L5-S1 Lamiectomy Recovery – Update 8 Weeks

It has been two weeks since I’ve been “surgically” cleared and 8 weeks since my L5-S1 laminectomy surgery.  The physical therapy has been both humbling and rewarding.  The best news is that there are days where I feel my life has some normal parts to it.

Overall Progress on Laminectomy Recovery

I still measure progress in weeks, not days.  I hit a few big milestones recently.   The biggest accomplishment was pedaling for 10 minutes on a stationary bike.  I also have more endurance and am doing more “normal” things”

Rehabilitation – Rebuilding Phase

These past two weeks have been about rebuilding myself.  I’ve been surgically cleared, now I need to rebuild the lost muscles.  Most important, I need to build up the muscles that will support my back and prevent further injury.

Land Physical Therapy

Part of my therapy is still on land.  I have some tight soft tissue and my walking mechanics are still off a bit.  So, I’m spending a little time on the table.  An early symptom for my before the disc fully ruptures was in my left knee, so we are also looking at that too.

The land therapy has had a few milestones that have been physically important, but they have also been mentally rewarding.

  • How to properly sit
  • How to get to the floor and back up
  • getting ready for the bike

All of these have one common theme – relearn how to use my legs and not my back.  I need to bend at my hips, not my back and use my legs.  It is actually rather simple, but my muscles completely forgot how to do basic things.  The nerve damage block some of it and the healing nerves need to be reeducated.

Every day I’ve been practicing the basics of going from sitting to standing with my legs.  I actually see rapid improvement there.  Many of the leg muscles are waking up.  It is still hard.

Pool Physical Therapy

As I mentioned after my first session in the pool; this is work.  Very good work.  I can personally notice two major things in the pool.  The first is coordination; I am waking up old muscles and gaining lost control over my body.  The other big benefit of the pool is endurance.

I’ve always had a strong back and hip flexors from riding my bike.  Because of that, I’ve been able to cheat on core exercises. Well, in the pool, there is no cheating. You wear a float around your waist that is always trying to pull your hips to the surface.  The simple act of keeping your body upright forces you to use your back and core muscles.  As I do various movements, my core is always working which is a major thing I need.

The endurance part is also nice.  Mentally, I love feeling the lactic acid and feeling my heart rate increase.  I use both my arms and my legs to move around.  As I master a movement, they have me do it harder and faster.  I love that.  I know something is working when I collapse into bed that night just exhausted.

Walking

I still feel like the Forest Gump of walking.  Walking is a great way to keep my back loose and break up the scar tissue around the incision spot.  So, I start every day with a walk and still try to go for a walk every two hours.  The amount of steps I am taking is increasing and I’m walking faster.  So that is improvement for sure.

My big goal weeks ago was to make it to the beach.  Last week I made it to the pier but was beat when I got home.  Yesterday I made it out the end of the pier and home feeling good.  Some of the regulars out there even commented that I am looking better.

Stationary Bike

I am borderline ecstatic about this part.  I rode a stationary bike.  I’m a ways off from my real bike, but I’ve begun to put the pieces together I’ll need to ride again.

I am only sitting upright on the seat without leaning forward.  The pedaling motion feels great, but I can tell there are a lot of muscles not yet awake.  Many are similar to the ones I use when standing up from the sitting position.

The first skill that I’m working on is to have the pedals at 3 and 9 o’clock and then try to stand by using my legs.  This engages the hips and legs to lift my butt up a bit.  First try; nothing.  But now I’m an getting better and those muscles are waking up.  I’m also working on rocking my hips forward instead of bending my back.  You probably see many cyclists with arched backs; that is not what you want.  The back should be pretty flat and the bend should be at the hips.

Pain

Pain on my right side is still a non-issues.  The incision spot has some scar tissue, but that is getting better too.

My only pain/discomfort is really in my left hip.  The physical therapist did some stretching on it and it felt better right away, so I think it is posture and tight muscle related.  I need to keep an eye on it, but it is really more uncomfortable than painful.

Numbness

I am still pretty numb, but I think that I am improving.  It is such a slow progression and I am more used to it that it is hard to tell.  Sitting on a hard surface is my main indicator.  I can tell that is getting better, but I am far from comfortable yet.

Work

Not too much has changed with work.  I did attend a two day meeting that took a lot out of me, but since there was no pain, it made me stronger.  I stood the whole time and walked a lot.  A few times I needed to lie on the floor (side down) to ease some of the discomfort.

A new standing desk arrived that I will review later.  It is nice to have the monitor height and desk height worked out.  I had been using cardboard boxes – that worked, but it wasn’t perfect and I could feel it in my neck at the end of the day.  Now I am much more dialed in.

Life

As I learned after my knee surgery, you know you are healing when you feel like doing things naturally.  For example, I don’t think about getting in and out of bed any more.  I feel like I can move quickly without thinking about it.  I’m not fast or nimble yet, but I can tell progress for sure.

Driving has been ok, and now I get in and out of the car much easier.  I’ve been taking the kids places (like ice cream) which is fun and makes me feel like life is more normal.

I’ve got a little fishing boat we keep in the driveway.  Normally it gets used about once a week.  That is very good for it, but with this injury I haven’t been able to use it.  In the past week or so I’ve been able to get it hooked up to water to run it.  I can get in and out ok. I can turn the batteries on, hook up the hose, turn on the water and do what needs to be done without any pain. The biggest thing is to bend at the hips and not flex my back.  I think I can get it out on the water soon, but want to give my back and core muscles a little more strength first.

Last weekend I was even able to BBQ for the family.  It was nice.  We have a heavy ceramic grill that uses charcoal, so there is some prep involved, but I was able to get it all set up and going without any pain.  The best part is we all enjoyed a nice meal.

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