Finding relief from debilitating back pain: One woman’s journey

  

Olivia was sitting on the floor three years ago playing with her niece and went to get up.

“Come on auntie, let’s go,” Olivia’s niece implored.

“I couldn’t get up,” Olivia remembers.

This was the first time Olivia at 36 years old had experienced any back pain in her life. Little did she know that she would be plagued with back pain for the next three years. Olivia’s experience is common. It is estimated that 80% of the population will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and the second leading cause for doctor visits.

After resting for a few days and taking ibuprofen, Olivia was able to return to her everyday routine until three weeks later it happened again.  Olivia painfully made her way to the chiropractor, “I went in crying,” she recalled. 

Diagnosed with degenerative disc, Olivia began regular chiropractic treatments that allowed her to function though she remained in constant discomfort. Eventually, running out of money, the chiropractic treatments ceased.

Over the next eight months, Olivia’s condition worsened to the point that she needed to see a general practitioner to get pain medication and start physical therapy. She received an epidural which is supposed to prevent pain for six months, though it lasted only three weeks for Olivia.  Olivia remembers having a total breakdown as she couldn’t even put on her shoes.

Olivia’s friend, Amy is a physical therapist at Palomar Medical Center Escondido. She recommended that Olivia see a spinal surgeon affiliated with Palomar Health.

Dr. Barba recalls, “when she came to me she had a lot of disc degeneration and a herniated disc.”  

When informing patients, Dr. Barba gives them all the options, the risks, and the benefits. Many options are available such as rest, drugs, physical therapy, and FACET injections ranging to more invasive surgeries. Dr. Barba however, recommends back surgery for fewer than 5% of his patients.

After reviewing Olivia’s x-rays, Dr. Barba was sure he could help her but Olivia had to make the decision.  Together, Olivia and Dr. Barba decided on an anterior spinal fusion. 

Dr. Barba performed the surgery on December 29, 2016. Olivia was released from the hospital the next day.

“Everyone was really amazed,” Olivia said. “The only thing that hurt was my incision.”

Olivia was walking up stairs within 24 hours and went shopping just two days after surgery.

Five months after having surgery, Olivia is now walking 3-5 miles a day. She makes trips to the gym, rides a stationary bike, and is in the beginning stages of doing circuit training, including lifting weights.

“It’s like night and day. I don’t feel restricted. I feel like it’s endless to what I can do.”

Olivia’s decision to have a spinal fusion turned out exceptional for her as it has for thousands of others. Spinal fusions are dramatically superior today than they were even a decade ago. Though, the decision to have surgery should be taken seriously. Surgery should be carefully considered by both patient and doctor, and should be used only as a last resort.