My Injury Hell – Herniated/Bulging Disc – My recovery

The aim of this is to help me track my progress through rehab and to give updates as to what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, what’s working and what’s not. This is my second herniated disc in 3 years, the first time I needed surgery, this time I’m hoping to avoid surgery. The plan is to do whatever I can and track my progress and maybe help others in the same boat as me to recover from their own disc troubles. I hope I don’t go off the point too much.

22/09/2016

Driving up to Dublin to the Sports Surgery Clinic for an MRI knowing in my heart and soul it’s another herniated disc. I know the pain. I know my body. Still, there’s that tiny bit of hope saying maybe not this time. Sharon stays positive beside me. She’s always positive. Feel bad now thinking about how cranky I’ve been over the last few weeks since it happened again. I haven’t been easy to live with. Pissed off thinking about the effort I’ve put in this year. Might as well have had a few pints at all those weddings I stayed sober. Thinking of every other night where I refused to drink or wouldn’t go out at all. Eating healthy – I enjoyed that though. Love to cook. The sacrifice has been hard but always thinking it will be worth it when we win the championship. Fitter than I’ve ever been now and mad to go but can’t, fucked again!

Three years ago this month had back surgery to correct a herniated disc, the L4/L5. Had been crippled with the nerve pain darting down my leg. Struggling to drive, to dress myself, to sit down, to walk, to do everyday things we all take for granted. Last resort – surgery. This is it. Tried months of physiotherapy, two cortisone injections, chiropractor, epidural injection, faith healer, laser, dry needing, nothing has worked. I’m only 26, I’m fit, I’m a footballer, how does this happen! The pain can only be described as someone sticking multiple needles in your leg all at once, horrible. Crying at my desk in work – can’t get up, the pain. Crying at home getting dressed in the morning, the pain! All this going through my head lying on the bed as I’m wheeled down to theatre for surgery. All my faith and hopes pinned on a surgeon about to cut my back open and perform spinal surgery. Sick of looking on from the bench as we get knocked out of the championship again. Need to get back and help us win. Determined.

The worst part about all of this is witnessing my mother going through the exact same thing at the exact same time. Heartbreaking. Very emotional. Already two failed surgeries and worse than ever trying to convince me not to go ahead with my own. My surgeon confident he can fix us both. Thinking…. Can I live with this pain without surgery? Maybe, but with poor quality of life. Will I play football again without the surgery? No. Surgery it is then, mind made up. He’s so confident and I believe it will be a success. Reluctantly we decide to go with this surgeon for my mother’s 3rd surgery, last chance in our heads. He says he can fix the damage caused by the previous two. Please god.

Awake. Groggy. Sore. Very sore. Afraid to move. Has it worked? Mind racing. I can’t feel the pain in my leg but is the pain in my back hiding it? Still afraid to move in case the pain comes back. Surgeon comes round, he’s happy, complete success he says. Relief but still weary. In simplicity, what they have done is shave the bulging disc away so it is no longer sitting on the nerve. In medical terms – a microdiscectomy procedure. Home now and in pain but all in the back where the procedure was done, I’ll take that. Recovery starts now. 9 weeks off work, first 7 mostly on the couch or in bed to let the back heal. After a week I go for a 10 minute walk every few hours and slowly build it up until I can walk comfortably for an hour. 6 week check-up, back to Sports Surgery Clinic, all good. Can start phase 2, physical therapy. Very basic light stretches, beginner level pilates. More walking. Feeling good now.

Unfortunately my mother’s third surgery hasn’t gone to plan, I can’t even begin to imagine what she must be going through. I know the pain she’s in, wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s taken so much from her. Why did mine work and hers didn’t? Wish I could swap places with her.

Recovery going great. Check my weight – 14 ½ stone. Shocking. I look terrible, some of my clothes don’t fit me. The tight t shirts are staying in the wardrobe. Need to start running. It’s not easy watching the lads train and play matches knowing I should be out there with them. You have good days and bad days. People say you’ll never be the same after it, you shouldn’t go back to football, too dangerous. In my head there’s nothing stopping me. This time next year I’ll be back. And I was.

Back in the Sports Surgery Clinic now, excellent facilities. Doesn’t make me feel any better, I still don’t want to be here. Memories flooding back, here we go again. Consultant sees me at 12, at 12.10 he has ruled out a hamstring injury and says he would be amazed if it wasn’t a disc in the back. Fucking great I thought. You wouldn’t want to be claustrophobic having an MRI. Not nice. It’s loud too. Lying in a small tight area not able to move for 20 minutes. Mind in overdrive thinking how I am going to tell my family and how am I going to overcome this. Results are in, back to the specialist. Fucking L5/S1 herniated disc, the one below the last one I had done. In plain view there it is staring me in the face. Eyes are drawn down below the healthy white discs to two black flat discs clearly bulging out. The bulge sits on the nerve causing the pain down my leg. Pissed right off now and asking how this happened again. I’ve done everything right after the last time. Worked so hard on my core to protect my back. Some people are just unlucky, that’s what I was told! Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, I came out laughing when I told Sharon. It wasn’t funny though, nothing about this was. Booked in for an epidural in 2 weeks, didn’t work last time, why would it work this time? Rang my pyhsio, she says if we can free up and loosen the muscles around my back it will give it the best chance of working.

Driving home now, mind wandering. In the wrong lane, pull back in without checking my blindspot, close one that. Maybe I shouldn’t be driving! Got to tell the family now. There’s no easy way to say it so I just say it. Disappointment, anger and worry probably sums up the feeling. Feel like I want to go on the beer, what good would that do though, I don’t. Order a takeaway, feeling sorry for myself so not bothered cooking.

23/09/2016

Back to work, no interest in been here, mind is elsewhere. Tell my colleagues and they are genuinely gutted for me. That’s nice. Back to the gym – for rehab. Over the last 3 weeks since I’ve had the pain back in my Ieg, I’ve been on a flexibility program to loosen the muscles around the disc / pain. I’ve also been heavily strapped with Kinesio Tape on my back, quads and hamstrings to try and pull my muscles back into the correct place. Stretching is essential. The tape will stay on up to 5 days no problem.

Cycle 2 ½ Km followed by stretching (Calves, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Back)

Back at my desk now after taking my lunch break. I use the gym every day when I’m on lunch. Thinking about training tonight and telling the lads the bad news, I’m certainly ruled out of the semi-final on Sunday, please god I’ll be back for the final. After work I’m unable to run for the Luas, so sore, when I do get on its packed and I’m standing all the way to Heuston with a bag on my back. Getting off and heavily limping and wincing with the pain. Fuck this its getting bad again like 3 years ago. Hobble into Heuston and miss the early train because I can’t run so settle for the next one. The train takes just under an hour. This is every day. The commute from Portarlington to Dublin, sitting on a train, sometimes standing and then sitting most of the day in work. It’s not good for the back, I know that but I have to work. 13/14 hour days every day. Home for 7 and have something crackers and tuna before I go training. I’ll do another bike and stretching session while the lads are training. Do a good hour split between the bike and stretching.

Cycle 10 mins, Stretch 10 mins (Repeat x 3)

The lads come in now, all asking how I am. Tell them the news and the common response is shit, how long you out for? Back for the final I say but in my head half thinking will I even play again?! Team been named, usually excited about this part but knowing I’m not playing it’s not the same. Strong team, some young lads in there with their chance now. Good talk, leave disappointed that I cant help though. Asked to do water boy, I’ll take that, gets me close to the action.

24/09/2016

Get up early and do about 10/15 mins stretching.

Calves/Hamstrings/Glutes/Quads/Back

Head off shopping for the day, spend a fortune! Out for dinner that night with Sharon’s family and friends. Her sister and boyfriend, Maria and Alex are going to Australia so about 12 of us in total head out. I decide I’ll have a few drinks, sure why not!

25/09/2016 – Match Day

It’s just not the same waking up on Match Day and not playing. That same buzz and excitement is not there. Normally I’d have my meals planned and timed for the match. Today I don’t. I still have the usual breakfast, porridge with a chopped up banana.  Start looking or gear, again I’d usually have this prepared the night before, today I don’t. Hardly need gear for water boy. Listening to my heart now and not my head, maybe I’ll just do the warm up and see if I’m good for 10 at the end if the game is tight. Madness. I get through the warm up…in a lot of pain! I’ve confirmed I’m good for 10 mins at the end, excellent this is good, excited. Shit! Thinking about my prep for the game now, it’s been awful. I’m fit enough anyway for these 10 mins I tell myself. Ball thrown in. Bib on, I’m out of the dugout and warming up on the line shouting and roaring. I can’t sprint though, the pain is too much. I’m fucked here, I’m a liability if I go in. Listen to my head for once, I’m not going in. It’s all over, we lost. Season finished. Gutted. Gutted for the team, the effort we put in all year, gutted for myself for the dsame reason and then to end it on the side line injured, doesn’t seem fair to me. On the beer for the night.

26/09/2016

Monday morning. The day booked off work in the hope we would be out celebrating the night before after a huge win. Out all night anyway so a good thing I booked it off. Depressed today, mix of feeling sorry for myself and slightly hungover. Lads going down for pints and lunch, sorted I’ll join them. Day off – no stretching, no exercise. Well on it by 9, talking shite, home time, working tomorrow!

27/09/2016

Hard to find the motivation to go gym today, the last few days and weeks we were still in the championship so that kept me going. Now it’s like I’m on my own where everyone has a break I have to keep going so I can get over this without needing surgery.

Cycle 2 ½ Km followed by stretching (Calves, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Back) Few push-ups and some core. No sit-ups (On my back and extending legs so no pressure on lower back or movement)

Home that night and repeat the above without the cycle. Taking off the most recent roll of tape used on me tonight. I’ve left it a day longer than usual and it takes some skin too, not nice and pretty sore. Not too bothered, that’ll heal.

28/09/2016

Up early at 06:00 to rub the Horse Balm on. I don’t think it’s working to be honest but I’m going to give it time. I’m very impatient when it comes to injury so this makes it even harder. I’m committed to this now, I have to be, no surgery this time. I have to leave earlier for the train now, no longer able to run after it. Uncomfortable train journey to be honest. Down to the gym again for my lunch and it’s the usual routine.

Cycle 2 ½ Km followed by stretching (Calves, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Back) Few push-ups and some core. No sit-ups (On my back and extending legs so no pressure on lower back or movement)

Getting bored of this but it’s all I can do and to be honest I’m even starting to struggle with some of the stretching. I think it’s getting worse now. I might need to think about doing something else. So frustrating watching the guys in the gym pumping it out when all you want to do is join in. No stretching before bed tonight.

29/09/2016

Waking up every morning waiting to see if there’s an improvement, even the slightest of improvements is pretty sad because the tiniest bit of hope you have is gone the minute you move in the bed to turn off the alarm! Fuck sake here we go again. The struggle is exhausting. Anyone going through the same thing will know what I’m talking about – it’s actually hardship just getting ready for the day ahead, everything takes longer when trying to minimise the darting pain down your leg. Gym time and same again.

Cycle 2 ½ Km followed by stretching (Calves, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Back) Few push-ups and some core. No sit-ups (On my back and extending legs so no pressure on lower back or movement)

Trying to leave a minute early in work so I don’t have to rush after a luas and in turn miss my train. Standing on the luas is bad, the pain is bad but can’t move because its packed. When I get off the limp is as bad as ever. Another stretching session before bed as I won’t be doing much over the weekend.

30/09/2016

Rest Day. Enjoy a night out with the lads.

01/10/2016

All – Ireland Final Replay. Looking forward to this. Going out early with Sharon to watch the match so I just do a small stretching session. Enjoy the few pints and a good laugh. Badly needed.

02/02/2016

Chill out day, loads of sport on the box so that’ll keep my mind occupied for a while. Do a stretching session while watching some match but I’m in serious pain. Thinking what the fuck am I going to do about this. First time I start actually thinking about another surgery, I don’t think I’d play again if that happens, might not play again anyway if I can’t get this right. No guarantee’s with surgery and 2 in 3 years will take a lot out of me and weaken my back even more. I’d nearly accept retiring at 29 if the pain went and I could live normally and just do some light form of exercise. Doing too much thinking here now, so many scenario’s running around in my head. Two weeks to the epidural…

03/10/2016

Ease myself back into a proper stretching session but really struggling. Just the one session today before bed. Go for a walk at lunch or maybe I should say a hobble! Depressing.

04/10/2016

It’s not good. The pain is getting worse. Starting to struggle with every day things now. This is just like before. Just like 3 years ago. Fuck sake. Pissed off and worried. I’m struggling to get dressed now, I’m getting shooting, darting pains down my left leg when I’m leaning over to put on socks, trousers, shoes. When I sit down on the train the pain is very bad. Get off the train and I’m limping from the pain for the first 100 metres or so and then it loosens out a bit. In work its sore when I sit down, when I get up, when I walk, there’s not much else I can do! Gym time.

Cycle 2 ½ Km followed by stretching (Calves, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Back) Few push-ups and some core. No sit-ups (On my back and extending legs so no pressure on lower back or movement)

Didn’t go well, struggling to stretch my left calf and left hamstring. All the pain is on the left. Need to use an elasticity band to help me stretch the hamstring. After shower rub on the Horse Balm – I’ve been using Horse Balm over the last few weeks to help ease the muscle tightness around the disc. Use it 3 times a day on legs, glutes and lower back.

05/10/2016

Same again today. No improvement. Really annoyed but will have to stick at it. It’s pretty much gone to the stage where it is a constant pain now, depending on movement or what I’m doing the pain becomes more severe. It’s funny really, a few weeks ago when I was training and fit and pain free I was very strict on my diet, in really good shape. Now the motivation is just not there. I still eat healthy most of the time but I allow myself more treats now. The fact I can’t train though, I should probably be even more conscious of my diet. 8 Weeks ago my body fat was 9% which is in the athlete bracket. I haven’t trained since! Back to the gym now.

Cycle 2 ½ Km followed by stretching (Calves, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Back) Few push-ups and some core. No sit-ups (On my back and extending legs so no pressure on lower back or movement)

Again struggling with my stretching. Maybe I’m not doing enough. Do another stretching session just before bed without the cycle this time. 15/20 Mins

Calves/Hamstrings/Glutes/Quads/Back

06/10/2016

Constant pain now, every day is the same. It’s always the worst in the mornings getting dressed, sitting down on train, luas trip after work and again on the train home. I cant walk fast or run anymore now either so making the luas and trains is a nightmare! Old women passing me out rushing for the train, it’s actually embarrassing.

Cycle 2 ½ Km followed by stretching (Calves, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Back) Few push-ups and some core. No sit-ups (On my back and extending legs so no pressure on lower back or movement)

Gym session done, well stretching session done. It’s sore now stretching most things. Might be time for a complete break. Hard to accept that. For me what I’m doing is a break compared to the training I was doing!

07/10/2016

No gym gear today. Last night was probably the worst night I’ve had since the original injury 3 years ago. I was really struggling around the place to the extent where there were almost tears. I’ll just type some more of this on my lunch break and go out for a walk. Physio tonight….

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