Recovery from Spinal Injury

Helen's Story

HelenIn June 2010 I was diagnosed with a prolapsed disc in my spine and was unable to walk more than 2 or 3 steps at a time.  There was no outward reason for this to happen – I hadn’t fallen or lifted anything heavy – but over several months sciatic pain grew worse in my right leg when I stood up, until I could barely move.  I was existing on large doses of painkillers.

"It was really hard for me to be so restricted in my movement because I’ve always been quite active.  I was never particularly good at sports at school, but I enjoyed hillwalking and swimming, and my bicycle was my main mode of transport – I didn’t own a car until I was in my 40s and this gave me good physical activity habits!

"It took 5 months from my GP requesting an MRI scan for me in June, to finally having an appointment with a neurosurgeon in November.  While waiting for this appointment, I started seeing an osteopath.  She warned me that without surgery it could take me at least 3 years to recover.  This was quite a daunting thought and I felt surgery was inevitable.  In the meantime I was determined that I was going to have as normal a life as possible, so I focussed on what I COULD do rather than what I could NOT do. 

"For example, even though walking was impossible and swimming was too painful, I found I was able to cycle very carefully and slowly.  This meant that I could meet my friends for a drink and get some fresh air, even when I couldn’t walk to the bus stop or from a car park.  In the garden, I managed to cut the hedge and pick blackcurrants from a chair.  I insisted on hanging out the washing even though my husband had to carry the laundry basket outside for me and I could only hang up 1 or 2 items before I had to sit down.  Any form of activity took me a long time but I was determined that my muscles wouldn’t completely waste away.  I had to position seats all around the house and garden so that I could drag myself about.

"By November when I saw the neurosurgeon I was noticing that instead of getting a little bit worse every week, I was actually beginning to get very slightly better.  He suggested that, while I was certainly a candidate for surgery, I might want to delay it a bit more and see how much further I improved on my own.  By Christmas I could walk 100 yards to the post box, and by February I slowly climbed Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.  I can’t tell you how amazing it was when I managed to get up my first Munro in April 2011, after a year away from mountains.  Now, 2 years on, I am still suffering slightly from sciatica but it doesn’t stop me doing anything apart from lifting heavy loads.  I am going to pilates classes and I recently climbed all 12 Munros in Skye! 

"The lesson I learnt from this was that being fairly fit and active can really help you deal with all kinds of difficulties, both physical and mental.  Keeping as active as possible while you are ill means that you recover more quickly and you are less likely to suffer from secondary problems caused by your inactivity.  Also, going outdoors into natural places like parks or the countryside is incredibly therapeutic.  I now have a real incentive to keep active because, the way I see it, any form of activity you do is adding credit to your life’s account - and you never know when you’ll need to draw on it!

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