‘SCIATICA DISABLED ME’’
Facing the frightening option of spinal surgery for two slipped discs and sciatica, Joanna Barrett, 46, from Brighton, UK, discovered there is a successful non-invasive cure
Lugging our very large cat to the vet did it. It was a long walk with his 13kg weight in the basket pulling me down on one side. At home that evening my back was agony, then suddenly I couldn’t move at all.
My husband, Errol, called an ambulance and paramedics dosed me with pain-killing morphine before shipping me off to hospital. Doctors said I’d undoubtedly slipped a disc and had classic sciatica, with numbness down one leg and pins and needles in my toes.
My spine was like the letter S where discs had slipped out and my right hip was higher than my left.
For five days I lay flat while being pumped with anti-inflammatories. It was so embarrassing as I couldn’t even go to the bathroom. I hated losing that dignity and was frightened, not knowing when or if my back would get better. Doctors said they’d discharge me once I could get to the bathroom.
Keen to be home, with the help of sticks I yelped and winced my way to the en suite, then was discharged with a Zimmer frame, two sticks and an appointment to see a physiotherapist in six weeks’ time. Six weeks?! That seemed an incredibly long wait.
I was 44 but felt I’d aged 40 years overnight. Errol, now 50, and I are property developers and I had to go out to meetings for my work. But I could hardly move so Errol had to take over everything, plus look after me. I spent the next six weeks in our bedroom, in agony, on painkillers, waiting for the physio appointment. When I finally got there it seemed pretty basic. I was given simple stretches, which I could just about do, but after six sessions I still couldn’t stand for more than 10 minutes or walk 40 metres without being in excruciating pain.
I decided to see an osteopath. She insisted on an MRI scan to see the exact damage. I had two slipped discs – they had ruptured and the gel inside had leaked out, just like jam oozing from a doughnut. I saw her twice weekly for a few months but was no better. So for a whole year I tried allowing my back to heal itself. I had to employ housekeepers, do internet food shopping, I couldn’t carry anything, walk far, drive or even be a passenger on a long journey. My whole life changed. I felt depressed, anxious, vulnerable and fearful about whether I’d ever get better.
My GP suggested seeing an orthopaedic surgeon and considering spinal surgery. The prospect of an operation was terrifying, but I attended the consultation clutching my MRI scan and told him my history. He said that nine in 10 people who slip discs recover, but one in 10 don’t. I was that one in 10. He said I needed surgery to remove both discs then fuse the spine or I’d never get any better. He couldn’t guarantee a completely pain-free life afterwards, but felt there was a good chance. I left feeling really scared.
Errol suggested seeking another opinion from an osteopath he’d consulted previously. I’d already seen one who hadn’t achieved much, but Errol convinced me to see one more before committing to surgery.
It was more than 14 months after slipping the discs that Errol’s osteopath told me about a new American
machine he was using – IDD therapy (Intervertebral Differential Dynamics therapy). I looked it up and it sounded amazing, but my health insurers wouldn’t cover the cost as the technique is so new. It was this or surgery though, so I paid £1,500 (Dh8,360) for six weeks of treatment, starting once every other day for an hour, tapering down to twice weekly.
The principle of IDD therapy is like old-fashioned traction, but whereas that uses mechanisms to stretch the entire spine, causing a massive inflammatory response, this targets damaged areas precisely. Stretching the damaged area causes a vacuum, and this allows space for discs to be sucked back into place. Plus the increased blood circulation to the area promotes healing.
The machine consists of a bed with a computer at one end. The operator programmes in height, gender, weight, and the discs to be targeted. Once strapped in I could feel my spine being stretched – rather a nice feeling as the trapped nerves were released. After each session I sat for 20 minutes with an ice pack on my back to ‘set’ the work.
After a few sessions I had a sciatica flare-up and told the osteopath maybe I’d need surgery after all. He reassured me a little inflammation was normal and if I needed surgery he’d eat his shoes with a knife and fork! Halfway through treatment my back greatly improved and I could easily manage the five to 10 minutes of daily exercises to stretch the back and strengthen my abdominal muscles.
The effects of IDD therapy are cumulative, and you carry on healing even once treatment is over, but I was warned not to attempt aerobics or jogging, and to be posture aware. Boy was I aware! Even though finally pain-free and able to move, I was nervous. People tend to take simple things like filling a kettle for granted, but with slipped discs you’re hyper aware, as the smallest thing can put your back out of alignment. I was told that two years after IDD I should be 100 per cent. I’m reaching that milestone and loving the freedom of being able to make my own bed, take long car journeys, or just gor for a walk. I’m far more careful now – and I certainly won’t be carrying the cat basket again!
IDD therapy is a non-invasive alternative to surgery first pioneered in America and now available in Dubai