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New Member with DDD and Herniated Discs

MN ChronicMMN Chronic Posts: 2
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:43 AM in Chronic Pain

I am new to this forum although I have read entries periodically over the past few years. I look forward to venting my problems with other people who share similar frustrations and I want to learn anything I can to get a leg up on the "battle" of managing chronic pain.

History -- I'll keep this as short as I can: In January 2005 I was doing benchpress by myself in a gym. After I took the weights off the rack, I had a brief moment of thinking lapse and I lifted my neck up to check to see where I was positioned on the bench. I immediately felt a sharp strain on my neck and an immense amount of pain. As this was happening, the weights fell on my chest and I didn't have the strength to lift them off with the injured neck, but I was also alone, so I literally put my "back into it" and arched, twisted and torqued my back to do whatever it took to keep the weights from crushing me. Now on top of the neck pain, my back was also injured. Ever since I have been battling chronic pain anywhere from my neck to my lower back and legs and everything inbetween.

I had 3 separate MRI's in the past 5 years. Cervical and Thoracic were fine, but Lumbar and Sacral discs showed mild to moderate herniation, annual tears and progresive DDD and slight stenosis in the L4/L5 and L5/S1 discs. However, NONE of these things appear to impact any nerves on the images. Surgical treatment options were limited to a spinal fusion, but no doctor in the Twin Cities that I met (some of the best) would perform a multi-disc fusion for me as they felt that it was too risky. By the way, I am 28 years old. So I've been struggling to find a way to cope with the pain to a tolerable level and I've tried just about everything possible that does not require surgery.

Here is the problem that is starting to really bother me: I CAN'T CONTROL MY PAIN OR REACTIONS TO PAIN IN A SAFE AN EFFECIVE MANNER. I have been very reluctant to go to a pain clinic for regular narcotic treatment because a.) I don't want to live like that if I can avoid it, b.) I straddle the gray area between coping and not coping, so regular narcotic use isn't always necessary. So to date I have been bouncing between my GP and my Orthopedist for periodic medication as needed (if I am lucky) when I "flare up" to the point where I absolutely cannot take it anymore, which happens anywhere from every two weeks to every 5 months. Lately it has been the former, and I know I can't keep relying on these types of physicians to administer these levels of narcotic drugs, plus both of them agree that PT and exercise will help more than anything (I tend to agree as well).

Unfortunately, I don't always have the benefit of receiving medictions as needed, so I frequently fall back on option 2 or 3, which is alcohol. I can drink half of the pain away without meds but I don't want to become an alcoholic and this is no way to live. I miss way too much time from work with back pain and I am mostly useless at home with the wife and baby after work, unless I have medication.

Long story short, I want to sustain a relatively normal life as best I can without endangering myself or others but I don't know how at this point, and what I am currently doing is a downward spiral to disaster.

Does anyone else have a situation like this? What do you find that works best? Someday I hope to be in top physical condition and have the option to effectively operate on my discs to fix the problem, but it will take time and I can't make it on will alone without hitting the bottle or conking out on sleep medication (OTC)!

Please help a fellow sufferer!!


  • Hello and welcome to spine-health.
    You are not alone, and many here can relate to what you are going through.

    You mentioned that you don't want to see a PM doctor because of an aversion to long-term narcotic use. PM doctors do other things to help you manage your pain, so I would suggest that you try a consult with one to see what he/she can offer. Alcohol and OTC sleep aids can be dangerous to your health, as you know. Explain to the PM doctor what you are feeling, and that you do not want to live on narcotics. Together, you and he can work out solution that could help you.

    You mentioned that the docs feel like PT would be good for you. Are you involved in physical therapy now? Are you doing a regular home exercise routine? Are you avoiding lifting weights and doing things that could aggrivate your condition? Learning to live with chronic pain is difficult, but learning the key triggers to your pain is important.

    Hopefully others will be along soon to offer some encouragement and share what they do for pain control. Sorry for what you are going through. Once again, welcome to SH.
    Surviving chronic pain one day at a time, praying for a reprieve because living another 40 years like this doesn't sound too fun!
  • I agree with Neck of Steel look for a PM Dr.They more then willing to help

  • I just wanted to welcome you to the forums!

    I'm also a young spiney (early 20's), and I think the best advice anyone can give you at this point is to find a board-certified physiatrist at a pain clinic to start working with you. I think one huge misconception is that pain clinics are just for narcotics. I think the media gives pain clinics that image, particularly among young people who are unfamiliar with chronic pain, because I know for me I was clueless that people even had chronic daily pain so I had no understanding of what a pain clinic was. If you live anywhere near a major university or good hospital they may even have a specific spine clinic which would be a fantastic place to start.

    To give you some re-assurance, I live with chronic daily pain and do not take daily narcotic medicines. My PM doc and I both agree that at my age and with the life stage I'm at that is not going to be a good management strategy. I have meds for flare-ups, bad days, and days when I absolutely have to be able to do things that my pain will not allow. My mainstay of management at the moment is physical therapy, and it sounds like that will probably be a good option for you as well.

    There are a lot of non-medication options for pain management, and a physiatrist will be the best suited to help figure out treatments that will work. They have a lot of injections that can give great relief, physical therapy, medical massage, acupuncture, TENs, etc...Do you have a TENs unit? I think that's something you could get going asap that generally gives at least some relief. There are just so many non-drug options, and each usually gives a little relief so the cumulative effect can be enough to help you manage.

    I'd also *highly* recommend seeing a pain psychologist. I recently started doing this and have found it tremendously helpful. It's not that there is anything wrong with you psychologically, but just learning some coping skills and having someone help you process all the emotional and social aspects of having chronic pain, particularly at a young age, can be helpful. I like to think of it as building up a toolbox of pain management options- a physiatrist will help you come up with the medical management options, and a pain psychologist can help you develop psychological management tools. For me, I tend to react very emotionally to my pain, and the psychologist has helped me separate the emotional aspect from the physical pain aspects. I think most chronic pain sufferers do this, and I think one thing that can really help in managing chronic pain is separating a bit from the emotional aspects so the immediate and daily experience of pain does not trigger a cascade of anxiety, depression, frustration, etc. Usually the bigger pain management clinics employ a pain psychologist, but if not you can ask your PM doc for a referral. If it is at all an option, I'd definitely seek out someone who specializes in pain, or at least has experience with pain or chronic illness patients, because a regular psychologist may not be familiar enough with all the emotional issues that come with chronic pain to be effective.
  • i think that i saw in your name that you are from MN...as am I! there are many pain clinics here that don't even offer narcotic treatment. And as i am also not a surgical candidate, i can tell you there are a great many other options that can help control your pain.

    feel free to PM for clinics/dr. info in the twin cities...

  • I've had at least a half a dozen different physical therapy stints over the past 5 years that primarily focused on core strengthening and stretching, so I have given PT plenty of consideration in the past and continue to work on exercises at home on a daily basis. PT is a huge part of my "MO", but PT alone (to this date) has not been enough to combat the pain and very often I can't make it without narcotic intervention. Take for instance this week, two days ago I was seen for "flare up" pain that I've experienced since last week and given Percocet to get me through until Monday when I can meet with my family practitianer, and I've been in enough agony that I still had to miss the entire day of work yesterday due to pain and lack of sleep.

    Aside from PT, I've tried multiple epidural and facet injections (at least 6 or 7), TENS (briefly), traction, ultrasound and accupuncture. I also see a psychiatrist (and formerly a psychologist as well) to discuss how I deal with pain emotionlly and also for Effexor that I use for anxiety and to keep my "peaks and valleys" in check. I feel like if I can keep working on my core strength and give the PT a chance (say a solid 6 months) that I can manage 90% of my day-to-day, week-to-week pain, but there WILL be times that nothing will help except medication. Oh yeah, and since I've been taking Ibuprofen for the past 5 years straight, my GI is pretty wrecked and I'm having an EGD (scope in esophagus, stomach and duodenum) next Friday to view the damage. So NSAIDs are now a limited part of the solution.

    I am NOT anti-narcotic so much as I am afraid what prolonged narcotic use would do in the long run. I find that with the Percocet (10/325) that it's not easy to "put out fires" every few weeks or months and it'd be easier to have a consistent pain management approach rather than a fire drill type of approach.

    Guys, thank you ALL so much for taking the time to respond to my posts! I am not the type of person who likes to complain to others how I am feeling and I appreciate your help and input!

    By the way, here's what I take to manage my pain:

    Percocet 10/325 -- periodically only for flare ups
    Lidocain patches -- as needed
    Effexor 75 mg a day -- daily for anxiety
    Vitamin D -- daily
    Nortriptiline 25 mg -- 1-2 per night for sleep
    Omeprazole 20 mg -- daily for acid reflux / GERD
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