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Need to see a back specialist

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Now I know why I hate housework! Sunday, I was unloading the dishwasher and I leaned over to get the plate off the bottom shelf and my back went "crunch". All I was doing was picking up plates for pete's sake! For a minute I honestly couldn't stand up straight. I finally did and went about my business. My back was sore and I couldn't move very fast but ibuprophen helped. I've always had a weak lower back so I figured I just pulled a muscle.

I went to work on Monday but by lunch I was almost in tears. I sit at a computer all day which definitely didn't help. So, I managed to talk my primary care physician to squeeze me in and left early. He said there wasn't much he could do w/out X-rays, prescribed Flexiril, and sent me home. (Flexiril knocks me on my butt so I can only take it at night).

Today, I had to call off work to get X-rays and a CT scan (my first...woohoo). Turns out it isn't a pulled muscle. From what I understand, 3 discs in my lower back are bulging out, narrowing my spinal column and putting pressure on my spinal cord, so now tomorrow I have to call off again to see a specialist and possible get an MRI which I am NOT looking forward to since I'm slightly claustrophobic.

So, does anyone know how serious this is? I know, that is something specialist has to tell me. But, is it the same as a slipped disc? My primary doctor says it doesn't look like they are herniated, but that tells me nothing.

The only good thing (besides finally getting it checked out of course) is that at least now work knows I wasn't faking it.
post #2 of 13
My mother just had back surgery in January. I say it is serious. You can try therapy, it worked for the bulging discs in her neck but not her back(different cause of pain). She put off surgery for over a year and suffered daily. She couldn't stand up straight anymore and her legs were numb most of the time. At the time she was living alone barely making ends meet. After we moved in it made her decision easier.

Do your research though. See a specialist and see what they have to say.
post #3 of 13
That's a bummer you are having back problems. I do at times, but no where near what you are having! I've had x-rays, bone scans and MRI's - but for my hip.

I can't really help you as far as how serious it may be. The MRI does suck because you have to lay still and it is narrow and feels like you are in there forever!

I hope that whatever it is, it is something that is fixable.
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
Thanks guys. I did do some research online, and it seems like "bulging", "slipped" and "herniated" can all mean the same thing, depending on the doctor. Well...THAT helps a lot. The good thing I found out was surgery is the last option, after medication and physical therapy. I know I still have to wait and see what the specialist says, but I want to avoid surgery if possible. I've never even had my tonsils removed so I really don't want to have my first surgery be messing around my spine!
post #5 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by calico2222 View Post
Thanks guys. I did do some research online, and it seems like "bulging", "slipped" and "herniated" can all mean the same thing, depending on the doctor. Well...THAT helps a lot. The good thing I found out was surgery is the last option, after medication and physical therapy. I know I still have to wait and see what the specialist says, but I want to avoid surgery if possible. I've never even had my tonsils removed so I really don't want to have my first surgery be messing around my spine!
That sounds like my situation. Mine is most likely a muscle, but people who have had the surgery are worse than when they had the problem - that in itself is hard to imagine since it is bad to begin with.
post #6 of 13
Resident MR tech here on TCS!
The MR should take 20 minutes, with individual scans lasting 3 to 4 minutes each. Relax and think of being somewhere else, if that fails, sedatives can be given, depending on where you go. It usually is never as bad as well meaning people will tell you.
As far as surgery, it should be the last option. Physical therapy to help alleviate the pain and teach you how to use your back and strengthen your abdominal muscles and should be first along with medication to alleviate the pain and reduce inflammation. Unless there is bladder/bowel involvement with symptoms or drop foot (can't lift foot) , surgery shouldn't be the first option.
for a good outcome.

Edit: I see many patients who just bent over to pick up a sock or do some usual thing, like you did, and can't straighten back up, it's like the straw that broke the camel's back.
post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jean-ji View Post
Resident MR tech here on TCS!
The MR should take 20 minutes, with individual scans lasting 3 to 4 minutes each. Relax and think of being somewhere else, if that fails, sedatives can be given, depending on where you go. It usually is never as bad as well meaning people will tell you.
As far as surgery, it should be the last option. Physical therapy to help alleviate the pain and teach you how to use your back and strengthen your abdominal muscles and should be first along with medication to alleviate the pain and reduce inflammation. Unless there is bladder/bowel involvement with symptoms or drop foot (can't lift foot) , surgery shouldn't be the first option.
for a good outcome.

Edit: I see many patients who just bent over to pick up a sock or do some usual thing, like you did, and can't straighten back up, it's like the straw that broke the camel's back.
Thanks, that does help a lot! I really don't think I'll freak out during the test, because you're not COMPLETELY enclosed, right? I know it's a tube, but they don't close the feet and head right?

Also, when DH and my mom had to have MRIs, they had to drink this really gross barium stuff. DH says I shouldn't have drink that because they aren't testing my digestive system and they should just give me an IV and inject radioactive stuff in my veins. Is that true? I'm not sure which is worse though...drinking gross stuff, or getting an IV (I've never had one of those either).

Yeah, can you tell I'm kind of freaking out about this? I honestly figured nothing would show up on the CT scan and they would just say it was a pulled muscle. See...this is why I don't go to the doctor. They never have good news.
post #8 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by calico2222 View Post
I did do some research online, and it seems like "bulging", "slipped" and "herniated" can all mean the same thing, depending on the doctor.
Bulging means just that. Part of the disc is bulged out to a side. Slipped - doesn't happen, they cannot slip. Vertebrae can, but that is something different. Herniated means the disc has ruptured - ie, ripped open and is leaking fluid out onto nerves pretty badly.

Bulges and herniated discs can heal. Obviously since you only have bulging discs right now you want to be careful not to do anything to cause a rupture or tear - twisting motions and improper lifting. Once a disc does herniate or get a tear in it there's the chance that the leaked fluid can get on nerves and cause permanent scarring, with that would come pain that wouldn't go away.

They don't give you anything before the MRI unless the doctor decides you need a myelogram. This is where they inject dye into the discs. Just like any injection in this area, it does come with risks including possible reactions to the dye itself. Don't agree to a myelogram until you've completely discussed it with your doctor and researched it some on your own.
But you should just have a straight MRI - you'll have to hold very still for around 30 minutes. You'll be given earplugs, but the MRI is still noisy. You'll also be given a panic button if you must have them pull you out of the MRI.

Another tip, look for a spine specialist that isn't a surgeon. Mine is out of the Oklahoma Sports Science & Orthopedics clinic - maybe look for a similar type of clinic near you.
post #9 of 13
We have such smart people here! Great information you've gotten. I hope they find it will heal without surgery!
post #10 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by strange_wings View Post
Bulging means just that. Part of the disc is bulged out to a side. Slipped - doesn't happen, they cannot slip. Vertebrae can, but that is something different. Herniated means the disc has ruptured - ie, ripped open and is leaking fluid out onto nerves pretty badly.

Bulges and herniated discs can heal. Obviously since you only have bulging discs right now you want to be careful not to do anything to cause a rupture or tear - twisting motions and improper lifting. Once a disc does herniate or get a tear in it there's the chance that the leaked fluid can get on nerves and cause permanent scarring, with that would come pain that wouldn't go away.
Thanks for explaining the difference. I will definitely take it easy because herniated discs sound VERY painful!

I called off work today because I figured I would be going to a specialist, but when I finally got in touch with the doctor's office there girl there is the only girl in the office this week and she won't have a chance to call them until Friday at the earliest! Great. According to what they todl me yesterday, they have to make the appointment, not me.

But, he did prescribe Naproxin yesterday since the flexiril puts me to sleep so that is helping a lot. But I'm not sure what I need to do about work for the rest of the week. Now that I know it's a spinal issue and not just muscle strain, I'm worried about sitting at a computer all day. I guess I'm just paranoid now.
post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by calico2222 View Post
Also, when DH and my mom had to have MRIs, they had to drink this really gross barium stuff. DH says I shouldn't have drink that because they aren't testing my digestive system and they should just give me an IV and inject radioactive stuff in my veins. Is that true? I'm not sure which is worse though...drinking gross stuff, or getting an IV (I've never had one of those either).
Drinking barium if for UGI x-rays or CT scans of the abdomen, not for MR. Injecting radioactive isotopes is used only for nuclear medicine scans. So no drinks or injections with an MRI. Is the MR sounding better already?

Quote:
I called off work today because I figured I would be going to a specialist, but when I finally got in touch with the doctor's office there girl there is the only girl in the office this week and she won't have a chance to call them until Friday at the earliest! Great. According to what they todl me yesterday, they have to make the appointment, not me.
That is unacceptable to wait until Friday for the office to call. I would politely and very firmly ask them to call same day. You will probably still have to wait to get an appointment with the speciaiist.
post #12 of 13
If she can take your call, she can spare a few moments to call for you. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to make your own appointments. I have PPO and am able to do this... never have a clue where to start doctor wise though.


As for those discs, you didn't suddenly get those bulges from just bending over. Likely you've had them for a few months, at the least, you just haven't noticed them till now.
Like I said elsewhere, most people walk around with some degree of DDD and don't know it until something triggers the pain. So you're no more likely to herniate them suddenly now then you could have a couple weeks ago.

Getting the inflammation under control should help, as can physical therapy - but only if you're not in too much pain to do it. Be careful with the Naproxen. It's tough on your stomach so always take it with food. For it to help your back right now though, you'll probably need to take doses morning and night (as prescribed) - not just when you feel more pain.
post #13 of 13
I feel your pain, Calico - literally!

Being one who who has suffered with back pain most of my life, and who has
already had surgery, I know how you feel.

When I had the MRI done, I didn't think it was anywhere near as bad as some people led me to believe. It is noisy, and you do have to lie very still during it, but it's not as if you're enclosed in the machine and can't get out. The machine has two openings, one at each end. If you're claustrophobic, just keep your eyes shut. The peeps operating the thing are within a short distance, and can see & hear you. I think they even play music for you now-a-days, and I've heard that the new machines have bigger openings than they used to. And if you really think you're gonna freak out, I believe they'll give you a light dose of something to help keep you calm. It's really no big deal, so try not to worry.

The fact that you threw your back out while bending over doesn't surprise my much. I've thrown mine out sneezing, coughing, blowing my nose, lifting my foot while taking a shower - just about everything. I even threw it out one morning while getting out of bed. The way my chiropractor explained it to me is it's not just b/c of that one movement that does it, but a series of "wrong" movements. Your back can take only just so much use, and eventully it will get to a point where it's had too much and just gives out. I hope that makes sense.

I wish I could offer some good medical advice, but I'm no expert. You've already received some good advice. All I can really offer is some support and hopefully, some comfort, from someone who knows..

I hope your problem isn't as severe as mine is, and I hope you'll be able to recover quickly and w/o too many problems.

~KK~
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