other profession. Patients lie and then don't take care of themselves in the way a doctor would suggest so it's no wonder such skepticism rests in their hearts. So while some of them might say that exercise and diet can eventually cure me, I'm more of a realist now. I don't believe this will get better for me. I've been doing what doctors have told me to do for years now and this has gotten worse. I'm not trying to be doom and gloom, I'm being real. You can't stop the aging process and if my discs are already aging prematurely, there's not much I can do to reverse that. I'm sure I can slow it, though. I am eating better and exercising; low impact to strengthen my muscles and keep myself healthy; and don't get me wrong, I am otherwise a healthy woman. My hypothyroidism is under control and my latest blood test shows nothing abnormal.

I'm still in pain every day, though, but I'm under the care of a pain management doctor who is respectful of the fact that I abhor taking more medication and as long as I can tolerate the pain, I'm not resorting to more needles and procedures. This is something I'm going to have to take one day at a time and I think I'm in the right frame of mind to do that, now that I know what I'm up against. We're focusing on what I can do to make myself healthier, the first stop being that I will have my blood taken to check my hormone levels.

Most of my back pain readers are here because of the posts related to my journey after my discectomy on the ruptured disc between L5-S1. I should note that I'm probably not the best candidate for what's "normal" after a discectomy and I apologize that it has taken me so long to understand that.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best.

Peace, love, and less pain,


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