5 Months post Lumbar Fusion

6 screws. 3 rods. 2 inter-vertebral cages. That’s what’s been holding my spine together for the past 5 months. I’m well on my way to a good solid fusion, my bone growth is good. My muscles have reattached, and I’ve worked to strengthen muscles I’ve ignored for years – probably decades. I’m feeling pretty good overall, and I’m working on the areas that sneak up and bother me. I’ve been in physical therapy for 12 weeks now, and am looking at another 6. Rehab and Recovery is WORK – but it’s also working.

My physical therapist Danielle has left now – to be a momma to a 2 year old boy they are adopting from another country. I’m thrilled for her, and we talked a few times about bringing him home and how excited (and nervous) she is about it. I never did ask her why she went the adoption route, but I know she doesn’t have any other children. Whatever her reason, I’m just thrilled that this dream is becoming a reality for her!

So Danielle left to be a mom, and I got referred to another PT in the clinic, Brenda. I worked with her one of my first visits, but I felt it was a good opportunity for fresh eyes and to talk about my current symptoms and see what adjustments we might need to make. She reviewed my chart notes and did some assessment and moved me around and watched me move. She is comfortable with how my spine is healing and how I’m moving around the fusion. My deep core work is keeping the fusion and my spine in general supported and aligned. My pelvis and the pesky SI joint was a little out of alignment, so she worked to line me up better, and doing so, she found that my Iliotibial Band (IT Band) is inflamed. It runs from the hip to the tibia along the outside of the leg, and helps to support the knee. What I had been attributing to sciatic inflammation on the right side (and had me quite concerned actually) is actually a muscle pain memory – and caused by the inflamed IT band – not the nerve.

So, our focus is now to change the muscle and pain memory. We are working to heal the inflammation in my IT band and then work on my body mechanics to prevent it from flaring again. Remember me talking about bossy muscles before? Well, that’s what’s going on again. My hamstring is trying to compensate for what my hip and glutes should be doing. My pelvis is out of whack making the SI joint inflamed, and so then I move wrong and cause new problems – like an inflamed IT band. IT band injuries are often attributed to running injuries – overuse when there is a bio-mechanical misalignment. I’ve done that in spades…so time to work on releasing the IT band and hope that allows me to work on continued strengthening in my hips and glutes.

So…how to release the IT band – well trigger point massage is the best way, but let me tell you…it’s NOT fun. Brenda used a torture device and really massaged where the IT band connects to the tibia (outside top of the calf), and along the edge above my knee where the hamstring connects. I don’t remember what she called it – but that’s probably because I was gritting my teeth and trying not to hyperventilate. She also did some work on my hip, with the trigger points as well. We talked about home care and how to continue working on the IT band. I have a tennis ball and a wall – and I lean into the hot-spots in my hip and glute and through direct pressure and tiny micro movements, I am working to get the tension (aka nearly cramping they are so tight) out of my muscles in my hip and glute. I also have a “massage stick” that I use to roll massage along the outside of my thigh and search for and find all the tender hot spots along the IT band and hamstring. When I find a hot spot, I stop and put direct HARD pressure on it, and slowly roll off of it. It’s not fun…I suck a lot of air through clenched teeth…but hopefully it’s doing the trick. Kind of like a begging toddler – you just irritate it, nag it, and keep after it constantly until the muscle gives up and relaxes. It’s still very, very sore – but the memory pain of the sciatic nerve that I thought was going on, is diminishing. So that suggests that what I’m doing is helping.

I’ve also been doing massage on my left foot – the one with the nerve pain, trying the same theory – lets see if I can irritate it into healing through persistent massage. I’m also working on ankle stretches, because as Brenda put it, “On the spectrum of flexibility – you are quite stiff. Your joints don’t move enough to be able to stretch the muscles that are tight.” Um…thanks, I think. So ankle stretches a couple times a day has been added to my PT rehab plan.

Since my last post I’ve been doing well with eating clean and with tracking my calories. I’ve reigned in most of my bad food habits. I’ve set up a routine of riding my exercise bike each day and have worked hard to move more in general. The scale has appreciated my efforts. I’ve also gotten much better about taking my supplements each day. I think all these things together are working to help me feel better not only physically, but emotionally. The whole adage of garbage in= garbage out is so true. When I fuel my body well, both nutritionally and with exercise and movement – the results are always better. So that’s my words of advice for all of you – treat your body like a temple. Be respectful and humble, know your limits – but push them a little too!

Day 5 and 6

Well, folks I was hoping that today would be my I’m headed home post!  But…nope.  I’m still here.  In the recliner.  In the living room. Staring at the same 7 plants in the window.  I digress… let’s recap –


Monday, August 13th I went in for back surgery. I had a lumbar lamenectomy and decompression with multi-level fusion of L4-L5 and L5-S1.  Pre-op I had daily spine pain, and pinched sciatic nerve pain primarily on my right side, through my hip and butt, down the outside of my leg and into my toes.  Left side the pain was primarily in my hip and butt.

Day 1 and 2 I was pretty well controlled with pain and was up and walking several times, and fitted with a back brace and taught a few tricks by physical therapy.  By the end of day 2 I didn’t need the walker except for getting up and down out of bed.

Day 3 brought some of the sciatic pain back, but I was managing alright.  I was able to get up independently and walk independently without a walker up and down the hallway.  I had a shower and was discharged.  As the evening wore on, the sciatic cramping became worse  – and I thought it was just the day 3 nasties.  I needed much more assistance to get up and down and the cramping spread through both hips and buttocks and into the legs.

Day 4 I tried to be as mobile as I could, but I was recognizing a pattern  – it was in the last 2 hours as the muscle relaxer wore off that things were the worst – because it was also the downswing time from the pain pills.  Muscle relaxers every 6 hours, pain pills every 4 hours….there are 2 time slots in there when I caught them both at the same 2 hours waiting for a dose.  I was only getting up every 4 hours or so to go pee, and switching the ice at that time.  The muscles in my butt were cramping and pain would shoot down my legs.  Add to this the painful muscles in my back from the surgery and getting up or down was very painful as the nerves were firing all crazy. Laying still felt best because I wasn’t asking my muscles to move…therefore they wouldn’t cramp.  At least that was my logic.

Day 5 I called my doctors office.  The cramping was so severe I was having trouble getting myself up even with the walker.  I felt like I was moving backwards and not forwards with my healing.  They called in a prescription for some oral steroids to start that afternoon, and they also said to ice EVERY hour….and get up and walk every 2 hours.  Ice and walking would help the inflammation and the steroids would also help to keep the nerves calmed down, but the biggest thing is ICE and MOVE.  And so…up and down, round and round, switch out the ice is how my day played out.  I sent my nursing crew out with my picky patient shopping list and my debit card…they came back with salad fixings, berries, munching veggies, and oral steroids.  They rock!  I also managed another shower – leaving my dignity in the living room for the process.  But clean hair, teeth, and clothes is a blessing Ill not pass up.

So today is Saturday and it’s Day 6 post op.  I managed two 4 hour stretches of sleep last night.  That was a win for sleep, and a moderate fail for icing.  But I did get up to pee and walk a couple laps, take whatever pills were required by the alarms (pain, muscle relaxers, steroids), and get fresh ice.  I’ve been up basically every 2 hours since then switching out my ice, going pee, walking laps.  And most of my ups and downs are without assistance beyond the walker nurse grandma next door happened to have.  It’s a lovely cruiser model, burgandy color with spinny wheels and brakes….and a seat…and a storage basket.  Quite handy for transporting water bottles, ice packs, dirty dishes, etc.  I don’t really need it for the walking part – I’m steady on my feet – but I’ve noticed if I use it…my nursing crew doesn’t feel like they have to shadow me a half step behind to make sure I don’t fall.  So I’m being a good patient and  using my walker and attempting to fend for myself as much as possible today.

The cramping has greatly subsided since starting the steroids, and the icing feels good.  Little by little my strength in my legs will improve which will help with my up and down transitions and independence.    My goal today is to get up every two hours to move and switch out the ice, and to work on eating good healthy (aka picky patient stuff) foods throughout the day, and continue to build strength – with no more set backs.

After my shower last night, this verse has been running through my mind.

Image result for she will be clothed in strength and dignity

Thank you to everyone who continues with support through prayer, texts, emails, and Facebook messages.  I am told our cell service is finally restored, so give me a call if have time for a visit.

Blessings, Heidi xoxo