I first experienced back pain between my 3rd and 4th year of medical school. My wife and I completed a 400 mile bike ride over 8 days in Vermont and my bike was poorly fitted. I felt fine during the trip but when we returned to Virginia, I was in agony, particularly when sleeping. I saw several physicians and essentially they felt it was a bad strain. Gradually over several months the pain subsided and I learned to sleep propped up on pillows. This was the beginning of chronic lower back pain and stiffness.
I've always been physically active and exercising usually improved the pain and stiffness. Physical therapy and massage improvements were always short lived. I'm not a big guy but I had endurance, so I trained and competed in road races, duathlons and triathlons as well as training with weights and enjoyed downhill skiing in the winter. I am a retired gastroenterologist, which kept me on my feet all day doing procedures and that did nothing to help my posture, my neck, or back.
For years I had occasional foot cramps or a leg charlie horse. Then about 4 years ago the cramping increased in frequency and intensity. I chalked it up to electrolyte imbalance, dehydration or overexertion and so did a neurologist. Little did I know that these were atypical symptoms of sciatica
. Then 3 years ago, I developed the more typical symptoms of pain and paresthesias in my left leg and foot. The MRI showed significant problems at L4-L5 and L5-S1 with nerve compression and central canal stenosis
. Nerve conduction studies revealed moderate chronic damage on the left and mild damage on the right giving me about an 80% chance of some or significant improvement with surgery. While going through the evaluation process I began to experience paresthesias and cramps in my hands. Turns out 10% of people with the lower back problem I had also have neck problems; mine was at C5-6 and C6-7.
A friend referred me to the Virginia Spine Institute; his father had been there 5 years earlier and had tremendous results with Dr. Thomas Schuler, founder and CEO of VSI. I contacted Dr. Schuler by email on a Sunday night, explaining my situation and he replied the next day telling me that I would be seeing Dr. Colin Haines. An appointment was made for the end of that week. From the outset my wife and I were very impressed with Dr. Haines' calm demeanor, his knowledge, and his genuine interest in me and hopes of restoring me to my previous level of activity as much as possible. My case was going to be more complicated than some because I'm on chronic anticoagulation for recurrent DVT, so I was referred to Dr. Robert Podolsky of Vascular Associates of Northern Va, who recommended a temporary vena cava filter. Feeling that I was in very competent hands, I did not hesitate to schedule the back surgery. It was a 2 stage procedure utilizing robotics and requiring a 5 day stay. Recovery was uneventful and leg and foot symptoms vastly improved over 2 years. Neck surgery occurred 1 1/2 years after the back surgery and now 10 months post op, I'm almost symptom free.
All the while I've gradually increased my exercise routine. I don't run or bike as far or as hard as I used to, but I have a personal trainer and workout with weights regularly. And though retired from medicine, I still work at our local free clinic and volunteer as a chaplain at our hospital. We travel frequently, especially to see our children and 10 grandchildren. Life is good and I'm doing all that I want to do with minimal symptoms.
From start to finish, I just can't say enough good things about Dr. Haines
, his colleagues, and ancillary personnel. The whole experience was unified, seamless and came off without a hitch. I praise the good Lord that I found Dr. Haines and that he has been blessed with such advanced skills.
For anyone with chronic back or neck issues, particularly if accompanied by cramping, weakness or pins and needles sensations, it's important to have those symptoms evaluated and not to assume that it's just something you have to learn to live with.