Meeting Dr. Cunningham proved to be a huge milestone. I lived with leg, buttock, and low left back pain for eight years. Physical therapy and epidural injections each helped for a time, but eventually stopped providing therapeutic relief. Acupuncture was of no help. The pain was preventing my long walks, photography, and active trips. I could walk about 0.75 miles (1.2 km) only if I then sat down to relieve the leg and buttock pain.
Reluctantly, I went in search of surgical opinions. Dr. Cunningham was the fourth surgeon with whom I met. Other surgeons recommended more-complex surgical solutions including various decompressions and fusions. These would have been two-to-seven-hour operations, left me with various hardware in my back, and required extended recoveries wearing a brace.
Then I met Dr. Cunningham and his team. Dr. Cunningham's warm, open manner, and the time he took to answer all my many questions using clear language and diagrams quickly built my complete trust in his expertise, experience, and judgment. The first person with whom I interacted was Tina, his office manager. Tina is so welcoming and helpful. Mickey does the scheduling and works wonders coordinating appointments. Brenda Chalen, the Physician Assistant, also did a very thorough exam and devoted so much quality time to talking through my condition and treatment options. A truly fantastic team!
Dr. Cunningham carefully examined me and analyzed the test results. He developed a well-thought-out, more minimalist surgical solution. I really valued his surgical philosophy, which I summarize as, "Do the minimum necessary to get you the needed relief." Dr. Cunningham recommended an L4-L5 laminotomy. I was surprised at the relative simplicity of this recommendation compared to what I heard from other surgeons. I told this to Dr. Cunningham and he patiently and fully explained the basis for his recommendation again with his characteristic clear language and diagrams. It all made sense!
He said the leg and buttock pain would be addressed by the laminotomy, although the back pain would probably require physical therapy to strengthen my core muscles. A fusion with the related hardware was just not needed. The test results showing L2-L3 issues might develop into actual symptoms down the road, but it is impossible to say if that will occur in 6 months or 30 years. So, address it when it becomes a real problem rather than now when it is just a test result. Again, it all made sense!
The surgery worked and the recovery period has been fairly quick and easy. Within three months I was able to walk 2.5 miles with no leg or buttock pain and without resting! As Dr. Cunningham predicted, the left low back pain continues although at less intensity and it is responding somewhat to physical therapy aimed at improving balance and strengthening core, leg, and ankle muscles.
I am continuing to work on strengthening my muscles – after all, the last time I was able to walk 2.5 or more miles without resting was probably more than three years ago. My lifestyle is significantly improved thanks to Dr. Cunningham!