Herniated disc causes extreme pain and stops avid runner in her tracks

Written by: Crystal Huff

Tricia Martin at a gala after spine surgeryTricia Martin is a caregiver and a criminal justice professor working towards her PhD. She can usually be found during the summer months running laps around the local park preparing for a 5k run, or participating in an indoor cycling class. However, the summer of 2019 turned out quite differently for her.

One morning in mid-July, Tricia woke up with an extremely painful backache. In the coming weeks, Tricia had planned to take her mom to a doctor appointment in Springfield, IL, almost three hours from her home. Knowing she was soon to spend a lot of time sitting and driving, she sought treatment from a massage therapist to help relieve her back pain. By the time she left for Springfield, the pain had not subsided – but she made the trip anyway. 

During the trip, Tricia began to experience chest pains, sweating, dizziness and pain in her arm and back. She believed she was having a heart attack, so her mother drove her to the emergency room in Springfield. After several tests, it was determined she was not having a heart attack and her condition remained undiagnosed.          

Once Tricia returned home, she immediately sought treatment from her primary care physician and chiropractor. She was sent for more tests and X-rays, and given several prescriptions to alleviate the constant, chronic pain. Nothing was helping and her condition was deteriorating; she was becoming immobile. 

Tricia says, “I began losing feeling in my left arm and fingers. The pain was intense and unbearable. I experienced extreme pain in my back, arm and shoulder, and the heart attack-like symptoms continued. Instead of training for a 5k, I was relegated to the couch.”    

The pain continued for another six weeks until finally an MRI revealed a herniated disc at C6-7. After consulting with her physician and chiropractor, she was told the situation was so severe that she would most likely have to have surgery. To be on the safe side, Tricia consulted with her cardiologist and had several tests to make sure she was a good candidate for surgery. Her cardiologist was confident all symptoms Tricia was experiencing were related to the herniated disc. 

She met with a few orthopedic surgeons before reaching out to Matthew Goodwin, MD, PhD, with Washington University Orthopedics at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Tricia says, “Dr. Goodwin immediately gained my complete confidence with his candor, knowledge, demeanor and professionalism. He explained the procedure and the necessity of immediacy. He further explained the surgery that I required was called anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF,) and we discussed the potential risks and success rates of the procedure.”

Dr. Goodwin says, “Choosing a spine surgeon can be difficult for patients. There are often different approaches and sometimes even different procedures that can be used successfully for the same pathology. The most important thing is that the surgeon and patient develop a mutual trust and working relationship, where the risk and goals of surgery are shared and communication is clear. The patient needs to know what is normal post operatively, and needs to have access to their surgeon and their surgeon’s team should questions arise. In this case Ms. Martin was a great candidate for an ACDF, and she did great, as I expected her to!”

Admittedly, Tricia says she was a very reluctant and extremely nervous to have the surgery. However, the entire staff was very patient and reassuring. Tricia says, “I am grateful to all of the healthcare providers who assisted me in my journey to wellness. Also, to my family and friends for helping me throughout my recovery, I owe you a debt of gratitude for all you have done for me.”  


 Tricia’s recovery was approximately six weeks in length. She says, “Having to wear a neck brace, not being able to drive and being practically helpless was incredibly challenging for me.” However, she says the extreme pain caused by the herniated disc was gone almost immediately after the surgery and she is currently medication-free.


 Tricia adds, “It was an exhilarating feeling to finally dust the cobwebs off of my treadmill and get back to training. I would like to thank Dr. Goodwin and the entire Washington University Orthopedics team for giving me my life back!”                  

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