18 Weeks Post Spinal Fusion

I haven’t really counted the weeks lately, been counting months mostly – but it was a question floating around in my head, so I grabbed my phone and counted the weeks.

You know, we go through life every day – just doing life, but not really paying attention to anything outside of the moment. Most folks this time of year are focusing on Christmas obviously – so thinking ahead to make sure they have gifts for everyone, all the right things in the fridge for special meals, and planning those last few days to make sure everything on the list gets done in time. But how many folks look back? Some do for sure – especially those who are missing a special someone who isn’t with them for the holiday. But as a rule, we don’t necessarily think back with any specificity about what the last few weeks, months, or even years have looked like in our lives. We just do life – one day at a time. Each morning brings new opportunities.

Many of you know I work at a university – so my work life centers around academic calendars – the start and end of semesters, the work associated with beginnings and endings. Juggling new students, and students about to graduate. Its a perpetual cycle, but one that is also very predictable. I work from a calendar that reminds me of specific tasks needing to be done each week in order for the semester to continue to run smoothly. So when I threw the wrench of spinal surgery into my work life – it was kind of crazy. I was out of work for 4 weeks, and I spent most of the remaining 12 weeks of the semester trying to catch back up! I expect the spring semester to be back to a more normal feel – not constantly playing catch up.

As my last post explained, in my recovery from surgery, I was having some trouble with my SI joint, and so my therapist scaled back what I was doing to really focus on deep core strength, and supporting my spine with some very targeted work. I’m happy to say that the rest and focused work on stabilization worked like a charm. Of course, the KT tape probably helped too! My SI joint and therefore my pelvis has stayed nice and straight and stable. This is the foundation of our weight bearing structure, so when it is out of alignment, it messes with everything else. After nearly two weeks of really focusing on the deep core muscles, I can really pin point them and ensure they are engaged and working to support my spine. I am beginning to add back in more of the other work and exercises again – but slowly, and only after warming up with the core work first.

I’ve been keeping up with the nerve work too – neural flossing – to continue to keep those pathways clear. I don’t have the constant nerve pain like I did, but I need to stretch it regularly as I continue to heal. What we don’t want at this point is to have any scar tissue forming that the nerves can get hung up on. It might be time to schedule another couple of massages – one to focus on the surface adhesions and keeping the scar itself moving around, and another one to focus on the deep tissue tension as I gain strength, that I keep the neural paths open and moving. While it has been 4 months, there is still active healing and scar tissue forming (or hopefully not forming) – and so the timing is right for another couple of massages.

As the year wraps up, I can’t help but be grateful for all the prayers that have been offered on my behalf this year. For healing, for strength and for joy and prosperity. I’ve leaned heavy on my faith this year, and have been greatly blessed. My prayer for each of you this year is that you too are richly blessed and that you know the love of God in your heart. Merry Christmas, friends!

Stability

As any healing journey progresses, you have highs and lows, hills and valleys, starts and stops – but the goal is stability.

Tomorrow marks 4 months of healing from Spinal Fusion surgery.  Overall I feel pretty good.  I’m off all the muscle relaxers and pain pills, and I rarely use ice packs now.  I do physical therapy exercises every morning, and add in gentle yoga routines most days.  I do as much walking as possible, but now that the weather has changed, it’s not safe to be walking outside – nor is it warm, for the record!  I need to establish a routine to get some time in on the spin bike a few times a week, but finding a consistent time is always a challenge.  

I saw my surgeon two weeks ago.  He says I’m doing great.  He will see me again in February, and then probably, I won’t need to see him again – it will just be my regular primary care doctor.  I did talk to him a little bit about the nerve pain in my foot – but nerves are slow to heal, and what I’m doing with physical therapy does seem to be having an impact.  I also talked to him about the movement and shifting in my pelvis and specifically the SI (sacroiliac joint).  He poked and prodded, and offered to do a cortisone injection into the joint.  We talked about extending my physical therapy, and about my recovery and rehabilitation in general.  I opted to not have the injection yet, and to see if more physical therapy will help stabilize it.  He agreed to the conservative approach, and approved another 6 weeks of physical therapy.  

In the past few weeks as I’ve increased my activity level, and done more and more muscle work for both flexibility and strength – essentially loosening up the crazy tension I was holding for so long…we’ve created a bit of a stability issue.  My body is learning how to move with and around the spinal fusion.  As I move and rotate my upper spine – my back pops a bit as things realign and adjust.  This isn’t causing any problems, but it is an indication that my muscles aren’t as tight (from chronic pain), and as they loosen, those joints can actually shift around and go back into alignment on their own.  I’m not concerned about the upper spine pops, nor is my physical therapist and surgeon.  But as I am moving, stretching, healing more an more – I am getting some popping and shifting happening along side my sacrum(that is now fused to the vertebrae L5 above it), through that SI joint which leads to a misalignment in my pelvis and hips.  Also the pops and shifts are the tissues themselves making noise – and creating a bit of inflammation. 

So…we are focusing almost all our attention during PT now on stabilizing the sacrum and pelvis through deep core stabilization.  We are backing off on some of the strengthening and flexibility in the big muscles (hips, glutes, thighs, etc) to focus on the inner most deep core stabilizing muscles – transverse abdominal and the multifidus.  Hopefully this step back to work on the less obvious muscles will give me the stability that we are after.  I also have to pay very close attention to body alignment.  No side bending; no twisting while reaching; feet, knees, and hips always squared up; no rotation unless hips are square and core is engaged. I need to really reign in my movements until we have the stability back on track.  

I’m finding myself in a valley, but with a clear path lined up to get me out of it. Three steps forward, and 2 steps back.  But no one said that recovery from spinal fusion would be easy!

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Thankful for Healing

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for the healing in my body this year.  The year isn’t over, nor is the healing, but it’s still something to be thankful for!

I’m at a touch over 3 months post spinal fusion.  My spine is held together by 6 screws and 3 rods, plus cages in the disk space between vertebrae L4-L5, and L5-S1.  Oh, and bone matter.  The goal is that everything will be held together by solid bone, and the titanium of course.  I will see my surgeon again next week, and expect a good report from him.

I’ve been in physical therapy for 6 weeks now.  Danielle is finally back, and she has been working me hard!  We have a couple areas of focus:  my hips and pelvis, and my upper back.  She wants increased movement and flexibility in my upper spine so I’m doing a lot of stretching and rotation work in my shoulders and upper rib cage, rotating from the bottom of my rib cage to look over my shoulders, and reach across my chest.   My hips and glutes are working as well to give me stability in my pelvis to support my sacrum and low back.  During my PT sessions, Danielle has me working on the Pilates reformer – doing a lot of squats in various positions to work specific muscles both in my hips and glutes, but also in my lower abs.  We are working on the flexibility of my low back (those muscles got VERY tight after surgery) while keeping my spine itself in a neutral position, but also stretching my hamstrings and hips.  Everything has been very tight because of years of chronic pain and moving in “defensive and protective” mode.  So I’m doing lots of stretches each day, as well as muscle building activities.  Danielle has also been working on helping the nerves to heal by loosening their paths as well as stretching them.  I have a series of “neural flossing” stretches and movements that are working like a charm.  Nerves heal so slowly, but I am noticing changes in my symptoms, so I know what I’m doing is helping!  Also, Danielle has been great about helping me modify and get comfortable in different yoga poses to help me get back into regular routines.  Best of all, she’s given me confidence to start really pushing my healing forward.

I’ve kind of turned the corner from being in a very protective healing mode and being extremely careful, almost fearful, about doing something to put my surgery in jeopardy – to pushing hard and moving much more.  My stamina is increasing, both muscular and cardio.  I can walk comfortably for a lot longer – it’s not just one slow gentle walk to the driveway, but 3 trips back and forth at a quick pace.  I’m noticing more muscle strength in the muscle groups we’ve been working on, but still need to focus on really engaging the RIGHT muscles to do the exercises, not what my body has been compensating with for years.  I laughed when Danielle said I have some really bossy muscles that need to take a back seat to the ones who are supposed to be working.  I won’t see her next week, but I will continue with my home exercises and yoga practices for hip and sacrum stability.  I have scheduled once a week check ins with her through the end of the year.  I’m doing much better – but I’m not “back to normal” yet, so therapy with guided exercises will help me get there.  Re-training muscles is hard work, in case you were wondering!

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year, but I really am thankful for the body God gave me and how resilient it is.  I pray you each have blessings abounding that you are also giving thanks for.

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