This month marks 5 years since my last surgery, an L4-L5 discectomy which followed a L5-S1 Laminectomy and an L1-L2 Schwannoma removal in 2011. Along with degenerating discs and spinal stenosis, my recovery has been long, on-going and something I need to work on every day.
Category - Exercise
For years, when describing my back issues, I mixed up the terms bulging disc with herniated disc and vice versa. It wasn’t until a neurosurgeon corrected me that I learned that though both conditions deal with disc impingements, each was a separate problem with separate solutions.
Failed back surgery syndrome (or failed back syndrome) is a general term to describe an unsuccessful back surgery. These patients continue to feel pain after they’ve had a surgical spine procedure and can experience a wide range of symptoms which may include chronic pain in the back, neck, or legs, which could be either dull or sharp, aching, tingling, burning, or radiating. In my case, it was a buildup of scar tissue around spinal nerve roots which caused a a considerable amount of discomfort around the surgical area.
With the rise of podcasts as a platform for free-flowing dialogue and discussion, Here’s some of the most informative and enlightening conversations with doctors and medical professionals about the various types of back pain ( conditions / injuries), treatments and new medical advances in spinal care.
Due to popular demand, I bring you 5 more stories of people who have recently undergone back surgery and are well on their way to recovery.
Like many people reading this blog, along with bulging discs and Spinal Stenosis, I have Degenerative Disc Disease. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how this contributes to my overall level of chronic pain, but generally speaking, DDD causes a lot of stiffness and instability. I wake up with an achey lower back, and spend most of my day trying to minimize the amount of bone on bone (vertebrae – L5/S1) pounding it takes.
I first heard about Stu McGill on a podcast about the rehabilitation of high-performance athletes. He was describing how some world class performers trained to get back into top form after injury. He was reaching peak academic nerd-speak with ‘muscle activation’ this, ‘motor pattern development’ that, when he mentioned his “Big 3” for the everyday back pain sufferer. My ears perked up as he distilled all physio stretches into just three simple exercises.
As a professor and researcher at the university of Waterloo (Canada), McGill is an expert in the field. At his Spine Biomechanics Laboratory, he focuses on a few core objectives involving how the back functions, how it gets hurt, and how to fix it and prevent further injury.
The four quadrants of muscles that support the spine are the rectus abdominus at the front, the obliques at the sides and the extensors at the back . As McGill states, ‘true spine stability is achieved with a “balanced” stiffening from the entire musculature’ within the load tolerance (pain threshold) of each individual. The “Big Three” exercises strengthen these muscle groups and help to increase endurance during lifting, pushing or pulling.
Remember to never over-exert yourself doing these movements and if pain persists, please check with your physiotherapist to ensure that proper form is being used.
Stu McGill’s ‘Big 3’ Exercises
1. Modified Curl-Up
Laying on your back, one knee is bent and one knee straight. Your hands are placed under the arch of your lower back and begin by bracing your abdominal muscles and bearing down through your belly. While keeping this brace, breath in and a breath out. With your spine in your neck and back joined together, pick a spot on the ceiling and focus your gaze there, lift your shoulder blades about 30° off the floor and slowly return to the start position.
2. Side Bridge
Laying on your side, prop yourself up on your elbow with your elbow directly under your shoulder to avoid straining. With your legs straight, place your top foot on the ground in front of your bottom foot. Place your top hand on your bottom shoulder – be sure that your upper body does not twist or lean forward, brace abdomen, squeeze through your butt muscles, and lift hips up off the ground. Hold for 8-10 seconds, repeat 3 times. As the exercise becomes easier, increase the number of repetitions as opposed to the length of time.
3. Stirring the Pot
This exercise starts on your hands and knees, with your hands shoulder width apart directly under your shoulders, and knees hip width apart directly under your hips. Brace through your abdomen and squeeze your gluteals. Ensure you can maintain this while you take a breath in and out. Lift your right arm in front until it’s level with your shoulder, squeezing the muscles between your shoulder blades as you do so. At the same time, extend your left leg straight back until it is level with your hips, squeezing your gluteals, and keeping your hips square to the floor. Return to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner, and perform the same action with the left arm and right leg. That is one repetition. Perform 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
McGill also advises full-time desk jockey’s like me, who have a ‘flexion intolerant back’ to not focus on range of motion with back exercises. His Big 3 have just as much to do with which exercises you shouldn’t do, than with what you should do. McGill makes us keenly aware “that the spine discs only have so many numbers of bends before they damage”. In a nutshell, he bluntly states that it’s better to do less of the thing that’s hurting you, flexion in many cases, rather than take medications to treat a strained back, or worse, protruding discs.
As always, check with your health care expert before attempting these exercises to prevent further injury…and take care.
In May of 2015, the Sciatic pain down my left leg was so intense that I couldn’t get out of bed for three weeks. I had surgery for a herniated disc (the root cause of Sciatica) at L4/L5 in June of 2015, and here’s an update a year and a half later.
I started playing piano when I was 22, and by 24, I had severe tendonitis on both arms because of poor technique. My wrists were locked, elbows too bowed, shoulders too tight and I basically white knuckled it all the way towards early retirement from the concert stage (I was never really on the stage, but you get what I mean).
Ted talks are at the top of the list when it comes to expert advice on Science and Technology delivered in a way that everyone can understand. Here’s my Top 5 talks from medical and engineering research leaders who discuss the root causes of back pain and how to alleviate (or at least cope with) a sore, achy or damaged spine.