A degenerative spine is no excuse not to diet and exercise!

Amber writes…

I injured my back in 2004 while at work in a call center. It was during the holidays, so I was working long hours sitting at a computer. One day I went to adjust my position in the computer chair and I felt an unbelievably strong pain course through my back and down my left leg.

Since then I have been on a nightmare journey to not only try to stop any more damage to my spine, but also to hopefully try to heal the damage done and one day become pain-free.

The first spinal surgeon I saw actually asked me “How I’d gotten myself to this point.” Then he proceeded to lecture me while I cried out of pain and shame. He basically told me I had no one to blame for my bad back but myself, and more specifically my bad eating habits and lack of exercise.

I swore that I would never see a doctor about my back again. Then in April of this year fate had other plans.

For no reason at all, I woke up one morning and couldn’t get out of bed by myself. I had to yell to my Dad to come help me. Once I got out of bed the spasms in my back were so bad it was hard to walk. I was forced to get another MRI, and see a different spinal surgeon.

This time, the doctor made me wait 45 minutes before he graced me with his presence. Then he said he’d looked at my MRI and compared them to the ones I’d had done in 2004 and his conclusion was that my spine was degenerative. With absolutely no compassion in his voice he told me it was likely I would be crippled by the time I was 30.

He also didn’t forget to give me the lecture about my weight, and told me that my stomach was so large that if he operated on me I would bleed to death. (Apparently laying on your stomach pushes blood into your spine, so therefore my gigantic stomach would be able to help recreate Old Faithful during surgery.) THEN in the middle of his lecture, he got a phone call and left the room saying he’d be right back. I waited 30 minutes and a nurse came in to give me my bill and a pamphlet to a weight loss clinic.

As I left, this time incredibly angry on top of being bereft and totally lost, there was Dr. Fantastic, shuffling through papers at the nurse’s station. Obviously, he wasn’t going to “be right back”.

Now, I’ve given up hope that I’m ever going to feel strong again. Every day I have pain to some degree. Some days I have trouble doing simple things like getting out of bed. And if that spinal specialist is right, in 5 more years all I have to look forward to is a wheelchair.

If the two spinal specialists I’ve seen are any indication, there isn’t one out there willing to do anything to help me. And I don’t have health insurance or piles of money to try to find out otherwise.

Leave a comment


  1. vesta44

     /  December 30, 2007

    Amber, I don’t know where you’re located, but you might check out the list of fat-friendly doctors on Big Fat Blog. There might be one in your area who can recommend a fat-friendly spinal surgeon. I would also report the first two doctors to their local AMA, and I definitely would refuse to pay their bills since they were of absolutely no help to you (when they send you the bill, return a copy of it to them with a note explaining why you are refusing to pay, such as: for services not rendered).
    I don’t know much about spinal problems, so I don’t know if a degenerative spine is similar to the degenerative joint disease I have in my knee. I know there is nothing that will stop the degeneration of my knee joint, short of replacement. I hope that you have more options than that.
    And you are right, it’s very difficult to exercise when you are in such pain that you can’t move.

  2. Look, I’m no doctor, I just type their shit for a living. But how exactly would weight loss, assuming that was even possible for you to any great degree, have prevented your spine from degenerating? Do thin people never get this condition? (I may be no doctor, but I know for sure there is no medical condition — not one — suffered exclusively by the fat.)

    And even if being a Perfect Angel with diet and exercise (probably a better angel than either of those doctors could have nightmares about, ahem) and being willing to starve forever to keep your weight as low as possible would have prevented it, so what? Does that mean they get to just toss you in the garbage? They would have treated an alcoholic with cirrhosis better than that.

    I swear, people like this need to have their asses sued back into the prior century. If I was super-rich, boy, I’d have bunches of lawyers on retainer, to do just that for all the fatasses who are getting screwed over by lazy health providers. (Yeah, I said lazy! Intellectual laziness is laziness, too.)

  3. Oh, and PS – since you’ve gotten no satisfaction from either of these experts, I’d go to a chiropractic neurologist next. Mine totally rules. I can’t guarantee that every one will be as smart as mine, but they generally have a body of knowledge that no one else does, and at this point you’ve really nothing to lose.

    Try this linky to find one near you:


  4. I”m sorry you’ve had such horrible experiences. I highly recommend looking into chiropractics. While my own condition isn’t degenerative, my chiropractor is one of the main reasons i’m able to maintain some regular semblance of bipedalism.

    If you’re looking for no-impact chiropractics (which i highly recommend for people new to the field), check out the NUCCA webpage. There’s even a doctor locater to help you find someone in your area.

    I once had a 12 day migraine – i saw 4-5 doctors, had two trips to the ER, i forget how many MRIs… and all the doctors would tell me was that i should check out a local pain clinic. Oh, and lose some weight. Because migraines are caused by fat, right? In any case, i went to my chiropractor, and he fixed me up right proper in about 5-10 minutes.

    Best of luck to you. Here’s hoping you’ll prove those asshats wrong.

  5. Geogrrl

     /  December 30, 2007

    My SIL had degenerative spinal disease, and she was a small woman–always had been. A similar thing happened to one of my English profs. And he was an incredibly fit man, into outdoors activities, particularly mountain climbing. My SIL was able to have some of her vertebrae fused, and she still moves around. Unfortunately, my prof developed the disease many years ago, long before surgery was very sophisticated, and it put him in a wheelchair. It did not, however, dampen his feisty personality.

    All that is to say, this is NOT your fault. It’s genetics, it’s one of those things. Kind of like the fibroids that necessitated my having an hysterectomy at 30–before I bled to death.

    So. Write off those two “professionals” and their advice. I agree with not paying them. They did you no good and did not help you at all. As far as surgery goes, I disagree–it just means surgery on you is more difficult, not impossible. Keep looking until you find a decent specialist who is willing to treat you like you matter. They do exist.

  6. vesta44

     /  December 31, 2007

    Amber, this is an incredible coincidence, but I think it might help. Check out this article linked here. I just happened to be reading the news on Yahoo tonight and this came up. It’s spinal surgery done from the front, so your weight and the bleeding issue might not be an issue at all. It’s worth checking out. Hope this helps.

  7. This might be beside the point, but i would definitely recommend trying acupuncture before surgery anyway. I had a very similar experience, went to several doctors and received several diagnosis’ such as degenerative arthritis and also a compressed disc – both apparently curable only by massive weight loss. After a year of pain killer addiction and serious depression I finally tried acupuncture. It worked quickly to manage pain and after 6 months of treatment I was fully mobile and pain free.

  8. Bullshit about being fat and not being able to have spinal surgery. My 300-lb father had a spinal fusion 6 months ago, and he lived through surgery. He’s having way less pain now, also. The recovery has been slow, but he’s walking a few miles a day and has been hunting and fishing again. I think the changes in his back were largely degenerative, as well.

    Plus, my dad is close to 60, and has some other health issues (i.e., high blood pressure, colon/stomach problems) – if they can operate on him, they surely should have no reason not to operate on an otherwise healthy 20-something.

    I would agree for checking the list of fat-friendly doctors. And getting another opinion. There is just no need for this shit.

  9. bekki

     /  January 4, 2008

    I also don’t know where you live, but if there’s any way to get to the U. of Washington Spinal center, do it! I’m also very heavy, and it never was an issue pre-surgery. In fact my weight only came up once, when a resident told me a brace wouldn’t work b/c of the size of my midsection. But a brace wasn’t medically needed anyway, so no issue. (I had spinal fusion).

    The surgery was the best thing I could have ever done, and I truley hope you can get the help you need!

  10. Kathryn

     /  January 9, 2008

    My boyfriend has had spinal issues since he was a skinny kid in college – finally diagnosed as degenerative arthritis (in his neck, so fusing isn’t really an option if he wants to be able to turn his head). The MRI consultant said a couple of vertebrae were in the state you’d expect for an “arthritic pensioner”. The good news is that an understanding physio was able to help him a lot, retraining the way he moves and giving him gentle exercises build muscle to support the damaged vertebrae. The first thing, though, he was told to do was to reduce the amount of exercise he took – too much impact and the muscles were supporting his neck at a bad angle. Now, he’s fatter, but in a lot less pain and working part-time because he isn’t shoving his spine around all the time.

  11. Stephanie

     /  January 31, 2008

    hi, I am sorry you had that kind of experience….I have had similar with multiple doctors and multiple issues. I can relate to the back issue as I also have degenerative disc disease……and I am obese and have been except for the times I exercised finatically and starved and got almost thin. Now with the back issue it is very hard to exercise ……walking helps me and not sitting or standing for to long is a good idea……I am not a doctor but I can tell you that the thing that helped me most with this problem was aqua therapy …..exercising in a pool …….walking in the water frontwards backwards and sideways and their are water dumbells to use….I had surgery for this problem see I also had two ruptured disc that surgery made me much worse they wanted to do more I refused and did the therapy in the water ……if you don’t have insurance you can probably find the exercises to do in the water online and help yourself ………it will definately build your muscles up and that can’t hurt…….also getting in the water takes off a lot of pressure off all your joints and just feels wonderful………I would definately try it…..and don’t believe you will be crippled and also Prayer helps ….email me if you need support!

  12. Wench

     /  January 9, 2009

    Amber, not all spinal specialists are like the two losers you saw. Not by a long shot. And you are not doomed to be crippled. You are not doomed to be living in pain the rest of your life.

    I herniated two discs in my spine in 2001 – they are at L4-L5 and L5-S1. I literally could not walk after the herniation. Like you, I had pain down one of my legs, from the discs impinging on the nerve. With painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and physical therapy, I was back to walking within a few months. I learned to ski a couple of years after that. I lived pain-free.

    I herniated the same two discs again this past summer (June, 2008). After the MRI was done, the spinal specialist I saw said, yes, your discs are degenerating. The rest of my spine looks fine, but those two look like what you’d normally see in a person at least twice my age. The specialist said to me “They’ve been injured. They’re scarred. Of course they’re not going to look as shiny as the rest of your discs.” Since PT had helped before, he recommended that, and encouraged me to keep strengthening my core muscles, so that they could help support my back.

    My weight was never mentioned. Not the first time, not the second time.

    There are caring professionals out there. There are ways to treat spinal pain. And it is possible to live pain-free after spinal injuries. From your description, it sounds a lot like a herniated disk (or disks) – right down to the pain in your leg, the back spasms, and the fact that your disks in question are degenerating faster than normal (your disks degenerate as you age anyway).

    I am truly sorry that you have had horrible experiences trying to get treated for a legitimate medical problem. I know you said that you don’t have insurance or a lot of money, and those can be barriers to care. But if you would like, I can tell you the names of the doctors I have seen in Boston and Chicago who have helped me with my spine problems – and helped me to live pain-free (that goes for anyone reading this, by the way). If there is one thing I want to say to you, it’s that you don’t have to live in pain and hopelessness because of those two jackholes (who probably screwed up the diagnosis in the first place).

    Be good to yourself, Amber.


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