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Conquering Spinal Nerve Pain

Wednesday, Aug 22, 2018
Johnelle Whipple, Back Pain Patient Story

"It felt like I was being electrocuted with a hot, metal rod," says 42-year-old Johnelle Whipple of Lambertville, New Jersey, recalling excruciating pain that left her barely able to walk or talk.

It was August 2017 when Johnelle, a healthcare marketing director and mother of two young children, first noticed pain down the back of her leg – a symptom known as sciatica. At first, the pain was mild, and she saw an orthopedic surgeon who prescribed a course of medication and injections, but her discomfort was not resolved.

Two weeks later, Johnelle's condition deteriorated. Suddenly, she found herself in the grip of debilitating nerve pain. Her husband rushed her to Doylestown Health's Emergency Department, where she was evaluated and admitted.

Exploring Options

Orthopedic surgeon, Guy Lee, MD, visited Johnelle in the hospital. A Rothman Institute orthopedic surgeon, fellowship-trained in reconstructive spinal surgery, Dr. Lee reviewed her MRI studies and explained that a herniated disc in her spine was pressing against her lumbar spinal nerve root causing sciatic-type pain. Due to the severe nature of her pain and because immobility put her at risk for developing a blood clot, he recommended surgery. "Dr. Lee did a great job putting me at ease," said Johnelle.

Discs are the rubbery cushioned rings in between the bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine. A herniation occurs when the disc's tough outer layer tears and the spongier inner layer is pushed outward. Herniated discs are very common and usually don't cause symptoms unless they compress nearby nerves, which can cause numbness, tingling and pain.

"Spine surgeons first focus on conservative treatments for sciatica nerve pain, including physical therapy, steroid injections and nerve blocks," stresses Dr. Lee. "However, if conservative therapies fail, and as long as the patient's condition is not life-or-neurologically threatening, it is the patient who decides when to have surgery – usually when pain becomes intolerable."

A Minimally-Invasive Solution

Dr. Lee performed a microdiscectomy, a 30-minute minimally-invasive procedure to relieve the pressure from Johnelle's nerve root. Minimally-invasive options offer the maximum benefit with the least tissue damage, so people heal faster, notes Dr. Lee.

"With microdiscectomy, we make a tiny window to reach the spinal canal where the nerves are, then remove any disc fragments that are pressing on the spinal cord. Many patients experience pain relief as soon as the pressure is off the nerve," says Dr. Lee, who also removed a portion of the lamina, a bony structure on each of the spinal vertebrae which provides a roof for the spinal canal and protects the back of the spinal cord. By removing a part of the lamina, the pressure is relieved on the lumbar nerve thereby improving the sciatic nerve pain.

Top Caregivers and a Personalized Approach

"In an emergency, you don't get to choose your doctor, but even if I had done my research I would have picked Dr. Lee," says Johnelle, citing his credentials and the way he connected with her. "Dr. Lee put me at ease, understanding my pain and how upset I was. He was proactive in getting me on the right course."

There for You from Start to Finish

Johnelle began physical therapy at Doylestown Hospital immediately after surgery, followed by outpatient therapy. "At first, I was frustrated, but Dr. Lee helped me realize that it would take time to recover," she recalls.

As she approaches the one-year anniversary of her surgery, Johnelle says she's feeling great and is back to her normal routine. She continues to perform the home exercise program that her physical therapist provided, and does Pilates with the help of a trainer. "Pilates focuses on the same basic principles of my physical therapy and rehab: core strengthening, stretching and low-impact resistance training. The workout is amazing and perfect for what I can do following back surgery," says Johnelle.

"I am eternally grateful for the care I received from the doctors and staff. Everyone was supportive and helpful," says Johnelle of her Doylestown Health experience and the personalized approach to care that helped get her back on her feet.

Spine Experts at Doylestown Health

Spine surgeons affiliated with Doylestown Health's Orthopedic Institute include Guy Lee, MD, Victor Hsu, MD, and Michael Gratch, MD. Specializing in spinal disorders, these surgeons perform a wide variety of procedures including decompression of nerves via discectomy or laminectomy; or stabilization through fusion. These spine surgeons are experienced in minimally-invasive spine surgery, leading to faster recovery.

Find an Orthopedic Specialist Near You

About Doylestown Health's Orthopedic Institute

For joint repair and replacement, spine and hand surgery, sports medicine and osteoporosis care, you’ll find Doylestown Health’s Orthopedic Institute is the perfect fit. With same and next day appointments available, our board-certified and fellowship-trained physicians treat all types of bone and muscle conditions. And for eligible joint replacement patients, our rapid recovery program helps patients return to the activities they love – faster.

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