Getting over the "shocks" from spine trouble – and back onto her motorcycle
The symptom that Ann remembered was the "shocks."
They were more than just pain, she says. They would jolt her into a strange feeling, coming in intervals throughout her day – when she was sitting on a bar stool in her kitchen, or riding her beloved motorcycle. They would start on her left side and radiate down her leg, numbing the sensation as they traveled.
"Anytime my legs dangled a little bit, anytime I was getting in and out of my car, or in and out of my bed, I would feel these little shocks," Ann says. "They were scary because I knew it was the nerve being pinched, and I feared I had permanent nerve damage."
Physical therapy helped some. Ann also tried different levels of pain medication, muscle relaxants, heat, ice, even an inversion table where she was hanging upside down. But once Ann was referred by her primary care physician to Mayfield Brain & Spine, she had a feeling she might need surgery. She had her first appointment with neurosurgeon Dr. Yair Gozal, who says the "shocks" that Ann was experiencing concerned him.
"The shocks are a symptom of significant nerve compression," Dr. Gozal says. "The pain generally travels along the course of the pinched nerve down the leg and can often tell the surgeon where to expect to see the compression on the MRI."
Ann's previous history of back trouble also was a factor. Two separate auto accidents, including one as a child, left her with significant discomfort. About a decade ago, she had undergone a laminectomy, where a surgeon removes part of a vertebral bone to ease pressure on the surrounding nerves.
"Dr. Gozal said, 'It's kind of up to you whether to proceed with surgery. It depends on what you are willing to tolerate and how it impacts your quality of life,'" Ann recalls. "I said, 'No, I'm done.' I wanted to have the surgery. Now I can say that it was the best decision I've ever made. I can honestly say that it's changed my life."
More than 80 percent of spine cases at Mayfield are resolved without surgery. Dr. Gozal says Ann's was a relatively straightforward option after conservative measures didn't provide lasting relief.
"Ann's imaging confirmed spondylolisthesis at the L5-S1 levels of her spine, meaning one of the vertebrae had slipped out of place and was pressing on the nerves," Dr. Gozal says. "We were able to re-align the spine and provide more room for the nerves so that the pinching and pain resolve. That provides significant relief which lets her enjoy daily activities that have previously been too painful. Also, it gives her an opportunity to make changes to alleviate future spine issues."
Ann underwent the operation a few weeks before Christmas at The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health. Five days later, she was back at her job at a foster-care agency. A few weeks after that, she was chopping vegetables for dinner and managed to get through the entire meal with no pain. She still is easing into full activity after surgery, but hopes to be back on her motorcycle this summer.
"I have never experienced not being in pain. It's a totally new experience," Ann says. "For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful."
~ Cliff Peale
Hope Story Disclaimer -"Ann's story" is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.