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Surviving Chronic Back Pain

Updated on March 9, 2021
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Former TV-journalist who tends to write when irritable. Lover of hockey, everything bagels, and a good Okinawa boba tea.

In 2005, I was a healthy, active female preparing for my first endurance race, the Maui Marathon. I was working hard, training, mentally getting ready for something with which I had no prior experience. Then, my father became terminally ill and was confined to a wheelchair. My dad was 6'2" and I had to help put him into his wheelchair. I stopped training for the marathon, and 4 months later I started having back pain. I was so preoccupied with my dad's health that I paid little attention to my pain. When he died, however, the physical back pain became impossible to live with so I went to a neurosurgeon who told me I had the worst herniated L5-S1 he had ever seen and I needed surgery right away.

Back surgery was very frightening to me, but the pain was killing me, too. The procedure I was having was a microscopic laminectomy to remove the fragments of spine that had floated around in my disc. I was hospitalized for one night, went home, and immediately started feeling fantastic. I was pain-free finally! That was May.

In January, I drove to Utah, and when I got out of my car I felt the very familiar pain I had tried to forget. When I got back home, they did an MRI and discovered that I had re-herniated my disc and needed surgery immediately, again. After the second surgery, I noticed it seemed to take longer to feel better, and in fact, I started noticing that I wasn't really feeling better at all. After three months, we did another MRI and found out that the pain I was having was from scar tissue from the two surgeries. Unfortunately, there's nothing to be done for that, so I was told, basically, "Sorry."

Pain was something I was learning to live with. I knew I could never run again. I can't sleep on my back. I can't walk long distances. The next thing I know, I started gaining weight. I was on steroids, which did help, but once they wore off, the pain returned, as did the pounds.

Back pain can also cause depression. I was very down and helpless over the situation I knew I would have to live with. I'm not old and I was very active, this just didn't seem right. I became depressed and went to a psychiatrist for help. When we discussed the cause of my depression, he asked me what was being done for my back. He seemed surprised when I told him...nothing. I am very fortunate because the doctor I saw is also very educated on medications and how they affect the neurological system. He told me not to lose hope and to try a combination of medications that might seem strange but together work very well for pain management. I had nothing to lose but pain, so I agreed.

The first medicine he put me on was Celebrex, an anti-inflammatory. Along with that, he started me on Neurontin, a medication used to treat seizures and nerve pain. Within a week, I was suddenly pain-free. I was shocked. When I went in to see him I asked, "Why doesn't everyone know about this combination of medications?" He told me that many doctors prescribe medicine without really understanding how it affects the brain, and psychiatrists, in particular, have to know how it affects the brain.

I don't know if this combination will work for all back pain, but I wanted people to be aware of it so they could at least ask their doctors if they could try it. I take no pain medicine, not even over-the-counter pain reliever. I have had no side effects and I am able to function in a much better way than I did after my second surgery. If you suffer from chronic back pain, do yourself a favor, and talk to your doctor. Let me know if it works for you, too.

© 2009 Lori Orchow


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