‘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

Friday - - Living -

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

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