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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Thinking about the future

Have been doing my physical therapy each morning like a good little patient.  Making sure I spend time walking throughout the day, do some gentle yoga a few times a week on my non PT days.  The more I move, the better I feel.  Standing around, sitting around only makes me stiff and uncomfortable.

My PT Danielle has still been out sick after her trip, so I have been bounced around to whomever is available in the meantime.  I’ve seen some assistants, some PTs, and then last week none of the openings would work with my schedule, so I did my exercises on my own, and scheduled a deep tissue massage.

Now this is no foo-foo spa type massage, although I enjoy those too – but a deep tissue massage to really get the muscles, and more importantly the nerves to release.  I was a mess, holding lots of tension deep in my muscles from months and months of pre-op sciatica spasms, and then the whole post-surgical lock down of all the muscles trying to protect my back.  Chronic pain will do that, you just tighten everything up without thinking….but at some point it needs to release.  Jerry spent a good hour and some change starting with my feet and working up to my shoulders and upper back.  I had knots deep in my calves, thighs, hips, butt, and beneath my shoulder blades.  He was able to get most of them worked out, but it left me with some pretty tender spots for a few days as they healed.  I’m feeling better now, but anxious to get back to m PT appointments with Danielle.  Hopefully no more last minute cancellations for her.

I’m anxious to work more on flexibility and strength building – I know I need the core strengthening and stability, but I’d like to work on rebuilding strength and flexibility, and find some things I can integrate into my preferred yoga and walking and spin bike work – rather than just the clinical do this many reps of this particular exercise.  I know I need both, but I’d sure like to feel like I’m adapting to real life again.

I’ve also been preparing to get back to soap making.  I need to order a few oils and supplies, which I will do this week, and then hopefully next week I can make a batch or two of soap.  I made the decision not to do any craft shows this fall, which feels a little strange honestly, but I knew I needed time to heal completely.  My intent was that I could then take the time this fall and winter to stock back up on soap, and be ready for spring without all the normal chaos of trying to squeeze it in.  I have a couple orders for Courageous MRKH soaps that I need to fill, an order of foot cream I need to make, and then just start working on restocking and getting caught up on production for spring.

I feel like I’m making good progress, able to think less about the specifics of recovery – and more about what my future looks like with a fused spine.  How to regain my strength and flexibility, and get back to “normal” life again.  I’m a week shy of 3 months post op, so about 12 weeks post op now.  You know you are far enough down the road to recovery when you think of how many months instead of weeks!  I’m feeling good.  Still have some tired and sore days, still have some days where the nerves are pissed off and I’m uncomfortable.  But they just serve to remind me to be kind to myself, use my ice, rest when I need to, stretch when I need to, and MOVE when I need to – and to rest.

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