Let’s Chat About My Spine

Oy vey, y’all. Seriously.I mentioned last Friday that I was heading in to see a doc about my lingering back pain that has recently evolved into, “Holy shit, I can barely lean backwards or move around without wincing!” Needless to say, I was expecting him to give me some ART treatments, maybe prescribe some meds, and send me on my way.Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Turns out, things are a bit more messy and complicated than I originally thought. It all stems from this X-ray:

No comments on the underwire bra or the belly button ring, please!

And this X-ray:

Curious as to what you’re looking at? I sure was. It took a full visit on Monday followed by another visit yesterday before I finally understood what is going on. There are a lot of technical terms that my doc has spent hours explaining to me, but I think I can finally sum it up for y’all (And if someone reads this and is like, “That is absolutely not what that means!” let me know. Highly possible.)

  • Transitional segment lumbarization of my SI with spatularization: this is a congenital anomaly (or we can say defect. I don’t mind being defective!) where my first sacral segment is trying to become like an extra lumbar vertebrae.
  • Bilateral Pars Defect: One of my vertebrae (and I don’t remember which one) is misaligned and slips forwards. On me, this is leading to the over-arched spine you can see in the second X-ray. This is also causing enormous pressure on my lower back
  • Facet Tropism in L5: this is when the angle of the facet joints in my vertebra (my L5, at the base of my spine) are facing the wrong direction. Instead of running parallel with my feet (if I was facing forward), it is facing more outwards. Again, this is another congenital defect that I’ve had since birth that has gone undetected.
  • Sclerosis of the Acetabulum, Left Side: In essence, this is the thickening of my hip bone in response to excess stress on the joint. In my case, this excess stress has caused so much thickening that I have also developed a small bone spur in my hip socket
So, in short? My back is kind of jacked. Basically, I was born with a few birth anomalies that lead to the massively crooked lower spine you can see in the first X-ray. One of my lower vertebrae is slipping forward and the crookedness as caused a few bones to begin to fuse together in ways that they shouldn’t be. Because my body is being pulled so far to the right, the muscles on the left side have been dramatically stressed out for a good 30 years. Additionally, these muscles (including my Psoas) are running over bones that are turned the wrong way, so they have been gradually growing more and more irritated. Think about about driving a misaligned car: if you do it for 30 years, one side is really going to be really worn out, right?

According to my doc, nothing triggered my current state of intense pain and it was bound to happen at some point. In fact, he says it may have just occurred one morning while rolling out of bed. It’s that whole inevitability thing, you know?

In terms of treatment, I’m looking at a lot of stuff over the next one-two months, but everything is manageable. Currently, my back, left hip, and left quad muscles and tendons are ridiculously tight because of the strain they have been under. They’re fighting back and trying to pull the right half of my body towards them. This is resulting in the enormous joint pain in my vertebrae that triggered the initial visit. The first step is to eliminate this joint pain and inflammation via a series of stretches and active release therapy (ART). ART hurts like a mother but after two sessions, it seems to be working so I’m hopeful!

Some of the stretches I have to do: the doc took pics of them for me so I could remember, but I don’t think he knew they would end up on my blog 🙂

And yes, in my current state, some of these stretches really hurt…hence my faces!

After we get the inflammation down, the next step is to work on getting my spine back in alignment. Currently, it’s 12-15% off which is fairly high. He thinks we can get it back within 1-4% which means I would be a much happier camper!

The final issue that I am most concerned about is my left hip. I have experienced issues with it for years, stemming back to my dancing days when it was always sore and stretching my hip flexor was a requirement before any type of leaps. Even today, it always cracks very loudly when doing air squats (as anyone at Big Horn has witnessed!) I always assumed it was a bone cracking but turns out, it is actually a tendon in my hip. It’s been irritated as hell, to the point of developing that bone spur, and the doc says that I may be looking at some serious arthritis in the future. We’re going to see if fixing all of the other issues will reduce the strain on the hip, so keep your fingers crossed.

As of now, I’m on the “injured list” in regards to exercising. Doc has requested that I eliminate anything intense from my regime for the rest of December, at minimum. Thus far, Crossfit, long distance running, climbing, cycling, and hiking/backpacking have been removed my repertoire. If I tell him anything hurts, that gets added to the removal list, as well. To date, I’m stuck with the elliptical, possibly swimming….and walking. Yes, he suggested I make walking my workout. I’m sure y’all can imagine how happy that made me! I have yet to try out skiing or snowshoeing since my inflammation went crazy, so I’m really hoping that those don’t negatively effect me. I am going to be miserable if I’m stuck inside on a cardio machine for the rest of the month.

So, to summarize in case you didn’t want to read this massive novel:
  1. If something hurts you for years, don’t ignore it. Regular discomfort is not normal, no matter what anyone says
  2. When you hurt your knee running a half marathon and a general M.D can’t quite figure out what is wrong with it, go to a specialist. Turns out, it might have something to with issues elsewhere in your body 🙂 Who knew that children’s song about the neck bone being connected to the head bone was actually true? EVERYTHING is connected!
What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had?
Until this year, I have never been injured and always considered myself quite sturdy! That knee thing in August was totally bizarre for me, but a lot of stuff is starting to make sense now!


  • Reply enlightenedrunner at

    So glad you figured out the deal with your back. I have scoliosis, so I know how difficult treatment can be!

  • Reply Erica House at

    I’ve been ‘diagnosed’ with scoliosis (haven’t had the Xrays to confirm it but 2 diff docs found it in the same place) at the L5 joint with a 10 degree curve. I’ve found modifying any heavy lifting I used to do, and stretching ALL the time now, has made it all very manageable! Best of luck to getting yours under control.

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      What’s odd is that he clarified that I *don’t* have scoliosis. Now that you say, that I am not sure I understand why not….I’ll add that to my list of questions on my visit next week!

  • Reply Mindy Bobe at

    So sorry about your back but so glad you went and got it checked out! I’m sure the treatment will do wonders for you! I am currently seeing a chiropractor who specializes in sports injuries and does ART. I’ve been seeing him for two weeks and he has helped my knee tremendously! I had zero pain today at my appointment!!! So have faith and trust in the chiropractic treatment because I truly believe it works!!!

  • Reply Zaneta at

    I’m glad you finally got everything figured out and can finally work towards fixing it! 🙂 It sucks being stuck on a machine inside for exercise, but you will get back out there! 🙂 Keep your head up chica! 🙂

  • Reply Heidi Nicole at

    Oooh…that sound complicated, and kind of sucky. But at least you know what is up and how to make it better!

    Where does skiing fall on that injured list? Probably not allowed, right? 🙁

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      Ohh, you didn’t read my entire novel, did you?! 🙂 As I was saying up there, I have yet to try skiing or snowshoeing since the inflammation went freaking nuts. I’m allowed to try and if it doesn’t cause discomfort, it’s allowed. I definitely won’t be hucking cliffs this season, but I’m okay with that– the thought of totally falling makes me literally cringe as I sit here just because that would absolutely wreck me. So, we’ll see!

    • Reply Heidi Nicole at

      Wasn’t sure where skiing fell in the “no running, climbing, hiking” part of things. Just wanted to make sure it wasn’t already black listed! 🙂

  • Reply Becky at

    You should try going to a rolfer. They are people who specialize in fixing and aligning our bodies through muscle work and fascia stuff. It’s complicated and sounds hooky, but the two different times I’ve gone (one for TMJ syndrome in my jaw and the other for plantar fasciitis in my feet) it has completely resolved the problem. Obviously yours is more complicated and will take a lot of work, but I think they would be an EXCELLENT addition to your current routine. Check them out. Find a local rolfer (weirdest term ever) here: http://www.rolf.org/find. They typically do free consultations so you’ll know before you pay if they can help you. Good luck! Back pain is the worst!!

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      I’ve heard of Rolfing but never tried it– I’ll look into it. Thanks!

      PS The term makes me giggle too 🙂

  • Reply greengirlrunning at

    So sorry to hear this! But it sounds like you’re being really positive and proactive about treatment. When I was injured I had a friend who was good about reminding me of how therapeutic walking can be, even when not injured. I went for a walk last week with a running friend, while recovering from a marathon, and we were laughing at ourselves as we oooh’d and ahhh’d about how nice it was to walk for a change! Wishing you speedy healing 🙂
    What kind of dance did you do? 12 years of ballet for me.

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      All types! I started when I was 3 and danced until I was 23. Started out as a studio dancer with lots of classic jazz and ballet, did that until my mid-teens, and then switched over to my high school jazz/hip hop team. Did that through hs and then through college at CU-Boulder. I spent one year after college as a dancer for the Colorado Rapids which was largely hip hop/jazz as well. Basically, the only one I didn’t get into was tap– as a little girl, the noise scared me 🙂

  • Reply Christine at

    Oh Heather! I’m so sorry but I’m really glad that you have some answers and a plan. I know for me, when I was injured, it helped so much to have a plan that I could focus on because I’m Type A like that. I hope that the ART and stretching helps and that you are back to being active ASAP. I know how hard and frustrating it is to be sidelined when you are as active as you are but while it sucks now, you will heal and you will be back at it. Sending lots of positive vibes to you!!

  • Reply Gina@runnersky at

    Sounds painful. I hope that you are on the mend soon. My husband found that one of his spikes on his vertebrae on his left side is missing as a birth defect. He has to be really careful or he is down for weeks. I hope it improves soon.

  • Reply Angela @ Happy Fit Mama at

    Yikes! Sounds intimidating and scary but fixable. Be a good girl and listen to the doctor, do your ART and stay away from the no-no list of activities. You’ll be back at it before you know it! Good luck!

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      You can tell you’re a mama– you said the exact same thing that MY mom said! 🙂

  • Reply Christy @ My Dirt Road Anthem: A Runner's Blog at

    Ugh. I would hate to see an X-ray of my spine, I know it is crooked, I inherited that from my mom. My sisters both have it as well. Both my hips pop…I wonder if it is something similar to what you have. Hope you are able to get back to more of the things you love soon! And me too!

  • Reply Ali Mc at

    Oh man….I’d be so scared to even check out my alignment. I am sorry you’re dealing with all this. Worst injury ever – the upslip which is still causing me issues.

    BTW Heather you are looking so beautiful these days. Not that you weren’t always but there’s definitely something different about you 🙂 You look great!

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      I read this comment on my phone in the car last night, and it totally made me smile 🙂 Thank you for the compliment– it really made my night!

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    Glad to hear you’re getting all checked out and making things right. Totally agree with you about finding what’s wrong with chronic aches and pains. One reason I’m veering in a different direction for my activities lately is due to my pre-existing injuries. Unfortunately there’s not much I can do to fix the problems I have but I’m hoping to alleviate further complications.

    Now, the big question…will you be able to have fun in a few weeks for the Omniten reunion =/

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      Survey says that I will at minimum, be trying everything 🙂 I can’t handle the thought of going to Park City with y’all and NOT skiing or snowshoeing. Plus, Will just got me a freaking sweet backcountry ski setup and there is absolutely no way in hell I am NOT trying it out. So, I’ll just be really good about doing everything my doc says between now and then so hopefully things are a bit better!

  • Reply Kayla Carruth @ kpLoving It at

    Geez. Read every word of your “novel”. Glad you have a starting point with improvement in your future!!

    Last time I broke my foot a regular MD tried to diagnose it as tendinitis….even though I couldn’t walk! And I have a high pain tolerance! I had to go back again after his remedy did nothing but make it worse and request to see a specialist.

    A few years ago I was experiencing extreme tooth sensitivity to the point of the air conditioner in my car hurting my teeth and not being able to drink without a straw….long story short the dentist said your teeth affect your entire body and a bite discrepancy was making one side of my body significantly weaker than the other!! She filed down one of my teeth, and my strength evened out and my sensitivity was gone immediately.

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      Luckily, I’ve never had any issues with dental work but I’ve heard they can just annihilate your entire body! It’s kinda nuts how everything is so intertwined!

  • Reply Kovas Palubinskas at

    Wow, a lot going on! As I get older, I definitely find that the injury is often caused by a problem somewhere else on the body, sometimes far away.

  • Reply Ed at

    Hehe what belly button ring? Looks like you ingested one 😉

    • Reply Colorado Gal at

      Haha, I know, right? I didn’t even see it on the X-ray until my second visit, too 🙂 I obviously don’t work in the medical field because I had to ask him what those white things were on the middle of my spine…duh, my bra clasp. One of my finer moments!

  • Reply Suz and Allan at

    I’m so sorry about your back. Hopefully the exercises will help a lot. I can only imagine how painful this must be. My mom has back problems and she had back surgery when I was younger. Back pain is nothing to mess around with! Hope you continue to feel better!

  • Reply Glamorous Ski Bum at

    Ouch, I’m definately like you…just hoping that the stupid reoccuring pain will just leave in its own. Good thing you went to get it checked out, and hopefully you’ll be up and running (literally) soon!
    My worst “injury” would be my sprained ankle this summer. It happened 5 months ago. I can run on it, but it still hurts when I put my ski boots on (hyperextension to get into those rigid plastic boots, ugh!)

  • Reply Brenna Donoghue at

    Hope you mend up soon!

  • Reply Why the Marathon? - Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] that I never ran (at any distance) because of knee problems, and then those quickly turned into back problems. In short, it has been labeled the marathon that […]

  • Reply Antelope Canyon 50k: The Next Adventure - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] along with training and had even pushed my long runs upwards of 16 miles. However, that was when my back problems erupted and instead of running {or doing anything, for that matter}, I ended up visiting my ART doc twice […]

  • Reply Currently: March - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] Tropism in my L5: I knew about this from my last bout with Dr. Scott, but it’s an issue that still requires maintenance. Instead of facing forward, parallel with […]

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.