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Monday, April 24, 2023

“The Back Pain Was Like a ‘Lightning Bolt.’ Now, the Pain is Gone!”

Posted By: Advancing Care

Jane Caruso had always been active and social, even into her early 60s. But last summer, after returning from a trip to New Orleans, Caruso began to experience pain in her piriformis — a muscle in the buttocks that allows the hip to rotate. Over the course of a few weeks, the pain from her piriformis began migrating down her sciatic nerve, which travels through the hip, thigh, knee and ankle.

“I’ve had piriformis muscle issues in the past, which I was treated for years ago, but it never felt like this,” said Caruso. “Sciatica felt like the visual of the lightning bolt that you see on pain medication commercials.” Caruso didn’t want her pain to limit her frequent travel plans in the summer and fall, which included a trip to Texas for her daughter’s wedding.

Jane Caruso has been able to resume traveling following her minimally invasive surgery
Jane Caruso has been able to resume traveling following her minimally invasive surgical procedure to eliminate her back pain. This photo was taken in Ireland.

“It was interfering with everything,” Caruso said. “I could barely get out of bed, let alone work in the yard, go to the grocery store or navigate an airport — all I could focus on was the pain.” She tried out multiple treatment options with the guidance of her doctor, including heat therapy, medication, stretching, physical therapy and epidurals. “I got my first epidural before my daughter’s wedding, and although I felt a little bit of relief, I was still in significant pain throughout the trip,” she said. “When I got back home, my pain had returned in full force, and my second epidural did nothing to ease the pain.”

John Wainwright, MD
John Wainwright, MD

Caruso was disheartened. She spent most of her days lying in bed crying and unable to get comfortable. “I’m usually very social and always on the go,” she said. “But this sciatica pain took the joy out of everyday life. I couldn’t go out to enjoy a meal or happy hour with my friends. I couldn’t travel. I couldn’t shower more than two days a week because I was in so much pain standing up.”

Caruso’s doctor referred her to John Wainwright, MD, a neurosurgeon at Westchester Medical Center. Dr. Wainwright explained surgical options to Caruso, and suggested they take a minimally invasive approach to treat the pain she was experiencing. “I was very wary of getting surgery,” said Caruso. “I was recently widowed and living alone, and I didn’t know who would care for me if I was laid up for months during recovery.” But the benefit of a minimally invasive approach to spine surgery is that recovery is usually much quicker and easier than traditional approaches.

Before she scheduled her surgery, her pain became unbearable. Caruso checked herself into the emergency department at Westchester Medical Center on October 31, 2022. Her care team kept her comfortable and gave her pain medication to hold her over until the surgery took place a few days later.

On November 3, Caruso had an endoscopic discectomy — a surgical procedure that involves removing the herniated disc that’s compressing the nerve that’s causing pain. “Traditional approaches require incisions up to 3 cm or longer, dissection of the muscle that can be painful post-operatively and removal of bone and portions of joints,” said Dr. Wainwright. “This can lead to accelerated development of arthritis and further problems.” The endoscopic approach Dr. Wainwright used for Caruso involved no bone removal and an incision only 7 mm long, meaning she didn’t face an increased risk of arthritis and the recovery was relatively painless.

Caruso woke up from the procedure with no pain. “I kept waiting for the pain to start, but even as the physical therapist had me get out of bed and walk, there was no pain,” she said. “It was like somebody flipped a switch — I went to sleep in pain and when I woke up it was gone.”

After a six-week recovery period, Caruso was able to enjoy life again and started planning trips to Texas and Nashville, and just returned from a trans-Atlantic journey to Ireland, where she traversed over 800 miles without pain.

“This short, simple procedure gave me my life back,” she shared. “I’m very grateful for the team at Westchester Medical Center. They were extremely attentive, caring and communicative.”

Addressing others with sciatica or back pain, Caruso said, “Don’t be afraid to pursue the treatment recommended by your doctor. Don’t put it off. Don’t sit and suffer in pain when there’s a procedure out there that can change your life.”

If you’d like to know more about how surgery can help your chronic back pain, reach out to WMCHealth's Brain and Spine Institute at 914.493.2363.

"Don’t sit and suffer in pain when there’s a procedure out there that can change your life." Jane Caruso has returned to traveling
Jane Caruso pictured on her trip to Ireland, post surgery. "Don’t sit and suffer in pain when there’s a procedure out there that can change your life."