After Years of Pain, Former Athlete Finds Relief: An Orthopaedic Patient Story

In the summer of 2019, Sharon Bozentka was experiencing severe and chronic hip, neck, and shoulder pain. She sought care from Main Line Health Orthopaedic Surgeon Scott A. Rushton, MD, who performed a lumbar laminectomy, a surgical decompression procedure that alleviates pain and discomfort along the spinal canal by creating more space between vertebra.

Here is Sharon’s retelling of her treatment and recovery experience with Main Line Health.

Limited by Pain

A little more than six years ago, I began experiencing a great deal of pain in my upper shoulder. At first, I attributed this to my history as an athlete – I’d played high-intensity contact sports in high school and college, and continued to lead an active lifestyle. Although the pain in my shoulder was noticeable right from the start, it gradually intensified until it became excruciating, spreading into my neck, my lower back, and other parts of my body as well. In addition to the pain, I was experiencing trouble with my balance. It got to the point where I was afraid to go up and down the stairs in my own home because I was worried about falling.

I went to my primary care doctor, who ordered an MRI. The test revealed that I had severe spinal stenosis. My L5 and L4 vertebra were almost entirely compressed, and the resulting pressure is what was causing the shooting pains that ran through my body whenever I moved. My primary care doctor recommended that I have surgery right away, but I wasn’t sure. I wanted to explore all of my options before making my decision.

Seeking a Long-Term Solution

I consulted Dr. Rushton at Main Line Health because I knew him to be conservative in his approach to care, and I trusted that he would consider all of my options, only recommending surgery if it was absolutely necessary. We started with physical therapy and a series of cortisone shots, which did provide me with the relief I was looking for, but on a temporary basis. I would feel better for a few months or so, and then like clockwork, the pain would return. After repeating this cycle for a while, I knew that I couldn’t keep living like I was. I needed to find a more permanent solution.

When Dr. Rushton reviewed my MRI, he told me that my scans looked like they were from a woman who was decades older. He told me that this was no longer a conversation about a procedure. It was time for me to make a decision about my quality of life.

As soon as he said that, I knew that surgery was the right choice. Pain had kept me from engaging with my life, it had stifled me and prevented me from travelling, exercising, and doing simple things like taking long walks with my dog. I was too young to be missing out on so much. Enough was enough.

“This was no longer a conversation about a procedure. It was time for me to make a decision about my quality of life.”

Pre-Op, Recovery, and Rehabilitation

I scheduled my procedure in August of 2019, and was able to go in less than a month later. Dr. Rushton and his team worked with me to find a flexible time that allowed me to receive treatment and begin recovering as quickly as possible. The whole process was transparent and straightforward. When I went in to schedule my procedure, Dr. Rushton’s team helped me navigate through my pre-op experience as well. They helped me coordinate my pre-op appointments and gave me a clear idea about what would happen during my procedure and throughout my recovery process. Knowing what to expect helped to put my mind at ease, and reassured me that I’d made the right decision.

My actual procedure took a bit longer than expected because Dr. Rushton and his team discovered a cyst near my hip that was adding to the pressure on my spine. Even though this was unexpected, Dr. Rushton and his team were able to remove the cyst during the same procedure in order to prevent future complications and to avoid having to come in for an additional surgery. Dr. Rushton came to see me immediately after I woke up from surgery. His team did everything they could to keep me comfortable and to stay in close communication with my husband and family members as I recovered.

Shortly after surgery, Dr. Rushton told me that my physical therapists would have me up and moving later that same day. I didn’t believe him at first. Same day? That seemed insanely fast. But sure enough, a few hours later I was working with my physical therapists, who helped me sit up, stand up, and even walk around a bit. I was able to do all of these things comfortably and confidently. I was only in the hospital for three nights, and after being home for only a few days, I was able to move freely and even exercise a bit in my pool so long as I took it easy and got plenty of rest.

No more than six weeks later, I was completely back to normal. I stayed in close communication with Dr. Rushton and his team. They made themselves available to me whenever I had questions or concerns about my recovery, and worked closely with me as I tracked my progress in the weeks following my procedure. I had anticipated a long and arduous recovery, and had prepared myself for an uphill battle. I was and still am amazed at how much easier my treatment and recovery process was compared to what I had imagined. I only wish I had opted for surgery sooner.

Quality of Life

From the moment I took those first few steps in my post-op recovery room I could feel the difference. I no longer felt the weight of those shooting pains running through my body whenever I moved. And, because Dr. Rushton and his team addressed the unexpected cyst they found on my hip during surgery, the relief I felt wasn’t just in my back and neck, but in my entire body. I could walk easier than I had been able to in years.

The added relief I still feel in knowing that this solution is permanent is incredible and empowering. After missing out on parts of my life because of the pain I was in, I am now back to travelling, biking, swimming, and taking those long walks with my dog again. This procedure truly gave me my quality of life back. To anyone out there who is considering their options, I leave you with the same question I asked myself before moving forward with surgery: what will you be missing out on if you don’t?

The board-certified orthopaedic physicians at Main Line Health offer compassionate and comprehensive care for an array of back, neck, and spinal conditions. We prioritize minimally-invasive and holistic care options that ensure positive outcomes and personalized treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation experiences for our patients.

Visit the Main Line Health website to learn more about orthopaedic care or to find an orthopaedic physician.

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