Beginning in 2003, I suffered low back pain in the L4-5 region. I saw a chiropractor from time to time but in 2009 my treatments began to be on a regular basis and he advised that as long as I stayed at my current desk job and it continued to be stressful, I was not going to get any long-term relief. He recommended I get an MRI and a diagnosis from a neurosurgeon.My diagnosis was lumbar radiculopathy and stenosis. I had a series of epidurals and found some relief but it was short-lived. I was living with sporadic pain until May 2015 when I aggravated my lower back while working on our new house in Montana. I lived with ice packs and ibuprofen when it would really flare up but by the end of summer of 2016 my pain had become unbearable. I also had pain radiating down my left leg. Walking for more than short distances was difficult and I was no longer able to participate in water aerobics which had become my exercise of choice considering my back and leg issues. I went through another series of epidurals but the relief was again short lived. I was depressed and had withdrawn from activities and friends. This time it was recommended I see a neurosurgeon to discuss back surgery. I met with a couple neurosurgeons and although I was terrified, I had resolved that I needed back surgery. I called to make an appointment.
However, due to an interesting twist of fate, I met Dr. David Hanscom who after reading my chart and reading all my pain history said he did not want to do surgery but suggested I start with a pain management program first. He began to explain how it worked and recommended I read his book, Back in Control. He explained neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our pain pathways in our brains. Chronic pain creates permanent pathways but with some particular exercises we can redirect these pathways. He suggested that I spend a few minutes each day writing down my negative thoughts and then throw them away. I did not think I had negative thoughts and this brought a smile to his face. He said, anyone who doesn’t think they have anything negative thoughts needs to dig a bit deeper. I went home with his book in hand to get started.
My husband and I read through the first and second edition of Back in Control. I started in on writing down my thoughts each morning and ripping them up. Sometimes I fill up one to two pages and sometimes only half a page. The ripping up is the key! I also read Scribner’s, Unlearn Your Pain, which comes with meditation tapes. I found the tapes very helpful to get started meditating.
There were some emotionally painful issues going on in my life at the time and I decided to see a therapist to help me sort out what was bothering me. My usual positive thinking was not helping me deal with the anger and frustration I was feeling. I had a lot to work on.
Dr. Hanscom explained NPD (Neurophysiological Disorder). On a subsequent visit to Dr. Hanscom’s clinic, I wrote down about two different experiences I had with visiting family members. On the first visit, which was very stressful, my pain was intense and I needed to to take ibuprofen and use an ice pack regularly. On the second visit with another family member, the visit was fun and relaxing and I never used the ice pack or needed ibuprofen. It was remarkable! After a couple months, I returned to the clinic and wrote about this in my pain history. Dr. Hanscom helped me understand the connection between the stressful situations and pain and how to use specific strategies such as active meditation and mindfulness.
After three months, my lower back pain had disappeared completely. I must mention that I do not lift heavy objects (other than my growing grand babies!) or move heavy furniture. My left leg pain was still present and I had not ruled out surgery. Dr. Hanscom advised that with a few more weeks of working the program he was pretty sure my leg pain would go away too. I was not as confident as I was the one with the pain and I could not imagine it going away completely! On one visit to the clinic, Dr. Hanscom had to perform an emergency operation so I met with his nurse, Angela, who offers the patients wonderful support as well. Angela helped me process the different and confusing feelings I felt from all the changes I was experiencing and gave me encouragement and hope to continue with the program. I always went home with new tools!
Even the leg pain disappeared
After a couple more months the pain in my left leg went away as well. I found this to be completely incredible! If something is bothering me, I can get a flare up if I do not address it immediately. The pain reminds me to get back to the program!
There are times when I get busy and do not write each day. But I make a point of writing as often as I can. When I think of where I was this time last year, I am so completely grateful. I am walking 5 miles now, can sleep on my left side again and get regular exercise. I am practicing meditation and learning how to be aware each day of what is going on around me and working on being present in the moment. I am able to sleep much better and have much less mind swirling than in the past. I look forward to working the final stages of the program and to giving back.