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Lifting weights, running, and fitness level after spinal fusion

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Hi,

I am a very active, fit 28 year old who loves to lift weights (high intensity stuff like power cleans, squats, lunges, etc) and run...I usually push myself to negative split during runs and end up running tempos. I have decided to get spinal fusion surgery to correct my scoliosis and prevent it from progressing as it has in the past few years. By now, I'm aware that the recovery process is long and limited, and that it may take up to a full year before I can run or lift weights like I do now, but I'm worried that after I do recover, my body will never be able to reach the fitness levels it's at now. Does anyone have experience with a fit lifestyle/fit body after recovering from spinal fusion? I'm getting T5-L3 fused. Will I be able to do sit-ups? Will I ever be able to have a toned back, toned legs, etc. again like I do now or will I pretty much be giving up my biggest passion in life? I am really discouraged and I only have four days until surgery!! Help, please!

Megan
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First Helper megrunsfast
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replied May 9th, 2011
Hi,
just ran across your posting and was wondering how you are doing?

I am looking at a fusion this fall and am just like you. I am 34 and very active. I am an avid weight lifter, hiker, kayaker......anything and everything to do with pushing yourself. Like you, my passion is also weight traing and excersing. I do not want to stop. It is what has made me who I am.

I was told I will be restricted to not lifting more than 40 pounds after I completely heel. I can't see the benefit in that. for the most part I can currently do what I want, but have to push my way through the pain (which is sometimes unbareable). However, I am told it will only get worse and I may be looking at permenant damage if I let it go. Is it worth it??? How are you doing???
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replied May 9th, 2011
Hi,
just ran across your posting and was wondering how you are doing?

I am looking at a fusion this fall and am just like you. I am 34 and very active. I am an avid weight lifter, hiker, kayaker......anything and everything to do with pushing yourself. Like you, my passion is also weight traing and excersing. I do not want to stop. It is what has made me who I am.

I was told I will be restricted to not lifting more than 40 pounds after I completely heel. I can't see the benefit in that. for the most part I can currently do what I want, but have to push my way through the pain (which is sometimes unbareable). However, I am told it will only get worse and I may be looking at permenant damage if I let it go. Is it worth it??? How are you doing???
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replied May 9th, 2011
Go for it! You'll bounce back like I did, I bet!
Hi! I'm so happy to see your post, because I have just returned from my best workout yet since surgery. To answer your question quickly before explaining, it is SO WORTH IT to get back surgery. Not only would the scoliosis cause increasing body imbalance and impact your workout routine anyway, but it didn't really get in the way of me maintaining my fitness post surgery. I'm not sure about the 40 lb max after recovery. I am planning on going kayaking soon and could definitely do it now, and I love to hike, though I can't probably put much weight on my back. My surgeon talks like I can do mostly anything after a year, and I've specifically asked about power lifting. I also ran across a power lifter who does his dead lifts, etc, after surgery.

The long version following will explain. Before surgery, I made sure I got in the best shape of my life. I lifted like crazy and ran my head off, and made sure my muscles were big so that when I was recovering and barred from that kind of activity, my body would have more muscle to lose and more cardio fitness to lose, if that makes any sense. After the fact, I read that you should make sure your back muscles aren't huge because they can get in the way during surgery and they just get rearranged and put back in anyway. Oh well.

Anyway, my surgeon was insanely impressed with how well my body recovered and how fast (guaranteed because of my fitness beforehand). He didn't put me in physical therapy because I was already asking about the gym and eager to work out, and he felt confident I could handle it on my own...some people probably think this is a sign of a bad surgeon, but it's rare he recommends this...I say this to stress the importance of being in the best shape of your life before going in because it pays off IN MONTHS AND MONTHS of early recovery. I'm not going to lie--the hospital stay SUCKED. It was really hard to sleep without waking up every 30 min and either throwing up or having to rely on the nurses to turn me, the catheter was yucky, and I was going stir crazy feeling stuck to a bed. Part of this terrible experience is because my body was too small to handle the extreme dosage of pain meds. The next three weeks sucked because of the pain meds literally would not let me hold any food down. But, after three weeks, I went to the doc and he said I shouldn't still be taking pain meds if they were making me throw up, so I stopped, and the throwing up stopped, after some minor withdrawal symptoms. I could definitely deal with the pain at home and could walk around just fine.

My doctor let me go back into the gym at 4ish weeks after surgery to walk at a faster pace, to bike, and I was allowed to do lunge movements and other things I felt my back could handle. At three months, I could do some leg exercises with the ten lb dumbells, lunges, walking lunges.

It's been less then seven months (wow...I just realized this) and I've been doing one-legged lunges and walking lunges with the 20-25 lb dumbbells. I've also been doing leg extensions with limitless weight, calve raises on the leg press machine, and split leg lunge jumps. In February, the surgeon said I could do upperbody lifting with 10 lb. weights max. I've found, though, that bench press doesn't hurt my back no matter what weight I do (100), probably because I'm laying down and not using my back at all. Also, I can finally do overhead tricep extensions (I tried them for the first time again today), dumbbell presses, curls, and I just tried tonight to do pull-ups and dips. No problems there.

Cardio I can do high intensity, but I'm still not cleared to run. I found that the EFX or cross training machine that allows you to up the incline and the resistance is the best workout for me, followed by walking at a very fast pace at the max incline.

For abs, I absolutely cannot do a situp now...it's weird, but my favorites before were the ones I can still do now anyway--the alphabet (where you lie down, put your legs together, put your hands underneath your butt or hold onto something behind your head, and use your abs to move your legs into giant alphabet letters--works wonders) and the plank holds.

I still can't do squats at all nor can I do power cleans or romanian deadlifts (or reg. deadlifts), no big power lifting, but my body looks and feels like it's in shape.

Truth be told, the loss in body fat really made me look like I was in great shape with the muscle mass I put on before surgery. I did lose a lot of muscle--I weighed 20 lb less after surgery and a few weeks at homel, but I've put at least 8 or 9 of it back on. My flexibility isn't too compromised. I can bend past the parallel-to-floor- point and I can touch my toes standing and sitting, but I can't bend as much as before surgery. I don't really notice a HUGE, huge difference though and am still more flexible than some other people around.

I am hoping that my surgeon lets me run this June 1 when I go back even though it's before the year mark by 5 months; we'll see. I know that the fusion needs to be complete before really pushing it.

Sorry for the novel length response. Bottom line: your back will tell you what you can do and when--I can feel what will hurt and what won't before I do it or after I try one rep (like a squat). I hope I answered your question somewhat. I'd be more than happy to discuss anything further. I think getting this surgery is the best thing I've done, even though I miss my old lifts, I can see that I'm almost back there.

Best of luck! I say, go for it! If you love lifting and you are in good shape, you'll be able to lift again, and probably more than 40 lb. Please let me know of any other questions you might have!
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Users who thank megrunsfast for this post: kowalsk8 

replied January 1st, 2012
Body builder after spinal fusion
You have no idea how positive your writing means to me. I am a body builder. Just had my second spinal fusion within 14 months. My first fusion was a complete mess and I was in constant pain for a year. It was 24/7 360 days of pure hell. We finally wised up and went to another surgeon to get their opinion. What he told me was shocking. Long story short, I had a complete revision of my fusion including another lever. 4 in all s1 up. 11 hour surgery you would think would still have a lot of pain, nope:). I do at times have pain and weird feelings in my legs and feet, but I'm only three weeks post op. My surgeon wants me to no do anything for six months. I can live with that, just hate losing size and definition. Not worried because I will getbit back. I know I won't be able to do hour long ab workoutscany more, but I can do other type of ab work like you said. I will also be on my kayak next year. Nan, can't wait!

How are you doing post surgery?
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replied May 9th, 2011
**A couple things I forgot to mention:

-My back muscle was completely gone in terms of any tone after surgery, but that comes with the turf, and I bet I can build it back up now that I've added more things (pull-ups, push-ups). I forgot to mention pushups were fine after a couple months.

-I also forgot to mention, for what it's worth, my surgeon ended up fusing more than the T-5 - L-3. I think it was T-3 - L-4. So, even with the larger fusion, my flexibility is still definitely doable for the gym, and then some.
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replied May 9th, 2011
**One last thing: I started working out hard core specifically to prepare for surgery in June-ish and got the surgery Oct. 14th, so 4 months of hardcore workout REALLY did the job! That's it. I'll shut up now Smile. (You can tell I'm happy to talk about fitness and this surgery Smile )
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replied May 15th, 2011
@megrunfast how long after your surgery were you able to bend?
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replied May 17th, 2011
Hi megrunsfast,
I just signed up for this forum board today to read what other people are saying about the fusion surgery as I need one and the doctors are tired of me putting it off for so long. All I seem to read are negatives & I couldn't be happier to read something positive that makes me feel like it will all be OK. I am truly impressed with your recovery and hope that I can work on a good recovery as well. Thanks and good luck.
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replied January 31st, 2012
Hey, Nick here.

I had a spinal fusion 3 years ago when I was 16 (t4 to l4) I had over a 70 degree curve in my lower s bend and about a 15 I think in my top. So you could definitely tell I had scoliosis when I took my shirt of. I used to do parkour, I was on my diving team, got the presidential fitness award every year in gym, and I lifted weights for a short period of time when I was 14. I was lean and tone but not very big. I loved being active, so when they told me I had to have surgery at first I refused. I wanted to cry after hearing about how much flexibility I would lose. Although, I'm glad I decided on it. I'm about 6'1" just a little over 180 lbs. I lift primarily 4 days a week. I lost a lot of flexibility. Can almost touch my toes. But I get a lot of back pain from heavy lifting, primarily from shoulder shrug excersizing my traps. I can lift over 385 lbs on the smith machine assisted bench press machine for shoulder shrugs, although I don't reccomend it because I get tremendous pain at the top of my fusion from it. Nothing else really bothers me. I would just say be weary of shrugs at high weight, because I get absolutely terrible pain from them.
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replied July 20th, 2012
Chin-ups (and work outs) and correcting lumbar scoliosis.
@Megrunsfast, Thank you for your highly instructive comments on this forum. I find you to be very knowledgeable and with experience. I have a question to ask and would like to know your thoughts.

First, this is the situation:
There is a case of someone who has a concave lumbar scoliosis to the right, and this was caused by uneven chin ups performed while he was 15 years old. Due to the uneven or asymmetric handling of the chin up bar, he ended up building the back muscles and gradually this is what seemed to have pushed the spine slightly inwards. Hence, the concave push towards the right side. Currently the person is 30 years old, so this happened about 15 years ago but the scoliosis was not diagnosed or discovered until recently because the person started feeling slight aches at the left side of the back after which he did an MRI which confirmed the scoliosis.

2 Questions:
First, do you think it is possible (perhaps with the help of a trainer) to rectify or straighten the spine through the use of the same chin-up workouts performed, but with emphasis on the side of the body where the back muscles are weak and smaller?
Secondly, considering that this person has a slight lumbar scoliosis, is it okay to still do workouts at the gym? For example, bench presses and other workouts where the person's back can lie down and be supported.

I look forward to your comments and that of anyone on this forum. Thank you very much!
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replied February 8th, 2014
Thank you so much for your posts. I have been weight lifting since 1990 and have never quit, have everything I need at home. Have been in pain for 10 years, woke up with my left butt on fire, horrible, not sure how I have gotten by 10 years in pain. I can't do it any longer, there is no disk in my 4/5, just gnashing bone on bone. Found a great othro spine surgeon named James Maxwell here in Phoenix. I'm 54 and really scared. Aksed Dr Maxwell if I could lift weights again, he said no problem, not right away, but after healing, no problem. Not sure what I would do with no weight lifting. After reading these posts, I feel 100% better and will lift as much today and until 02/17/14, they will do the fusion on 02/17 thru my belly, then on 02/18, they will finish going into my back for final stability. It's getting worse and worse with the pain, but will grind on the weights starting tonight. Will come back here a couple weeks after my surgery, good or bad as people need to know the good and bad. Hope mine is like the posts I see here. Again, thanks so much for your posts.
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replied March 10th, 2014
Had my 4/5 fusion done 02/17/14 & 02/18/14, and was in pain 2 weeks. Each day getting better and better. I can say I wish I would have gotten this done earlier, but glad I waited 10 years because of the progress they have made with this process. Ten years ago, I remember the surgeon had these rod models and I thought, no way. Dr Maxwell put in a titanium cage in there, no rods. I had to work on 02/24 as I don't have any backup for my job. Was able to work, but still in pain that week. Most of my pain is gone and it's not quite 3 weeks. Was taking walks week of 02/24/14 thru my neighborhood and will start my regular daily walks today 03/10/14, will wait a couple more weeks before I start weight lifting again. The only other thing I would say is do your research and MAKE SURE you get a great spine surgeon. Dr Maxwell is awesome.
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replied September 6th, 2014
I have a 10 year old son with scoliosis who had spinal fusion with rods and screws T12, L1 and L2. The surgery was 5 years ago and the doctor says he will be very limited in sports. No contact sports of any kind, no karate, no situps. He really only recommends swimming. He says the vertebra above and below the fusion will be at risk because the fused part is not flexible causing more stess on those vertebra. If anyone has any experience or information in this area, I would really appreciate any other recommendations.
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