A car accident can be a jarring experience that can have lasting impact on one’s physical and emotional state. For Spinal Champion and retired teacher Abby W., a 2002 car accident was the start of her battle with low back pain.
“It was raining and I was stopped behind a car that was waiting to make a left hand turn. I looked into my rearview mirror and I was shocked to see a pickup truck coming very fast up behind me before it crashed into me,” said Abby
Her doctors prescribed physical therapy twice a week for six months. While Abby’s back was improving over time, the pain never truly went away. As a kindergarten teacher, she needed to be able to be active and dynamic in the classroom for hours on end.
“I had to really rethink how to be active in my classroom throughout the day. My wonderful PT was a great resource in adapting how I could do what I needed to do when teaching.”
Her physical therapist’s suggestions included sitting on a swiveling stool with a cushion seat so Abby could avoid twisting her back. When sitting on the floor, he recommended she stack two thick outdoor cushions to keep the hips above the knees to remove stress from her low back. Abby even used a gardening cushion to kneel next to students instead of bending over. When her students weren’t in the classroom, she would do light stretches to relax her lower back.
In 2015 -over a decade after her car accident – Abby decided to begin working with a personal trainer at her local YMCA to further build her strength. While completing an exercise one day, she felt an intense pain in her lower back and knew something had gone terribly wrong.
Her doctor’s recommended physical therapy once again, this time with pain management injections. Yet, she was discouraged to find that her low back pain continued. Abby went in for an MRI and was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in minimally invasive robotic spine surgery. It was this surgeon that diagnosed her with significant osteoarthritis at L4, L5, and S1. Thankfully, Abby was a good candidate for a laminectomy and a foraminotomy.
Her surgeon was a great comfort, patiently listening and answering all Abby’s questions. Just a few months after her injury she successfully completed this outpatient procedure. Abby quickly dove back into physical therapy, and only felt pain after prolonged strenuous activities.
After having tremendous pain and swelling in her hands, Abby was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. After successfully treating it with medication, Abby once again began feeling intense lower back pain a few months later.
Abby retired from her 39-year teaching career, which meant bending, twisting, and lifting boxes filled with school materials and books, leaving her in a great deal of pain. A follow up appointment with her rheumatologist and X-ray revealed that her L4 vertebrae was out of alignment.
In 2018, Abby underwent a successful L4 and L5 spinal fusion. After a slow recovery and continued pain, another MRI revealed a ruptured disc between L5 and S1 and her surgeon recommended a discectomy. The recovery time for both of these surgeries was long, leaving Abby immobile and frustrated.
Abby was going to physical therapy with a goal of walking for 15 minutes at a time, moving very slowly. With limited mobility during the recovery process, Abby found that she had gained weight. Looking for a solution as her pain decreased, she joined a weight loss and health improvement program.
“After a lot of work, things really started to improve and I began to feel like my healthy self again,” said Abby. “Today, I continue PT work, focusing on core strength and posture. I was able to lose 49 pounds and walk between three and four miles per day. I finally got my life back!”
If you are struggling with neck or back pain, the National Spine Health Foundation has got your back. We invite you to join our private support group and learn more about prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and most importantly recovery.
You can also hear the rest of Abby’s story and additional Spinal Champion stories on the Get Back to It Podcast.