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Chapter 20: Less is More

Posted Jul 21 2008 10:19am

When I looked at the MRI film, I wasn't sure. Was I was looking at mine? Or, maybe I was looking at the wrong level of the spine.

"Gordon, that looks a lot different to me. Am I seeing what I think I think I'm seeing?" I asked Dr White.

"I know. It's remarkable. I had the same feeling when I first reviewed the films. I expected the films to be better because your nerve function is good, muscle strength is good, but I never expected this," replied Dr. White.

My MRI showed a small bulge of the disc where three months earlier there had been a huge herniation cascading down the back of the L5 vertebral body. This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in three months. (In the image, the left is my MRI in March 2008 and the one on the right is June 2008. The herniation is outlined in red. Notice the difference in size.)Dk_mri_lumbar_02

Disc herniations like mine - large and non-fragmented -  rarely shrink according to conventional medical views. They almost always require some type of invasive procedure; epidural injection or surgery because of the pain severity and degree of disability.

"So, then, what does this mean going forward? What do you think? Do I still need an injection?" I asked.

"I think, with this kind of improvement on your MRI and your physical improvements, you should just keep on doing what you're doing and we should just wait on the injection. I don't think you need it and it's an invasive procedure," explained Dr. White.

I'm a controlled sort of guy on the outside (although learning how to let go) but inside I was turning cartwheels, jumping around, yelling, laughing, crying all at once. I just nodded, smiled and said, "Awesome. That's just so awesome."

So, where did my herniated disc go? Well, research over the past decade has shown that about 60% of people with herniations will experience what is called, "disc resorption." The extruded disc material is treated like a foreign protein by your body and your body, basically, digests it. But, to do this it needs access to blood and it turns out, paradoxically, that the larger the herniation, the better your chances are for resorption (and keep in mind that convention wisdom and practice is often 10-20 years behind research which is why so many people will disagree with this view). Since my herniation was large and even pushed on the spinal cord, I had statistically a good chance but I still had to maximize the blood flow to the region.

You might be wondering if there was one thing that helped me shrink my disc herniation and the answer is yes: a complete overhaul of my lifestyle and not just for a few weeks but forever.

I'll get into that soon. For now, I'm just going to savor what I have, how I feel, and where I'm going next.

Any guesses?

Make today count.

Doug Kelsey


Mochida K. Regression of cervical disc herniation observed on MRI.Spine  1998;23(9):990-997.

Ellenberg MR. Prospective evaluation of the course of disc herniations in patients with radiculopathy.Arch Phys Med Rehab74; Jan 1993, p. 3.

Bozzao A. Lumbar disc herniation: MR imaging assessment of natural history   in patients treated without surgery.Radiology1992;185:135-141.

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