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Carson Daly is on 'path back to being healthy' after back surgery: 'I was masking the pain'

Carson Daly returned to TODAY after undergoing surgery in late August. It was his second procedure this year to address his decades of back pain.
/ Source: TODAY

Carson Daly is back on TODAY after undergoing a spinal fusion procedure seven weeks ago to alleviate his chronic back pain — and he's feeling better not just physically.

"When I say, 'I'm feeling better,' I'm feeling better in a multitude of ways," he told TODAY. "Mentally, physically. The future is bright, but there's still a lot of work to do."

Carson Daly on the set of TODAY show.
Carson Daly on the set of TODAY show.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

The TODAY co-host had an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) procedure done at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City in late August, another attempt to ease the back pain he's suffered from for years, which stems from a snowmobile accident in 1997 while he was working for MTV.

Carson has chronicled his journey with lower back pain on TODAY, including the minimally invasive, FDA-approved procedure called Intracept that he had in June. Carson told TODAY he considered that procedure a last-ditch effort, but it didn't work in the way he'd hoped, and that it led him to his medical team at Mount Sinai.

"He calls me the unicorn," Carson said of his surgeon, Dr. Andrew Hecht. "He's like, 'You're the perfect candidate for this.' I did it and my only thinking now is I wish I'd done it sooner. That's how good I feel."

The ALIF procedure "is a type of spinal fusion that utilizes an anterior (front — through the abdominal region) approach to fuse (mend) the lumbar spine bones together," according to the University of Southern California Spine Center.

Carson said the past seven weeks of recovery have been eye-opening in a number of ways, as he's living his life pain-free for the first time in decades. "It's not really until you are pain free and you have the clarity to look back do you then get full understanding of the evolution of your pain journey," he said.

Over the past few weeks, Carson said he was able to reflect on how his pain was leading to other harmful choices in his life.

"I already have anxiety and mental health issues that I'm already dealing with, and then you throw chronic pain into that cauldron, and what you have is this recipe for really destructive choices," he said. "You know, at the end of the day, when you feel like s---, you just want to feel better. I would probably drink more red wine than I needed to, or I would eat too much comfort food because it just made me feel good — and then you end up doing that for years."

"And then something miraculous happens where you have a surgery like I had, and then seven weeks post surgery and you start feeling great," he continued. "And you start reassessing your life and you’re like, 'Wow, I was eating food to feel good. But, now I feel good.'"

Carson shared that he's now reassessing his relationship with eating, drinking and exercising. "I realized that I needed to sort of reassess my relationship with some of these things that I was masking the pain with," he said. "And that becomes the complexity of healing."

He mentioned how most people have asked when he can play golf again, or if the pain is gone. He said that while the pain is gone — and that it's great — that's not all there is to it. "It's never just about back pain and fixing it," Carson said.

"For those of us who've been dealing with ... the intersection of mental health and back pain for decades, it's much more complex than that," he added. "The path back to 'being healthy' is what I'm on now."

Another observation he's had while being home for the past seven weeks? The "herculean task" of getting his four children ready for school each morning. He shared that he's normally gone by 5 a.m. every morning for the show, so this was his first time seeing the hustle and bustle of getting ready — and being able to help out.

Now that he's back on TODAY, he said it's "incredible" to have the show as a way to reach people with his story, and that he feels many people relate to it.

"I'm so happy to be that conduit because I have no ego or shame," he said. "I struggle. Straight up, I struggle, and I have no problem offering observations that are working in my life for just the idea that it might help somebody else."

Carson shared he's in physical therapy as part of his recovery, so there's still work to be done, but that he's very optimistic for the future.

"It feels like my future is really, really bright," he said. "Like, I think it was getting dimmer and dimmer and dimmer when I was in pain, and now it's like I was wearing blinders, and someone just took them off, and I can just see so much better."