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MRI Results for My Back: Worse than I thought

This past Monday, just under the wire before our insurance switched to a lower coverage plan, I got an MRI for my lower back pain. For almost 2 weeks, I was in incredible pain walking, sitting, and even laying down. The pain went all the way to my toes, thanks to the sciatic nerve. I saw a doctor before Christmas who diagnosed it via X-ray as a herniated disc.

The MRI confirmed that I had a herniated disc, but also showed a SECOND herniation! Here are the results:

1. Unenhanced lumbar MRI showing a 23mm left L5-S1 disc herniation with marked left-sided stenosis compressing the left S1 nerve root sleeve

#1 means that I have a very large herniation on a disc and it’s pushing right into my S1 (sciatic) nerve that goes down my left leg. Hence the pain.

2. Small central L4-L5 disc herniation with mild to moderate bilateral stenoses

#2 means that I have a smaller (almost negligible) herniation of another disc that is compressing on both sides of the spine.

What This Means for the Future

I asked the orthopedist what this means for my back down the road. Will I have back problems for life? Will it heal? Here’s a little explanation:

A disc is like one of those gummy snacks, but with a firmer exterior. It sits between your vertebrae as a cushion, but if poor posture or an accident compresses the disc too much, then it pops open and the ooey gooey goodness inside ruptures out.

The disc can heal (close back up), but I learned that you don’t really get any more of the gel substance inside of the disc. Sometimes the gel gets sucked back into the disc while it’s uncompressing, while other times it just dries up and eventually gets absorbed by your body. I’m hoping the former is my case!

As you age, these discs naturally dry up, which explains why Aunt Elma is 5″ shorter than she was in high school. My own doctor, who is a tall man already, said he was 2″ taller in college.

Recovery and Insurance

Last Saturday, I woke up feeling remarkably better, probably because I got almost 12 hours sleep. Since then, I’ve only felt a range of discomfort and fatigue to dull pain in my back and leg (mostly leg). I can now walk up to a quarter mile before feeling fatiqued, although I still walk with a bit of a limp, and I can go a half mile before feeling much real pain. One annoying thing that’s persisting is a severe soreness in my left shin like I’m recovering from the mother of all shin splints. That’s where most of the pain centralized during this ordeal, and it’s probably just now relaxing and recovering.

I’ve gone to 3 rehab sessions, but with the new plan, each session costs a $40 copay plus 10% co-insurance. I don’t know how much they charge for each session, but I expect another $20-40 added on when I get the bills. Luckily, the first 2 sessions were under the old, 100% coverage.

Also luckily was that I’ve been off since Dec 14th when our contract abruptly ended with our client. I’ve taken a week of PTO (vacation) and 2 weeks of sitting on company overhead. My next contract will just be getting started next Monday or Tuesday, which will complicate scheduling of rehab sessions until I know commuting times and work schedules with my new boss and client.

I can do the rehab at home, but it’s up to me to actually get it done. It’s not the most relaxing of events either, especially the hamstring stretches with a rope. I tend to limp heavily out of rehab while I was able to stroll into the session unencumbered. I also have a few exercises to strengthen my lower back that I must do, and they remind me of some Jane Fonda aerobic exercises from the 80s. I guess I should go find my tights and leg warmers.

NO! I don’t have tights and leg warmers! Silly reader!

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Clever Dude

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