Back Surgery?

Anyone out there had back surgery? I've got a herniated disk and have tried all the "non invasive" treatments without any luck. :cry: It seems back problems are fairly common among paddlers so I'm wondering if any of you guys have actually gone through a surgery. My choices are have pretty much been narrowed down to this. If so, did it work for you, are you able to paddle? Any info would be great.

Submitted by jc9_0 on Sat, 03/05/2005 - 8:19pm

I had a badly ruptured disk at L5S1 that needed surgery too, at age 36. I am a marathon flatwater and downriver racer. The first surgery was an emergency microdiscectomy. It left me with residual pain and I could not tolerate racing/hard training without ALOT of payback. So I had a second surgery, a 360 fusion. It was a very good decision. I do not notice any substantial limitation of movement. My quality of life is fantastic, able to run, ski, MTB, play very hard. For paddling, I can race and train without pain in my back, BUT I do have some significant problems with sciatic pain in my thighs after a couple of hours in the boat. I am hoping that this will continue to fade over time. I have all the power and rotation that I ever had. Another paddler here in Maine has had two different microdiscectomies on the same herniated disk over a decade, with OK results, although he is still looking for a final solution. To be honest, though, I think that the artificial disk surgery is really a much better choice for active, young people. Have you researched that? You maintain shock absorption and complete range of motion. It is a common surgery in Europe, but is new in the US, all with excellent results. I was a year or two too early for it, otherwise it would have been my choice. Still, the fusion was a good choice. Good luck, there IS life and paddling after big back problems. Slim.

#1 Mon, 03/07/2005 - 10:45am

I hear generous applications of vagisil and a nice thick absorbant Maxi pad or tampon works well. Muahahahahahahaha

:twisted: :twisted:

#2 Mon, 03/07/2005 - 2:05pm

Slim, glad to hear you were able to return to somewhat normal life of paddling and activity. Not sure what the Docs have in store for me yet. Seems like they are hesitant to do sugery until my condition gets worse. I guess they think it is always better to try and recover than to have to cut you open. But I really wish I could get back on the water and to work at this point. Appreciate the info...been looking in to that disk replacement thing too. Alot of the reading implies that the success rate isn't the greatest though. Oh well, I'll keep on keepin on until something gives.

#3 Mon, 03/07/2005 - 7:06pm

Have you tried physical therapy with a Mckenzie trained PT? If not, that would be my recommendation. This will be a mechanical approach at trying to solve your problem. This is by far the most researched and effective method at conservative back care. This is an active approach that takes passive modalities like ultrasound, hot packs, estim and massage out of the equation as all are proven to have no benefit. It teaches you self management techniques to allow back to heal. After all a disc injury is like any other, stop irritating it long enough to allow it to heal. I too get problems with my back on long runs, but understand the mechanism (i am mckenzie PT) and am able to keep my back healthy between paddle runs.


#4 Tue, 03/08/2005 - 6:16am

Yo, JC!

This a follow-up to our recent conversation a Steve's wedding.

I suffered from herniated discs years ago which were confirmed by an MRI. I ruptured my discs lifting heavy automotive equipment and was in a lot of lower back pain and sciatica, making it painful to drive a stick. I was still able to exercise my upper body and could run but found it difficult to stand and sit for any length of time. The sciatic pain and lower back pain persisted for over a year and half but gradually diminished to the point where I no longer suffer from the pain. Every now and then, however, I do something to my back which temporarily brings back the pain. I did notice a little muscular atrophy in the ham and calf muscles in my leg, but nothing really noticeable to anyone but me.

I was examined by two orthopedic surgeons after my injury. The first one gave me 800mg ibuprofen tablets that nearly put a hole in my stomach and taught me three exercises to strengthen my back muscles and abdominal muscles. I tried em but thought they were a complete waste of my time since I was already pretty active and physically fit.

The second one was a young back surgeon whom I thought, for sure, would have recommend back surgery so that he could meet his mortgage obligation for the following month. To my surprise, however, he recommended that I live with the pain and continue to do the exercises that I was already doing. He even recommend that I see a chiropractor if the treatments made me feel better and suggested that I try taking Chondroitin(sp?) and Glucosomine as it has been proven to be beneficial to those suffering from joint pain or cartilege deficiencies. When I asked him why he didn't recommend surgery, he told me that when I got to the point where I couldn't walk into his office or sit like some of his patients, he would recommend surgery. While surgery has benefitted some, surgery is not the panacea for all back problems. It is risky, creates scar tissue, may limit ROM and can even make a back problem worse. He recommended that I continue to run, exercise, swim, lift weights, etc., and obviously stay away from those activities that irritate the back. Needless to say, I was a little frustrated by his recommendation.

I have looked into alternative treatments like one that recently came out of Europe called "VAX-D" which stands for Vertebral Axial Decompression. It is a non-invasive procedure that is similar to traction but different. It claims a success rate of 70-80% after 7-10 treatments. The procedure works by creating a vacuum in the spinal cord cavity by "stretching" the vertebrae. Supposedly, this causes the spinal matter protruding from the spinal column (which pinches the nerves) to be pulled back into the spinal column. Queen's Hospital in Honolulu was offering this treatment but at that time (i.e, 1993-4ish) my health insurer (HMSA) didn't cover it. Apparently, the VAX-D providers were working hard to get HMSA to recognize this new treatment and to provide coverage. Things may have changed since then, however. I never really pursued this treatment on account of laziness. Eventually, my back problems faded over time and I was able to return to my normal activities. I still suffer from bouts of pain which last a day or so but nothing serious. I also stay away from putting loads on my spinal column like doing military presses, squats, etc., as this tends to aggravate the problem.

If you're interested in the VAX-D treatment, do a search on google or you can refer to this link:

Good luck.


#5 Tue, 03/08/2005 - 9:19am

I guess what it comes down to is I have to be more patient. I keep wnating everything to be better NOW. Just have to keep doing the exercises. I'll try asking the Doc about that Vax-D stuff nest time I go in. Unfortunately for me, I can't work until I recover. So it puts me in a rush to get this thing resolved.

#6 Tue, 03/08/2005 - 9:35am

Hey I def agree with all the conservative treatment talk. My surgeries came after several years of that stuff, including well-practiced Mackenzie method, enough core stabilization exercise for an elephant, even a few steroid injections. Anything that works and keeps you off the table is good, and patience is really important, especially with the first episode of major pain. For some people, some of the time, though, surgery is the right answer, even though there are always people - NOT wearing your shoes - that will try to scare you away from it. If it comes down to it, shop for a surgeon that treats active, young people, listens to your lifestyle goals, and doesn't promise you the world. Get references (both patients and physicians). Ask for his/her success rate. Listen to your gut. YOU are the only person to know what treatment path is right. Like before, good luck. Slim.

#7 Tue, 03/08/2005 - 4:52pm

I was in two car accidents (rear ended) in 2001/2002. I had a discectomy (L4/5) in 2003 (I was 27 at the time), and had aching pain in my lower back ever since. Life is better than before the surgery, but I still had daily pain. I just had a nerve block put in, where they stick these large needles in your back and bathe the nerve with a diluted steroid solution to reduce the inflammation of the nerve. I feel the best I have in 6 years.... If I had to do it all over again, I would exhaust all other options before having the surgery. I did have massive amounts of PT, and massage therapy but did not try acupuncture, yoga, or any other types of therapy. Having a bad back sucks..... I should no longer ride my dirt bike but I still do, I do not body surf anymore, I do surf on small to medium days, and I paddle OC6 6 days a week. I have days where my back does hurt, but I would rather have a little pain and have fun in life than have less pain and no fun. I know this post is old, but figured someone may read it in the future.

#8 Tue, 06/19/2007 - 4:24pm

almost 20 years ago, i had a bulging disk in my lower back from a work accident, and i did the whole traditional treatment- ortho, p-t, rest.. i was in pain for almost 2 years... debilitating pain- no surfing, walking around like an old man, taking 20 seconds to maneuver out of my truck, sleep in pain, the whole works.

the traditional treatment didn't do shit... like Maslow said, "if the only tool you have is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail"... all they want to do is wait til you can't stand it and then cut you.

i also tried chiro, acupuncture.. temporary relief at best...

i started swimming every day, and also switched chiropractors who really knew what he was doing, and after 6 months, pain free... the swimming strengthens all those atrophied muscles, without impacting the back.. it's also important to find a good chiro, because there are huge differences in treatment between different chiros.

also, during all my research of treatment, yoga had the best results, ortho was down at the bottom....

#9 Tue, 06/19/2007 - 7:52pm

Jc9 I'm feeling your pain. My back problems are L3 herniated, L4 bulging, L5 bone spurs and up in the neck C3 herniated and about to fuse with C2. All this for 25-30 years, plenty of sciatica. When it got really bad the cortico-steroid injections brought relief for 1-2 years in between. I was ready for surgery when I found this guy who does deep tissue stuff. You can't massage away herniation bulging or spurs, but when you have that stuff your body still tries to compensate the best it can. Eventually you end up like a twisted pretzel where any movement hurts. What he did then was to brutally grind down all the knots and scar tissue twice a week. Sometimes with a sharp pointed stone to get in there. At last it relaxed the muscles and stretched the scar tissue to the point where you could function again and your joints ( and your head) could at least see that it does not have to be permanent. It felt like every week my spinal clock rewound a year. Then I started paddling of all things. Strange enough it made my back better then ever.
My core strenght is better then ever, my abs are holding up the back nicely. My problems are all still there but I try to help the guys that hold my bones. My back goes out 1-3 times a year, but it isn't the 2 week ordeal where everything cramps up and shooting yourself becomes a viable option. It's a 48 hour affair at worst. One thing I do religously is hang upside down on a inversion table (brand: Hang Up) before and after any exercise (especially during back pain)sometimes up to 15 minutes. Puts blood in brain but mostly counters the compression on the discs and lines up everything with a super core stretch. It's traction plain and simple. Now I understand batman.

So I chime in with everybody who says to try anything but surgery. No disrespect to the lucky ones where surgery was successful. Keep looking, surgery is final and you would still have to find ways to get rid of all the little shit (knots and all) that's wrong because of years of neglect or misuse your body put up with and adjusted to. On top of that it may not be possible because of limitations due to surgery. If it's absolutely unbearable take a shot and use your pain free time-zone to fix things.

Consider all angles like nutrition, chiro ( I used to hate them until I found a good one) yoga if you want to be well stretched but bored to tears. Find out which opposite muscle has to be strengthened to counteract the one that's pulling it into pain.
It didn't happen overnight and isn't going away overnight. Whatever treatment you choose it's like paddling: practice makes you better.
Patience patience patience and Mucho Aloha

#10 Wed, 06/20/2007 - 8:32am

I've had a herniated disc at L5/S1 for years. I went to see a Physiotherapist years ago for some low back pain, she misdiagnosed me, prescibed flextion exercises instead of extension exercises (mackenzie) and voila the low back pain turn into severe leg (sciatica) pain with muscle atrophy in my left leg. So if you have low back pain, get some physio from a competent professional, don't just go to the first one that has an appointment open (like I did).

Funny enough though, I find outrigger canoeing helps my back for some reason, where as my flatwater or dragonboat paddling (on my right side only) doesn't help. Must have something to do with building core strength on my leftside, don't know, might be a study there for someone.

#11 Wed, 06/20/2007 - 2:36pm

Gee, sounds like we are all falling apart. I ruptured L4/L5 nine years ago and had a lumbar laminectomy (sp) microsurgery where they removed the piece of disc putting pressure on the nerves. I was in horrible pain and couldn't sit or stand for any length of time and I lost the feeling down the back of my leg and half of my foot. After surgery the pain was gone almost immediately. It took almost a year for the feeling to come back.

Last year I ruptured a disc in my neck. It wasn't as severe as the lower back. I took an oral steriod to reduce the inflammation and have been doing chiropractic care and physical therapy off and on. I have trouble in the OC6 but it doesn't bother me as much in the OC1 or the marathon canoe. It has limited my ROM but I'm hoping in time that will heal.

Interesting sidebar, riding a road bike sized for men was one of the factors that caused L4/L5 to rupture. Women have shorter torsos so it's important to buy a bike with frame geometry designed for women.

#12 Wed, 06/20/2007 - 3:40pm

I had a lumbarectomy (L4/L5, L5/S1) performed in my early 20's. At the time, the choices were "fuse" or "leave open." I opted for "leave open" in hopes that I would still have full range of motion. Turned out to be a good choice, however, I still had back pain for years, but at a tolerable level. Then, I got into paddling when I turned 30. Paddling turned out to be the best thing for my back as it keeps my back muscles strong, and the fat off. Both desirable things for a guy after back surgery. I still have trouble rotating as far as "normal" guys, but it doesn't keep me from competing. I make no excuses and do my very best every time I'm on the water.

I didn't want to have the surgery either, and tried everything out there (at the time) to avoid surgery. In the end, I have a hereditary condition that caused my discs to degenerate, so I didn't really have any options other than surgery. Try to avoid it, but if you have to have it, life will not be over. You will still be able to paddle and it will do your back good, as long as you pay attention to the pain signals (something I suck at).

Hope you feel better very soon. Chonic back pain sucks and can really impact all areas of your life.

Malama pono.

#13 Fri, 06/22/2007 - 11:14am

As a rule of thumb:

unless you have damage of a motor neuron - that is nerves that make the muscles work - no surgery.

Motor neuron damage lower extremity: one of the first signs " foot drop", inability to raise your foot , you realize it when your flip flops don't follow you.

Sensory nerve damage and lower back pain only, without motor neuron damage - no surgery, try to avoid at all cost.
There are many alternatives.

All this depends a bit on the underlying conditions of course, if you have collapsed vertebrae you better choose surgery to restore them, but if your x ray looks pretty normal for age, try what you can.

The reason: lower back surgery is very non specific, scar tissue can cause as much pain as the initial pressure on the nerve did.
Surgery is good when you need to avoid paralysis of your leg muscles.

Best exercise, imo: stationary bike. It gives you tremendous abdominal muscles. Those push the intestines back against the spine and thus stabilize your lower back, the lumbar region.

A disclaimer: cases may vary and different advice may be needed, surgery for lower back problems can be an emergency to avoid paralysis.

#14 Fri, 06/22/2007 - 9:49pm

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