New research shows women are avoiding doctor’s appointments and ignoring pain more now, during the pandemic than ever before. Spine surgeon Dr. Colin Haines explains why that has dangerous implications for back and neck health.
Morgan Tebeau, a 39-year-old Virginia mom had been feeling debilitating pain and numbness for about two months in her arm and shoulder. It was increasingly frustrating for the active outdoor enthusiast and fitness trainer, who spends most of her time outside with her husband and 4-year-old daughter Mirabel, going overnight backpacking and rock climbing.
“It was terrible. It got so bad I couldn’t drive and I was struggling to even sit down,” Morgan says. “You think you’re managing the pain and handling it, but it’s damaging your body and your relationships, the way you carry yourself, and the energy you bring into the world. I hurt so badly and I just wasn’t myself.”
Morgan has degenerative disc disease. She’s had two successful surgeries in the last decade but had been holding off on seeking help during the pandemic until she realized she couldn’t wait anymore. She finally reached out to Dr. Colin Haines at the Virginia Spine Institute and at the end of January 2021 had artificial disc replacement surgery to relieve her neck pain.
“Women – mothers in particular – tend to put everybody else first and leave ourselves for last, if we are even on the list. But pain is our body speaking to us. Taking care of ourselves has to be a priority,” Morgan says. “If we’re not caring for ourselves the way we would care for our family, then we will not be there for them. That’s my biggest motivator,” she says with tears filling her eyes. “I had to get this surgery to take care of myself so I can take care of my daughter.”
Why? Women are disproportionately affected by COVID since they are dealing with a variety of pandemic pressures connected to work, family, health, finances, and the needs of their partners, parents, and children. And data also show after one year of pandemic stress, women are not prioritizing their own health.
Colin Haines, MD, spine surgeon at the Virginia Spine Institute in Reston, VA says women need to know that ignoring back and neck pain can become an urgent – even critical problem. “I know that many people, especially women, are trying to prioritize when to reach out for help during the pandemic because they are busy, they are caregivers, and trying to be cautious about the spread of COVID-19. But when it comes to your back and neck health, it’s not safe or healthy to ignore it or put off seeking help,” explains Dr. Haines, who performed Morgan’s surgery.
“Data shows that women aren’t seeking help during the pandemic like they normally do and we need to address this,” Dr. Haines continues. “We must remind women to reach out for help. Failure to seek help with the back and neck could cause bigger, more complex problems down the road.”
After her February 2021 neck surgery, Morgan is feeling grateful that she finally prioritized her own health. She is now pain-free, working to restore her strength, and is mobile again. In fact, she recently celebrated with a dance party with her daughter – something she hasn’t been able to do with the 4 year old for a while.
“I’m taking care of myself through the surgery and now through physical activity and nutrition. I’m able to move my body without pain and I’m so grateful for that,” Morgan says. “Just the other day my daughter and I cranked up the music and grooved in the living room. It was such a big deal for her – and for me. She held my hands and said, ‘I’m so glad that you’re better now and can do this again.’ It was so sweet. I’m so happy I got help.”