Opportunity from Pain?

How a cure for degenerative disc disease could be a good thing for your health and wellness.


If you have developed chronic persistent pain along your spine. If the pain is localized to the base of your neck or at your hips. If you have a tingling sensation in your arms or legs, occasional numbness in your fingers or along the lower leg and ankles. If you have any of these symptoms, then, very likely, it is only a matter of time that you will be looking at artificial disc replacement surgery.


If you have these symptoms, it is possible that you have a herniated disc as a result of an injury or progressive degenerative disc disease. Do yourself a huge favor and get examined by a qualified physician. But here is something certain. If you have a herniated disc, it won’t get much better with hope and some over-the-counter pills. Seeing your doctor sooner than later is vital because a condition like a herniated disc can actually get worse without treatment. And there are two sides of what “worse” can mean. One, the longer this condition goes without treatment, the more limited your treatment options become. And two, the longer you delay treatment, the higher your risk for nerve loss. 


Nerve loss can lead to permanent changes in strength, sensation, and other body functions below or at the site of the injury. You may even feel the effects of your injury mentally, emotionally, and socially. This is nothing that you can shake off. And you definitely do not want to work through this kind of pain.


There’s another aspect to “worse” that relates to your treatment options, and that’s the specter of having avoidable procedures like spinal fusion. There are many reasons that you should NOT quickly agree to cervical or lumbar spinal fusion. The most important is the resulting loss of movement and spinal flexibility. Moreover, clinical research shows that spinal fusion is twice as likely to result in additional disc failure than artificial disc replacement surgery.


Let’s talk about treatment options that do not involve either fusion or ADR.


When a herniated disc is treated early, your doctor may suggest partial microdiscectomy, a minimally invasive outpatient procedure that lasts about 40 minutes and requires 8 weeks or so of post-operative recovery. 


Sometimes, if we detect a herniated disc early enough, your treatment options may include nonsurgical therapies that include smart exercises, lifestyle nutrition plans, physical therapy, some pain management medication, and a little vigilance. The best part about dealing with your neck or back pain is that you’ll recover and retain natural flexibility and movement of your spine, which is essential for your quality of life. Full spine flexibility is vital for you to live a full and active life. 


When I say that disc herniations can be progressive, what I mean is that it doesn’t happen suddenly or without warning. The truth is, some of us are more genetically predisposed to disc deterioration. If you’re like me, you may show signs of disc degeneration as early as your mid-20s. I’ve had eight spine surgeries (cervical and lumbar). But I also engage in lifestyle choices that help me stave off the need for more.


You can’t stop the natural aging processes that cause discs to lose their semi-flexible properties. You can’t stop genetics that leads to spinal discs to flatten out and bulge into the nerve roots that emanate from your spinal cord. But you can strengthen the muscles that support your spine. You can encourage healthy discs by keeping your body mass within your normal range for your age and gender. When you deal with the issue early, you open up these and other options. In fact, you may even use your chronic neck and back pain as an opportunity to improve your overall health.


Nothing focuses attention on health and wellness more than chronic pain. And when you’re dealing with chronic neck and back pain, you can decide that a few lifestyle changes might be a better exchange than the inevitability of back surgery. As a friend of mine recently posted, lifestyle changes are like marriages; the successful ones require commitment. If you want to tackle a long-term nonsurgical solution, you’ll need to commit to a few long-term concepts that will change your life. I count four:  


FIRST, give yourself permission to reach for a health or wellness goal. In this case, your goal might be to reduce conditions that lead to worse neck and back pain – like a sedentary lifestyle that weakens muscles or poor nutrition that restricts your body’s ability to heal. Give yourself permission – then OWN it!


SECOND, release yourself from any guilt, regret, or cynicism for not having reached prior wellness goals. So, you tried to “diet” before. This time you have a real mission. The pounds you lose now may help you save your ‘disc mass’ and stave off spine surgery. 


THIRD, build an image of what it means to succeed in your goal. This is your primary source for motivation. You can think of what it’d be like to lose a few pounds or how it would feel to live without pain. Imagine it and make the image as real as you can.


FOURTH, have a plan to reach your goal and act. What worked for me during my early recovery and lifestyle change was an incremental approach to success. I started with small exercises that I could do in my office. I added more activities and steadily changed my food intake selection, as I enjoyed incremental success. Start with small steps and work yourself to more considerable efforts.


And keep at it until you really are Greater than Better.

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