Paul Arnold 13 Years of Enduring Pain relieved by Endoscopic Lumbar Decompression and Foraminoplasty


My name is Paul Arnold; the following is an account of my struggle to find relief from back pain over a period of thirteen years.

I seriously injured my back whilst on holiday in America/Canada in 1995, aged 38. The injury was sudden, excruciating, and left me bedridden for several weeks.

Upon return to England, still in a lot of pain, I began to seek medical advice on the NHS. My doctor diagnosed the problem as a prolapsed disk and suggested plenty of rest. Over the following months and years, with little improvement in my condition, I consulted my doctor. He prescribed several courses of physiotherapy, at a local hospital.

Physiotherapy did have a slight benefit, so I had private sessions when the NHS programme ended. I also saw private chiropractors and acupuncturists during this period, to try to make some progress. I paid for weekly massage sessions to try to help with the pain and to relax my back.

In 1999, I eventually had an MRI scan and saw a back surgeon, Mr. Sengupta, in Newcastle General Hospital. After a 5 minute consultation he said that there was nothing he could really do for me and that I should learn to live with my back pain.

Apart from general soreness and stiffness in the back, my main problem was that I found it increasingly difficult to sit down. During my working and social life I eventually had to stand all the time. As a Deputy Head Teacher my job involved a lot of meetings, during which I was forced to find an area in which I could stand yet still be able to write. It is amazing how much attention you draw to yourself when you are the only person in the room who is standing! I would also eat my meals standing up. Not too bad in your own home or when visiting friends who know your condition, VERY embarrassing when eating in a restaurant! Any kind of meaningful travel was out of the question. When not standing I had to lie flat on the floor.

If I did attempt to sit down for a period of time, the result would be severe back pain; sometimes even a back spasm, which would see me bed ridden for at least a week.

Eventually, in 2003, my wife and I decided this situation could not continue. My working and social life was being too badly affected. I visited my new G.P. and asked for a consultation. She immediately sent a letter to the person she considered to be the best surgeon in the area, Mr. Nick Todd.

To speed up the process I decided to go private. The initial fifteen minute consultation went well, and Mr. Todd told me there were several procedures that could help me, but we would first need to do some tests to identify the problem. These tests turned out to be very expensive and were eating away our savings, so I went back on to the NHS.

I am afraid to say what followed was a sad indictment of the NHS. I received an appointment letter for a consultation, stating that there were no vacancies, and that I would receive a letter within six months for an appointment. Five and a half months later, this letter came and I was offered an appointment several months later. After several postponements, I eventually saw Mr Todd and he sent me for an up to date MRI scan. This took several months. After the scan I received an appointment letter for a consultation, stating that there were no vacancies, and that I would receive a letter within six months for an appointment.

I’m sure you get the idea of the treadmill of waiting I was subjected to!

Eventually, Mr. Todd did arrange to operate on my back, during the Christmas period of 2004/05. Unfortunately the Bed Manager postponed the operation because there were no beds available. My operation was later cancelled by the hospital. I was told to seek another consultation with Mr. Todd.

On my next consultation with Mr. Todd, he told me that he was referring me to a pain management specialist, as he felt there was nothing he could do for me.

Mr Matthews, the pain management specialist, did perform Rhizotomies on my back. This involved inserting needles alongside nerves in my back, passing a current into the needles, which then heat up burning away the nerves.

Unfortunately, this had almost no effect upon my pain or my ability to sit down. By this time I was missing increasing amounts of work because my back was going into spasm more frequently.

In 2006, my wife and I decided we had had enough. We resigned our jobs, she as a Head Teacher and I as a Deputy Head Teacher, sold our house and moved to France to try to enjoy our lives a little more.

At this point I had given up hope of finding someone to help me with my back pain, but my wife would not give up the struggle. She searched the internet, and eventually came up with the name of Mr. Knight at the Spinal Foundation. As he worked in France as well as England, we arranged a consultation with him at his home in France.

Armed with the new batch of X-rays and scans Mr. Knight requested, the first consultation was amazing. Two hours of relaxed but detailed questioning and examination of X-rays etc, resulted in Mr Knight identifying the likely problem and suggesting minimally invasive surgery. This strategy being the safest and most likely to have lasting benefits.

The surgery took place on April 2008 in France. Although I was awake for parts of the procedure, some of which were painful, it was amazing how relaxed I felt throughout. Mr. Knight talked to me frequently, reassuring me and keeping me informed as to the steps he was taking, and what I could expect next.

My lasting memory was not of pain or anxiety, but of the relaxed atmosphere in the operating theatre and the confidence I felt in Mr. Knight. I would have no hesitation in undergoing a similar procedure if necessary.

Six months on and my back is much improved. I have almost no pain day to day, I can now sit down for periods of time, and the pain in my right leg is subsiding. I am still recovering from the surgery, and Mr. Knight expects the improvement to continue over the following three to six months.

I am now 51 years of age and am so thankful to Mr. Knight for helping me with my back pain and giving me a new lease of life. I am however, incredulous that he is unable to offer this technique on the NHS. He gave me hope where other surgeons could not, and with a much safer surgical technique. I also find it difficult to comprehend why some surgeons are oblivious to innovative developments in their own fields, or are unwilling to recommend patients to others with more relevant skills.

I do hope this technique is made available on the NHS soon, so others do not have to endure many years of pain needlessly.