Woman heard her spine go pop and broke her back while doing yoga
Jennifer Pond was carrying out a revolved hand to toe yoga pose during a class in 2014, when she heard the pop in her back.
At the time, she didn’t think much of it and wasn’t in pain – but she had actually broken a bone in her back, which gradually worsened and eventually left her unable to walk.
Event planner Jennifer, 31, from Saskatoon, Canada, broke her interarticularis bone, a small bone found in the lower region of the spine. The pars interarticularis is connected to the facet joints in the spine, which help maintain spinal stability.
In the days that followed the injury, she felt pain in her right leg and in her hip, but she just assumed it was a pulled muscle, but weeks later, when it wasn’t improving, she went to see a doctor.
An X-ray revealed that while doing yoga, Jennifer had broken the bone and the injury compromised Jennifer’s facet joints and vertebras, causing the lower spine to slip forward, which is known as spondylolisthesis.
Jennifer said: ‘This bone is connected to your facet joints, which serve as train tracks for your spine, ensuring your vertebras don’t fall off track.
‘I was in a standing twist pose when I heard an internal ‘pop’ in the lower region of my back. It wasn’t until later that I realised this small noise represented a moment that would change my life.
‘Immediately after, I wasn’t aware that anything was severely wrong with my spine. My initial symptoms presented in my right leg with intense leg pain and painful sensations in my upper front hip.
‘I assumed that I had merely pulled a leg muscle, however this theory could no longer be supported when the symptoms began presenting themselves in my left leg. By the time I made it to my doctor a few weeks later, the pain had made its way into my lower back. It took an X-ray to see what the problem was.
‘The initial injury developed into a pretty severe condition called spondylolisthesis, meaning part of my lower spine is slipping forward. Specifically, one of my vertebras is slipping over the one below.
‘As your spine is a complex part of all movement and surrounded by important anatomy, it’s a tough place for things to be shaking around.’
Since developing spondylolisthesis, Jennifer has lived with chronic pain, leg weakness, nerve pain, stiffness in her back and numbness in her legs and she tried many non-surgical treatments, including physiotherapy, acupuncture, spinal injections and massage therapy.
What is spinal fusion therapy?
Spinal fusion is used to join 2 or more vertebrae together by placing an additional section of bone in the space between them.
This helps to prevent excessive movements between 2 adjacent vertebrae, lowering the risk of further irritation or compression of the nearby nerves and reducing pain and related symptoms.
The additional section of bone can be taken from somewhere else in your body (usually the hip) or from a donated bone. More recently, synthetic (man-made) bone substitutes have been used.
To improve the chance of fusion being successful, some surgeons may use screws and connecting rods to secure the bones.
Afterwards, the surgeon will close the incision with stitches or surgical staples.
Despite trying to reduce her pain for four years, none of Jennifer’s efforts worked. She could only walk short distances and day-to-day activities became very difficult.
Jennifer’s life was brought to a standstill as she backed out of many career, family and social activities due to the pain.
She adds: ‘My symptoms have varied over the years and the intensity can change on any given day – you have no real sense of what you’ll wake up to. Spondylolisthesis is like an ever-changing fingerprint: it’s not only unique to you but the print itself is constantly changing.
‘I’ve worked very hard with my medical team and tried all conservative treatment methods, including physiotherapy, acupuncture, spinal injections, resting, icing and massage therapy.
‘Unfortunately, there was no improvement and they would often cause inflammation.
‘As my condition worsened, so did my quality of life. I was unable to complete many normal and necessary life tasks. If I was physically able to do certain things, in most cases, I had to adjust how and how often I did the task.
‘I have to schedule duties around the needs of my condition and most activities result in debilitating pain. There is a constant fear of further slippage.’
A spinal fusion was Jennifer’s last option, and despite her fears of surgery and the 60 per cent chance the surgery would increase her quality of life, she knew she had run out of alternatives.
‘Although spinal fusion surgery has some scary short and long-term risks and there’s guaranteed outcomes, at this point, it was my only option left if I want to fight for stability both in my spine and life,’ she said
‘I was very scared of surgery, but I was working with an incredible surgeon and I knew that my medical team had exhausted all other treatment options to avoid this surgery.
‘My surgeon believed he could increase the quality of my life with the surgery, so that I have less pain and more stability. Surgery isn’t a cure, but it can help me regain my life back.’
Jennifer’s spinal fusion took place on June 10, 2019, and although recovery will be slow, she has already seen progress in her walking ability.
‘Waking up was traumatic,’ she says. ‘The pain was severe, and it took hours to get it under control. I was in the recovery room for roughly five hours and unfortunately stopped breathing twice so they had to massage my chest in order to resuscitate me.
‘It is both a physical and mental battle, full of challenges that you must overcome. In the initial stages, the level of disability combined with the pain was overwhelming and at times unbearable, but what helps this situation is choosing to accept your position and allow your caregivers and family to take over.
‘I also have to continually remind myself to sort of ride the recovery wave as each new day brings on different pain, emotions and obstacles.
‘The recovery has been slow, but I am currently walking better. My left leg below my knee is mostly numb, but I’m staying positive.
How to practise yoga safely at home
Yoga can have many health benefits but like any physical activity, you need to do what you can to prevent injuries.
Warming up and starting small before you work your way up to more complicated poses can help.
Look at some yoga poses for beginners before you start.
‘I want to build my life back up again and add those blocks back to it that I have lost over the years. I want to spend energy on finding my purpose and pursue that avenue. I look forward to having children one day that I will not only love, but I can physically hold and play with, and to be able to say yes to new opportunities that come my way!
‘I would never be able to manage my way through these obstacles without the incredible support of my loved ones. Caregivers deserve so much acknowledgement for all they do in order to help those living with illness.’
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