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Chronic back pain

Happy New Year! I have DDD!

DDD means ‘Degenerative Disc Disease’. It’s not really a disease though. Degenerative discs in your spine are part of the natural aging process. I never thought I’d have it at 46.

I’ve been dealing with some back pain for about the last 4 years. Each time I went to the doctor they told me it was just muscle strains. I stressed out anyway, hoping that it wasn’t my discs. Bad backs run in the family–BOTH sides of my family.

Early last year, when I got back from Hawaii, I started getting leg pain. My legs weren’t injured, but they hurt anyway. I knew that probably meant sciatica. I also knew it was time to see a specialist.

So I asked some coworkers that I knew suffered from chronic back problems and decided on Spine Nevada. This is a top-notch organization filled with professional facilities and employees. So I started our investigations into what was causing my lower back pain.

My moving x-rays showed that my vertebrae are good and that my bones and discs are moving properly. That’s good news. My back is still stable and nothing is slipping. My MRI showed what I suspected–that my discs are wearing out.

I knew that this was what was happening. My discs aren’t ruptured, thankfully. My discs aren’t slipping. My discs are just old and worn out. That’s the not-so-good news.

As we get older our discs start to lose some of their sponginess and shock-absorbing qualities. I like to think of it kind of like this: tires on a car. When your car goes over bumps the tires absorb some of the shock. Tires that are properly inflated won’t bounce or bulge very much, but underinflated tires will certainly do so. This is how I imagine my discs. My discs are underinflated tires that bulge out when I go over the bumps in life.

When my discs bump out they irritate my spinal nerves. This is where my pain comes from.

So I started physical therapy. I was giving a series of exercises to strengthen my back muscles, thereby giving more support to my spine and making it more stable…and taking some strain away from discs. This has been working–a little bit.

I had a good summer. I have back pain all the time, but thankfully I’ve had very few “zingers”. When I say zinger I mean that sharp, quick, intense pain that makes your want to drop to your knees and cry. So I had an active summer, I did some hiking and lots of fly fishing. I did my usual deer hunting trips. I mostly had chronic back soreness all during this time. I was hopeful.

Then in December, suddenly, my back pain started getting worse. More zingers. More sharp pains. I strained my back muscles by exercising too rigorously. My back feels weird and unstable. I feel like I have injured myself and I’m afraid that I won’t get better. This has been quite demoralizing.

I live in fear of my next zinger. And I fear that I’m going to get worse. I’ve come to realize that I’m going to have back pain every day for the rest of my life. I fear that I won’t be able to do the things I love anymore–like fly fishing and hiking. I fear that I won’t be able to work or even leave the house. This sucks.

I’m trying to be positive. I’m trying to rest properly, lose weight, and get stronger. It’s kinda hard when you’re suffering in the moment, however.

I always knew that, looking back, my greatest regret in life would be that I did not take care of my health. And that has come true. I wish that I hadn’t slouched in my computer desk chair for 20 years. I wish that I had lost this weight and kept it off for the last 20 years.

So many regrets. Don’t be like Tom, kids. Take care of your health.

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