Monday, July 26, 2010

Herniated Discs, Pain, and the Mind

I have a herniated disc. A bulging disc. Whatever you want to call it. The disc is pressing on my sciatic nerve, which is causing pain and inflammation down the back of my leg. My new chiropractor explained in-depth the anatomy of a spinal disc, how there is water inside it, and if the disc becomes torn, the water can seep out causing a bulge. At least that is my understanding of what he told me.

First, my chiropractor tested my legs, the range of motion I could attain before pain made me stop. Then he put me on the table, and using a gentle pressure on the area of my sacral-lumbar area, he took pressure of the nerve by pressing on the tender area, the area of the out of place disc.

He can only move the disc back 2 mm at a time. So, he said, if the disc is bulging out 7 mm, it will take several adjustments to get it back in place. It was painful as I lay on my stomach, painful to straighten both of my legs, but as he applied pressure to my sacrum, the pressure eased from leg along with the pain. My leg is not pain free though. He said it will be sore for the next couple of days, and I must ice my sacral area as much as possible.

I limped out of his office with my back a little straighter and hope welling in me that I WILL get better. Someone knows what to do about my condition.

He said that I will have a tear in the disc, which means it will never be fully healed. I suppose the MRI on Wednesday will reveal the truth of this. I wonder what this will mean for me in the future. But for now, I won’t think about that. I have plenty to do right now, and a peaceful, focused mind will help me to heal faster.

There is a good side to all this pain I am experiencing. Yes, there are many negatives to my condition, but I am learning that it is completely essential for me to take control of my mind. I must transform my thoughts. I must abandon negativity and put a smile on my face and think only of good things. This is hard though when the pain takes over, makes me cranky, depressed, miserable. That is why I need to develop biofeedback, a type of imagery that allows me to control pain. By focusing and concentrating hard on something else, I will be able to transfer my focus off of the pain. Certain types of music does this for me by lifting my mind to a higher plane. I went through a phase where I watched a lot of movies and stand-up comedy. This took my mind off the pain as well so that I barely noticed it. Important since pain relievers didn’t affect me at all.

Today I was reading Healing and the Mind by Bill Moyers. He was talking to Karen Olness. She is a pediatrician who works with children to develop biofeedback techniques as a way to relieve pain from migraines and other conditions. Imagery is a key proponent of this system, and Karen describes how she developed this skill herself. When she went under surgery for her hand, she did not use anesthesia. Instead, she concentrated her attention on a favorite memory from her childhood. She also calls this self-hypnosis—concentrating one’s attention in a different way.

Moyers asked her what images she was seeing as the doctor was cutting into her hand. By picturing herself on the farm where she grew up, laying in the grass and looking at the heavens, she was able to feel comfortable. “I was perfectly conscious of what was going on outside, but I wasn’t very interested in it,” she said.

I think that is amazing. In comparison, my mind is weak. I cannot control it well. I give in too easily to whatever mood decides to strike me, or whatever pain decides to take up residence in my body. This mind control…I feel as if it is the foundation for a healthy body. There is a definite link between the mind and physical well-being. I would like to tap into this.

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