Natalie’s non-opioid recovery plan

Natalies Anti-Opioid Recovery

Throughout my career as a professional golfer, I’ve faced my share of challenges big and small. There was the time I needed to birdie a difficult shot but bogeyed it instead. And the time I didn’t win that major tournament because of an injury. As I sat quietly reflecting on those pivotal moments from my past, my husband, Josh, ran into the room. He told me, my friend and fellow athlete, Gabrielle (Gabby) Reece, was about to appear on the Dr. Oz Show. He said she would be talking about a topic that has touched my life in a painful and profound way. And he knew it was something I needed to see.

Up for the challenge

Gabby and I had been friends for quite some time. When our career paths intersected as professional athletes, we shared a common companion — sports injuries. As Gabby told Dr. Oz about the knee replacement surgery she was preparing to undergo, she paused. What she said next, caught my attention. She was planning to recover from her surgery … without the help of opioids.

A painful reminder

My mind raced as I thought about my aunt who struggled with an opioid addiction. She was one of my closest family members, and it was devastating to watch her go through it. What began as a convenient way to ease her pain after dental surgery would soon spiral into a full-blown dependency on Vicodin. This strong, incredible woman of faith would eventually succumb to the lure of opioids. And at just 40 years old, she would lose her life to them. To this day, it’s a sensitive topic for my family and me.

My setback story

As a professional athlete, I’ve dealt with the pain of sports injuries for the last 17 years. I’m always surprised to find that the first thing many people turn to relieve their symptoms is narcotic pain pills. And they don’t realize the dangerous consequences they can cause. I know how this feels because I went down that path too. After my first back surgery, I took just one pain pill and it felt like my insides were coming out. I was so upset, I told my mom to throw the whole bottle away, and I promised myself I’d never take another one again.

 Finding hope

In 2010, I almost had to retire from golf because my back pain was so unbearable. Thankfully, I found Laser Spine Institute through a friend and fellow golfer, Peter Jacobsen. He said, “Go see if you’re a candidate.” I’m glad I did because I found out I was! And they could treat my painful condition. Not only did Laser Spine Institute save my career, they saved my life. The lasting relief I found allowed me to get back on tour. But seven years later, in the fall of 2017, I suffered another back injury. As my golf club hit the hard sand in the bunker, I could feel the pain. It turned out to be a ruptured disc. And I knew Laser Spine Institute was the place I needed to go for the lasting relief I needed.

Motivated mindset

With my second back surgery only two weeks away, I thought about Gabby and her challenge. If there was a time to take action with a non-narcotic pain prevention plan, it was now. Opioids had touched my life in such a profound and miserable way that I wasn’t about to let history repeat itself. So that day, I pledged to recover from my back surgery without turning to narcotic pain pills. I enlisted the help of my mom, who is my best friend, and my doctor from Laser Spine Institute, for the support I needed to stay the course.

Preventing back pain without opioids isn’t something you take on alone. That’s why I needed a non-opioid chronic pain management plan. In fact, what most people may not realize is more than 46 people died from opioid overdoses each day of 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This staggering statistic motivated me to be proactive when partnering with my Laser Spine Institute surgeon, Dr. Michael Weiss. Together, we created a recovery plan that didn’t include narcotics. In fact, our ambitious efforts would require a big commitment on my part. And I was ready for the challenge.

My pre-surgery plan:

  • Loading up on supplements, including turmeric, vitamin C and probiotics
  • Stocking up on high protein and healing foods
  • Packing my kitchen with green leafy vegetables from my local farmers market
  • Scheduling my conservative treatments, (hyperbaric and acupuncture) in advance
  • Enlisting the help of my support system to keep me on track
  • Finding a loved one to drive me to my appointments

My post-surgery recovery plan:

  • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
  • Cutting down on sugar
  • Loading up on veggies
  • Drinking fresh juices like lemon, ginger and turmeric shots
  • Staying hydrated
  • Taking turmeric and vitamin C
  • Having ibuprofen on hand
  • Walking daily
  • Surrounding myself with uplifting people
  • Getting hyperbaric chamber treatments
  • Having acupuncture treatments as needed
  • Letting my body rest
  • Leaning on my support system

Lasting relief

After my surgery at Laser Spine Institute, I’m able to move in ways that even five years ago I wasn’t. I can tie my shoes without pain, sit through a movie and have coffee with a friend without having to stand. For this, I am grateful every single day.

My firsthand experience with opioids has changed me. If not for my strong faith, incredible family and the unwavering support of my amazing surgeons at Laser Spine Institute, I wouldn’t have known that my only alternative to dealing with pain was taking an opioid.

I realize that for some major surgeries, people may need to take pain pills for a period of time. I’m not saying there’s not a place for them. But I think having a plan or just having an alternative can help if you don’t want to do that.

Before you reach for pain pills, know this — you now have options. And back pain prevention can be accomplished with non-narcotic pain meds after surgery. You can go the holistic route like I did. It’s possible, and I’m proof that it can be done. But if you’ve tried every conservative treatment and are still left wondering how to prevent back pain, contact Laser Spine Institute. They helped me find the lasting relief I needed and may be able to help you too.


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