“I was an avid every day runner and cyclist—participating in marathons, half marathons and annual week long bicycle tours since the 1990’s that explored southern Colorado. The bicycle tours averaged 75 to 100 miles daily. Running and cycling was a huge part of my life and made me happy. It was my ‘natural high’. When I was forced to give up running six years ago, I felt a big void in my life. Today, the fact that I am pain-free and able to do things I wasn’t able to do just a year ago, trumps that feeling any day of the week. There simply is no better feeling than living “pain-free,” says Ximena Novoa.
Ximena’s remarks resonate with the more than 65 million Americans who live with back pain day in and day out. As the second most stated reason why a person will visit an ER in any given year, chronic back pain can afflict anyone at any time.
In Ximena’s situation, years of running led to the natural degeneration of the discs in her lower back. Born in Chile, the 50 year old, full time nurse with Vail Health and mother to a 15-year old daughter, admits that her active lifestyle and “addiction to running” most likely led to her chronic lower back pain.
“When I moved to Vail in the mid-80s, I immediately began to do the things that many people love to do here. Running, biking, skiing, snowshoeing—these were a huge part of my daily routine and extra curricular activities. After I had my daughter, I slowly began to experience pain and dull aches in my lower back. As the months and years went on, the pain eventually became worse and more consistent.”
Ximena knew she had degenerative disc disease. Doctors early on confirmed the condition. It wasn’t a surprise. A past participant of the New York City Marathon, Ximena averaged two half-marathons per year and a solid 15-mile run on any given morning. The continued wear and tear over the years would secretly wear her spinal disc down to bone-on-bone, leading to pain, timely ‘flare-ups’ and ultimately, a retirement of her running shoes.
“By 2005, I was taking anti-inflammatory medicine daily for my back pain. Getting up off the bed first thing in the morning created such anxiety and pain for me. Over the years, I’ve received multiple steroid injections and for months at a time, these injections would work. Finally, on the last visit, the injection failed and it was not an effective treatment for me any longer. Looking back, my chiropractic adjustments were actually just a bandaid, temporary relief, because my condition had nothing at all to do with my back being out of place.”
Because of her longevity at the hospital, Ximena knew all of the orthopedic surgeons and their reputations. She went to see her friend, Dr. Donald Corenman and after a thorough look at her new MRIs, he concluded that surgery was the next course of action.
In fact, Ximena would need a level 2 spinal fusion surgery on her lumbar spine L4- L5 and L5-S1 vertebra. Lumbar fusion surgery is often used to treat degenerative disc disease. While multilevel fusions are not as common, they are necessary at times when more than one disc is affected. Lumbar spinal fusion involves using a bone graft to attempt to get two vertebral segments to grow together and form into one single segment. This surgery is designed to stop the motion and movement where the painful vertebral segment exists, which in turn should decrease pain released from the joint.
Ximena had her level 2 spinal fusion surgery on April 21, 2010. After spending several days in the hospital and more than six months on a strict rehabilitation program, she was cleared by Dr. Corenman to resume her activities.
“He gave me my life back,” says Ximena. “I had felt crippled, old and weak every day until I had this surgery. It was a lot of hard work on my part and it took a huge team effort from Dr. Corenman, his PA Eric Strauch,and my Physicial therapists to get me back to where I am today. I can honestly say that I am pain-free and back to my normal self”, thanks for their support and encouragement. I was able to enjoy skiing and snowshoeing on the mountain again this past winter season of 2010-2011.This spring and summer I returned to my cycling days and enjoying my 50 mile rides without feeling any back strain. I am extremely happy and grateful of my successful outcome.
Ximena gives huge credit to the entire staff at The Steadman Clinic, Vail Valley Medical Center and the Howard Head physical therapy department. She says, “They are the best in this universe. It all began with Dr. Corenman and Eric Strauch PA, because of their trust/ expertise and leadership, the entire team (many thanks to Diana, Sarah and Vangie) truly brings a patient back to an active life.”
Ximena continues to say that spine lumbar fusion surgery can seem scary. “To many, it is like an unknown black hole. If you are experiencing chronic back pain, it pays to find a reputable and skilled surgeon like Dr. Corenman who understands why chronic back pain exists and has the technology and tools to effectively treat it. I truly feel like I am a success story. Chronic back pain wears you down—both physically and mentally. You can get your life back, “ I did.”