Your Complex Brain

What Lara Pingue wants you to know about living with chronic pain

September 05, 2023 Krembil Brain Institute
Your Complex Brain
What Lara Pingue wants you to know about living with chronic pain
Show Notes Transcript

Lara Pingue shares her story about living with chronic back pain and the challenges of getting a diagnosis and finding effective treatment. She describes the initial onset of her pain and the various treatments she tried, including physical therapy, chiropractic care, and prescription medications. 

She also discusses the impact of the pain on her daily life and the frustration of not being able to find a lasting solution. Eventually, she decided to pursue surgery and was able to get a referral from her doctor. The surgery was not without complications, but it did provide some relief from her pain. 

Since then, she has focused on managing her pain through a combination of movement and over-the-counter pain medication. She emphasizes the importance of believing people with chronic pain and destigmatizing treatment for it.

The Your Complex Brain production team is Heather Sherman, Jessica Schmidt, Dr. Amy Ma, Kim Perry, Sara Yuan, Meagan Anderi, Liz Chapman, and Lorna Gilfedder.

The Krembil Brain Institute, part of University Health Network, in Toronto, is home to one of the world's largest and most comprehensive teams of physicians and scientists uniquely working hand-in-hand to prevent and confront problems of the brain and spine, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, epilepsy, stroke, spinal cord injury, chronic pain, brain cancer or concussion, in their lifetime. Through state-of-the-art patient care and advanced research, we are working relentlessly toward finding new treatments and cures.

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Thanks for listening!

My name is Lara Pingue. I'm 45 years old. I injured my back and that set off a multi-year campaign of dealing with chronic back pain. I was 41 at the time and it's unusual for anybody to reach the age of 41 without some sort of creak in their back or little aches here and there. My career involves sitting for hours and hours at a time, like many people. And I remember one time standing up in the newsroom and feeling like, oh, something just went kind of wrong. And I remember this is back before I shopped online, walking, or limping around downtown looking for a back massager, I thought that would really solve it.


These things happen from time to time. I would pick up my child and feel a little eat a tweak. I kind of assumed what I always assumed, which is I was ignoring my core muscles. I was sitting too much. I was crossing my legs. I wasn't exercising enough. And all those things were true. But in August 2018, I went down to my kitchen, and I was just making breakfast and I sneezed, and I felt something really electrifyingly painful in my lower back. And I remember thinking, this is not what I've ever felt before. I know we were travelling that weekend to visit my mother 4 hours away, and I sat very uncomfortably in a car for 4 hours, and when I got to my mom's house, I walked to Shoppers Drug Mart and got some Robaxacet, which I've since learned is like taking Tic Tacs if you have my kind of back pain. So that weekend, I remember the pain didn't go away, in fact, it got worse. And I remember thinking, why is it travelling? I started feeling it kind of in my up in my hip joint in my leg. And then it became electrifying. I would describe the pain as an electric zing going up and down to my toes and my left leg. I've since learned that that's sciatica, that's a nerve that's being hit.


I went to my doctor and, you know, I remember the look on my doctor's face being very much: I've seen this before. This is not surprising. And in fact, I think there's this statistic out there, saying the number one thing that brings patients to their general practitioner is back pain. So this is certainly not uncharted territory. She gave me a prescription for anti- inflammatories and said, come back in 12 weeks if it doesn't go away. These things tend to resolve themselves in 12 weeks. And 12 weeks, when you're in this kind of pain, is an eternity. But I thought that it would resolve. And so, I took the prescription. I felt it, and it didn't help.


I had a very active lifestyle before, I was a runner, I've been doing yoga off and on for 20 years, I walk to work to the GO train to get to work. So, movement was always a part of my life and now it was gone because everything hurt. So, I went back 12 weeks later, and I said, It's worse. Like, I can't bend, I can't tie my shoe, I can't sleep. This electric zinging in my leg is really impacting my entire life. And she said, okay, we'll do an MRI. And we did.

And she said, I got to warn you, though, sometimes the results of an MRI doesn't match with what you're feeling. So, you could have several herniated discs that are very slight and have no symptoms or you could have overwhelming symptoms and no physical reason showing up on the image. And in my case, it showed exactly what I was feeling. It showed a herniated disc in the L4 L5 disc region that was impeding my nerve or touching my nerve on the left side. And that explained perfectly what I was feeling in my left leg.


And I said, Well, so now what? And she said, Well, here's a prescription for Pregabalin. It's prescribed for people with mood disorders like anxiety and it also is known to help nerve pain, and that's what I had. And so, I started taking that, and that was not without its side effects. So, I described it like I felt a little bit drunk, but without any of the benefits, the happiness, the ease that comes with being drunk. I just felt a little bit out of it all the time.