June 3, 2013

Firefighter returns to work after back surgery

Neck, Back and Spine | Patient Stories

This post is part of The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief

Back pain is the second most common reason for medical visits in the United States. Almost everyone will experience low back pain in their life. Back pain varies from mild to severe and short-term to long-lasting. However, no matter the pain length or severity, it can limit someone from easily performing their day-to-day activities.

Seeking back pain relief

It’s no surprise that Chuck Benslay, a firefighter serving the Indianapolis area for over 18 years, wanted relief to the pain he was experiencing in his back. Chuck had injured his back while moving bags of sand and mortar at a part-time job. He was overseeing some remodeling at his church’s youth center and felt a twinge of pain in his lower back unloading the items from the back of his truck.

Three weeks after his injury Chuck went to see his primary care physician, had an X-ray taken and was told he needed to do some physical therapy. After six weeks of therapy the pain in his back continued to disrupt Chuck’s comfort level. That’s when his primary care physician referred him to OrthoIndy and Chuck met Dr. Robert Huler, an orthopedic spine surgeon.

“Dr. Huler ordered an MRI and reviewed the results with me. I had a herniated disc lumbrosacral – no myelopathy or in laymen’s term, a bulging disc between L5 and S1. After consulting with Dr. Huler, we decided that surgery was my only option to relieve the pain. I scheduled my first surgery for three weeks later.”

Pros and cons of back surgery

Sometimes called a slipped or ruptured disc, a herniated disc most often occurs in your lower back. It is one of the most common causes of low back pain, as well as leg pain. Although a herniated disc can be very painful, most people feel much better with just a few weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment. However, that was not the case for Chuck.

“I was very concerned that my injury would force me to be retired under a medical pension. I was unable to wear an air pack, pull the weight of a charged houseline, assist lifting patients and even at times I was unable to climb up into the fire truck, all things necessary for a firefighter.”

In most cases, a herniated disc is related to the natural aging of your spine. However, there are some risk factors that can increase your chance: Men between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to have a herniated disc; Improper lifting; Weight; Repetitive activities that strain the spine; frequent driving; smoking; and an inactive lifestyle.

Back surgery

Chuck had microsurgery for the lumbar spine on the disc between L5 and S1 twice. This surgery involves removing the herniated part of the disc and any fragments that are putting pressure on the spinal nerve.

Regardless if you choose a nonsurgical or surgical treatment, there is a chance of the disc herniating again.

“Unfortunately, I had one of the complications Dr. Huler discussed. “I had a re-herniation and had to have a second surgery about four months after the first one.”

Back surgery recovery

Most patients notice improvement over the first several weeks following surgery, but also continue to feel improvement over several months. Pain is the first symptom to improve, followed by improvement in overall strength of the leg. Most patients will slowly resume normal daily activities over the first several weeks following surgery.

“I had a great experience at OrthoIndy. Dr. Huler was very professional and explained everything to me. He is very knowledgeable was able to explain everything to me in a way that made sense. Because of my complications, I spent a lot of time with him and the more I got to know him the more I liked him.”

Ten months after Chuck’s initial injury he was fully released. Now Chuck is able to go hiking and camping with his wife. He has been on several hikes over 10 miles at the Indiana State Parks and in the Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg. He is also currently training to compete in the Firefighter Combat Challenge, an obstacle course for firefighters, something he was unable to do for 15 years.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Huler please call 317.802.2876.

Learn more about OrthoIndy spine

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief cover

The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief

Find out what's causing your back pain and how you can treat it with OrthoIndy's ultimate guide to healing back pain.

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Megan Golden

By Megan Golden

Megan Golden worked at OrthoIndy from 2012 to 2019, where she wrote a variety of content for our blog, magazines and inbound campaigns. Megan graduated from Ball State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising and communications studies minor.

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