Back to Living: Read Lisa's Story
If you’ve experienced pain in your spine, you’re not alone.
Back pain is the most common pain complaint in the U.S., with neck pain not far behind. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans 45 years old and under.
Trenton-resident Lisa was on her way to being one of those people. At 45 years of age, suffering from excruciating pain, Lisa worried she would be on disability the rest of her life.
“Initially, I thought I’d done something to my shoulder because that’s where the pain started. So I made an appointment to see a shoulder specialist,” explains Lisa.
Within days, however, Lisa’s pain increased substantially. Her physician called for an emergent MRI, which showed Lisa’s problem was not in her shoulder, but in her neck.
“It was the worst pain of my life. It wasn’t even just pain. I began losing my faculties. I couldn’t work,” said Lisa.
Lisa’s care was referred to board certified spine surgeon, Marc J. Levine, MD. This wasn’t the first time Lisa went to Dr. Levine with a spine condition. Several years prior, Dr. Levine performed spine surgery on Lisa for a degenerative disc in her lower back.
Spinal Anatomy 101
Though both were debilitating injuries, Lisa says the ruptured disc pain in her neck was worse because she also had functional loss in her upper extremity.
So, what causes a ruptured disc? Sitting between the vertebrae bones that make up the spine are small rubbery discs that allow the spine flexibility while providing shock absorption for the spine.
Each disc is made up of a thick, dense outer layer, with an inner layer of gel-like material.
“The disc is almost like a slice of an orange, with an inside pulp and an outside rind. When the pulp gets out through the rind it is herniation,” Dr. Levine explains.
While this can occur as a result of traumatic injury, it can also be related to the condition of the disc itself. A healthy disc is well-hydrated and spongy. Over time, like a kitchen sponge, discs can dry out and become hard and brittle, contributing to disc degeneration.
Taking the Surgical Leap
Within five days of her MRI, Lisa was in the operating room with Dr. Levine because of her persistent pain and loss of strength and function in her left arm.
Despite her concerns related to the pain, Lisa was relieved to find out she could go to Dr. Levine, her trusted spinal surgeon, again to repair this problem.
Dr. Levine performed a cervical decompression and fusion. This surgery takes pressure off the spinal cord and the nerve root being affected.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people have spine surgery. As Dr. Levine notes, however, these surgeries are not gone into lightly.
“Different diagnoses have different timelines for surgery. Someone with low back pain who has no nerve involvement, should have at least six months of non-operative treatment before considering surgery,” says Dr. Levine.
“However, the timeline for surgery in someone with functional loss from nerve irritation may be much sooner, as it was with Lisa.”
“A key component to successful surgery is having the right diagnosis.”
“Before this surgery, on a good day I would go to work, come home and just get in bed. My quality of life was absolutely nothing. I just tried to get through it every day,” says Lisa.
Today, Lisa is back to feeling more like herself. She is able to walk her two beloved bulldogs, Fiona and Chumlee, and back to work and social outings with her husband, Eric.
“Two times now, Dr. Levine has really saved my life. If I had any pains – even those not in my spine – I would go to him for his guidance. I trust him and I trust his opinion,” Lisa says.