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!