Fitbit quote

I heart my Fitbit <3

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It’s a known fact that sitting down all day is bad for us and this especially true for those of us with scoliosis  – personally I find that my back hurts a lot more and feels much stiffer if I don’t move around regularly. Walking is a fantastic way for most people with scoliosis to stay in shape as it doesn’t put too much pressure on the back and over time it can help to keep the back and core strong, which can help to protect the discs in lumbar spine and reduce pain. This is vital if, like me, you have had spinal fusion, as staying fit and strong can help to prevent disc wear and tear below the fusion. Walking can even help with losing weight, which inadvertently may help to reduce back pain over time by reducing the amount of pressure on the spine.

Now, I have always considered myself pretty active and it is because of my scoliosis that I try to go to the gym 3-4 times a week, but the problem is that (like a lot of people) I drive to work and then I work in an office and so I’m sat down for the majority of the day Monday – Friday, which does not help my back or core muscles at all.

So, in a bid to move more, in January this year I bought myself a Fitbit Charge HR. The reason I bought the HR version initially was not to purely monitor my steps, but to also monitor my heart rate at the gym, as I wanted to make sure my heart rate was in the right “zone” for working out and I wanted to know how far I could safely push myself to get fitter. The HR version also monitors your sleep which is pretty cool.

As soon as I started using it though, I got addicted to counting my steps and it came as a bit of a shock to see how few steps I actually did in a day. I knew that sitting down all day in an office was bad for my back and that I did most of my activity after work, but having my Fitbit really highlighted how bleak my average daily step count was.

With the Fitbit you can set yourself a step goal for each day, and the recommended number of steps is 10,000 per day (about 5 miles). What became quickly apparent, was that in an average work day, I was struggling to even reach 3,000 steps, plus I had long periods of time throughout the day where I was inactive.

I find that having my Fitbit on really does encourage me to get up and move around more often at work, even if it’s just to go and make a cup of tea or walk the longer way back to my desk. I now make sure that I go for a 30 minute walk everyday at lunchtime and I go to the gym after work everyday if I can. I find that if I can do these two things, I usually meet my 10,000 a day step goal quite easily in the week and I can often get up to 15K steps on a “gym day” depending on what I do (the Fitbit doesn’t record steps for things like indoor cycling or spin classes).

What’s worrying though, is that in an average work week, if I DON’T go for a walk at lunchtime or go to the gym I will get around 2-3K steps in a day, which I think is pretty poor. If I go for a 30 minute walk at lunchtime but don’t go to the gym I will get around 6K steps, which is better but still a far cry from the recommended 10K. This is worrying because the majority of office workers will be in the same boat and probably getting around 3-4K steps a day, which is not even half of what they should be getting. I think it highlights that, for people with sedentary jobs like myself, you really do have to make a conscious effort to fit exercise into your daily routine.

I’ll be honest, having my pitiful step count on my wrist and on the app (especially when compared to my friends who have more active jobs) really does push me to go for a walk everyday at lunchtime, or head out for a walk/run at the weekends, even if it’s cold or raining! Whereas pre-Fitbit, on an average workday I would have happily worked through lunch or just sat at my desk, in my car or in the kitchen at work to eat my lunch, which would not have done anything to help me or my back.

I do find that getting 10,000 steps is much easier for me at the weekends, I usually find that a 90 minute walk does the job nicely and this can be fitted in fairly easily. What’s interesting though, is how many steps I do when I’m out shopping at the weekend, out for the day, or away on holiday – for example, it’s not unusual for me to do up to 25,000 steps a day when I’m out shopping, which goes to show how bad office work can be (I now use it as an excuse to go shopping at the weekends!)

Another good thing about the Fitbit, is the fantastic app which features a dashboard of your daily stats and some challenges (workweek hustle, weekend warrior and goal day), so you can basically compete with friends to get the most steps in a day, work week or weekend. I must admit this really brings out my competitive side and I have often found myself walking/running up and down the corridor of my flat or running furiously on the treadmill at the gym to get more steps and win the challenges (or just not come last)!! Plus, competing with friends and earning the various Fitbit trophies and badges that are on offer also helps with keeping motivated.

I would go as far to say that my Fitbit has been once of the best things I’ve bought this year, it’s changed my life and sadly I think I would find it difficult to live without it now, or particularly to exercise without it – I feel a bit lost if I’m not wearing it and I hate having to take it off to charge it.

Fitbit quote

If you are into running, it’s also fantastic for that as the HR Fitbit also monitors your heart rate and can be used in conjunction with apps like Runkeeper.

Fitbit dashboard
Fitbit dashboard

If you don’t fancy splashing out on a Fitbit there are also plenty of free apps out there that count your steps. The health apps that come free with most smartphones now are pretty good and will do the job nicely, for example the iPhone Health app, the only downside is that you need to remember to have your phone on you all the time.

There are also Fitbits that will simply track your steps, so if you’re not bothered about the sleep tracking and the heart rate monitor that come with the HR Fitbits, these are an alternative lower cost option. There are of course lots of other fitness trackers out there, my advice would be to do your research and get the one that looks right for you.

Why not give it a go and see just how many steps you do in a day?

You could start by using an app on your phone – it may just surprise you. I guarantee walking more (if you can) will help you to feel fitter and stronger, which may help your back pain over time as you get stronger :-). One word of warning though – getting your daily step goal can become highly addictive!!

If you are new to walking or struggle with walking, even just improving a bit on what you do now each day will help. The Mayo Clinic recommend adding 1000 daily steps each week, so if you start monitoring your steps and find you are doing 4000 steps per day now, simply set your goal at 5000 steps each day. I know increasing my daily steps has helped me and I’m definitely more active and feel fitter now than before I started tracking my steps.

Also, if you’ve recently had scoliosis surgery it’s important to try and move around as much as possible and I think that having a fitness tracker could help with that. I’m not suggesting you try and do 10,000 steps early on in your recovery as that will be far too much at first but it’s important to try and walk a bit each day in the first few months post surgery and make sure you move around the house frequently if you can – whatever feels comfortable for you. I say this because when I was recovering from scoliosis surgery I actually developed Oedema in my leg because I was sat down too much and not moving enough. So it’s important to try and keep moving during recovery, even if it’s just a little bit when you can to limit the chance of developing Oedema or something more serious (such as a blood clot).  You can read more about my recovery from scoliosis surgery here.

P.S In case you are interested, the Fitbit I have is the one below (I have it in purple :)). I bought mine from Argos in the sale but they are cheaper on Amazon at the moment. If you already have a Fitbit and want to challenge me please do contact me and I’ll add you on there :0)

 

 

P.P.S

Get some decent trainers!

It’s important to note just before I go, that whilst walking can be a great, low impact way for me to stay in shape post spinal fusion, it’s also important that I protect the un-fused lower discs in my back (L3 and below, as I’m fused T3-L3) and avoid putting too much strain on them.

As an extra precaution, if I’m walking long distances I usually wear my Skechers memory foam trainers, which I originally bought to do the Cancer Research 26 mile Shine Walk a couple of years back (I now have two pairs!) I love them because they are sooo comfy and the memory foam helps to absorb some of the impact, which I find helps with the lower back pain I sometimes get after walking long distances. Plus, I think that they look great too as there are lots of vibrant colours and designs to choose from. I really can’t recommend memory foam trainers enough if you have scoliosis or suffer from low back pain – I don’t think I could go back to wearing “non-memory foam” trainers now.

You can buy the Skechers memory foam trainers from any Skechers store but they are also available from Amazon and tend to be much cheaper online in general.

Keep on movin’

Louise X

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing or starting a new fitness routine.

3 years post op!

Today I am three years post op from my scoliosis surgery and I really can’t believe how fast that time has gone. So much has changed in the last three years and I’ve come so far, I am now very busy studying an MSc course whilst working full time – hence why I havent updated my blog for a while! I’ve been so busy getting an assignment done this month that I almost forgot that it was my three year scoliosis surgery anniversary. In a way, I think that’s a good thing as it shows that my back doesn’t rule my life anymore.


So how does my back feel at three years post op? I think in all honesty it’s still improving. In the past 6 months I’ve noticed that I seem to have got some of my flexibility back that I thought was gone forever. 

Yes, I still can’t bend the fused part of my back (T3-L3) BUT I can bend from my hips and recently I’ve noticed that when I’m sitting down I can bend like I used to before surgery to pick something off the floor! This may not seem like much to some people but for me this is a big thing and it makes me so happy that I can now do this. I can also bend quite far from my waist now, although I can’t touch my toes (yet!) 

I think it just goes to show how long the recovery can take, it still surprises me the differences I notice in my back month by month – even now.

2012

So it’s nearly the end of another year and it’s got me thinking about how good of a year it’s been for my back and all the things I’ve managed to do. At the start of the year I was still doing physio, my back still felt weak and stiff and I was scared of doing things which might cause damage.

As the year progressed, I found myself gaining more strength and more confidence to push myself as I began to realise that I’m stronger and can do more than I first thought.

My scoliosis surgery gave me a new zest for life and one of my resolutions last year was to try new things and get as much as I can out of life, despite my back condition.

This year I have climbed mount Snowdon in Wales, which was very difficult and a huge personal challenge for me, travelled to Marrakech, Turkey and Denmark, bought my first car, taken up Zumba (which I never thought I’d be able to do post surgery) completed a web design course and started a Masters degree in digital marketing communications whilst working full time, which keeps me very busy! 2012 was also the year I was given the all clear by my surgeon that finally, after over 10 years of annual scoliosis checkups, I now no longer need to go back to the hospital for X-rays each year.

My back has also never felt stronger, although I still get the odd pain days, I don’t take painkillers as frequently anymore and I can now bend and pick things up more easily, although my grabber (like this one available from Amazon) still comes in handy especially when tidying things off the floor. I also still believe, even though it’s been two years since my surgery, that there is still a way to go and it will continue to improve over the coming months. 

The important thing is a couple of years ago my back condition consumed me, now I rarely think about it and get on with my life – and for that I am thankful.

I hope that in 2013 I can continue to push myself, aim high and not let my scoliosis hold me back, so to speak 😉

Happy new year!

Louise x

Pain days

I don’t like to post about pain too much as I don’t want to put people off having this surgery, as I know that in many severe cases like mine, surgery is unavoidable.

However, this is an honest blog about life after scoliosis surgery and if you need to have this surgery you will be interested in what it’s really like living your life after this type of surgery.

Today has been a bad pain day. Actually the past few days have.

Honestly, I don’t get as many pain days now as I used to, in fact, I can now go months without taking my painkillers. Considering how many painkillers I took in the year following my surgery, I think this is incredible.
I believe alot of this is down to my exercising and keeping my core as strong as possible as I’ve worked really hard to get my strength back since surgery.
My pain days generally don’t stop me from doing anything. I just keep calm, take a codeine and carry on!  But these pain days do make me stop and remember that I have had major surgery on my spine, it’s so easy to forget sometimes.
I’ve been trying to work out recently what causes my pain days. Am I doing too much by going to the gym frequently and working full time? Should I rest more? I just don’t know.  These are the questions I will ask my consultant when I see him next month.
I think though, that I’ve worked out a few ‘triggers’ of my post-surgery pain over the past few months:
  • Stress I’ve been under alot of stress over the past couple of weeks and I think this is causing my back pain to flare up now. Maybe it’s the muscles tensing up I don’t know but it seems to be worse when I get stressed.
  • Cold Weather Now the summer has come to an end (I know, I know, what summer right?) I can feel the cold working my way into my back and making it tense up more.
  • Uncomfortable chairs I still need to get myself a decent cushion!! But most chairs are uncomfortable and will cause my back pain to flare up if I sit on them too long.
  • Time of the month (ladies!) for some reason my back pain gets alot worse during this time, which is odd as this never happened before surgery!
  • Being on my feet too long although I know this is also a problem for people who don’t even have a back condition and it’s usually relieved once I sit/lie down.
I would be interested to hear from other people who have had the surgery, what do you think causes your pain and how do you tend to cope?

 

2 years post op!

I can’t believe it but today I am 2 years post op! I can’t believe it was a whole two years ago today that I had my scoliosis surgery.
I thought I’d do a quick update on how I’m feeling now in myself and how my back is. 
I’d say at 2 years post op I’m pretty much back to normal, I work full time and I go to the gym 3-4 times a week. 
I still get bad pain days from time to time but I don’t take painkillers everyday now and I’m just really thankful for everything I can do. 
Everytime I go to the gym, drive my car, go shopping, even getting out of bed by myself (things I used to take for granted) I really appreciate that I can do them. 
I think this surgey has made me look at my life in a different way and just be thankful for every thing I can do and thankful for life in general. I think it’s only when these things are taken away or made difficult after this kind of surgery, that you realise how much you really rely on using your back in every day life. People really do take it for granted. Everytime I do something new that I havent done since surgery I feel so happy that I’m able to do it.

It’s a long, slow recovery and it’s only very recently that I’ve been able to do things like lie on my side in bed comfortably but I got there eventually! 
I also still feel stiff sometimes, I dont know if this will ever go but I’m kind of used to it now. If I had the option, I still wouldn’t change my back for a “normal” one without the rods, as in a way I quite enjoy being unique and the rods make my back feel strong and supported. 
I don’t think my back will ever feel 100% normal, but who knows it might improve even further in 6 months time!
I don’t have my 2 year post op appointment until October (the hospital forgot about me!!) so I just prey everything is ok with the fusion and metalwork until then.
I’d say to people early on in their recovery – you still have a long way to go but eventually you do start getting back to “normal” and getting on with and enjoying your life again.
Louise x

Holiday – 1 year 7 months post op

I’ve just got back from my birthday holiday in Marrakech and thought I would update how it was for my back. 
Holidays are always difficult for people with bad backs, lugging cases about, airport queues, hours on your feet, uncomfortable aeroplane seats, hard hotel beds.. the list goes on!
However, this holiday it actually wasn’t so bad.
Last summer when I was around the one year post op mark I went to Cyprus for two weeks and I found it incredibly difficult. Especially getting on and off low sunbeds and I found it hard keeping up with my family during evening walks when I would get a tight ‘pulling’ feeling in my back if I walked too fast.
This holiday I only realised that I had improved when my boyfriend pointed out how different I was to when we were in Cyprus last year. After he made the comment, I realised he was right. I found myself easily getting on and off the hotel sunbeds plus I did a few long days of excursions walking round all day and it was no problem at all. I had no problem spending all day on my feet and keeping up with everyone else on the excursions.
I didnt even realise all this to begin with, I was just doing it without thinking. I even had no painkillers all week! I think the heat helped with this though – I need to move somewhere hot..
The point I’m making really is that at a year post op I was thinking that that was it and that it was as good as I would ever be after this surgery. 
I know now that this is not the case, although it’s impossible and frustrating not to know that at the time. If you reading this and are at this stage around one year post op please remember you will still be improving and you won’t even realise it until you look back a good few months later and see how much easier things are still getting.
I had a wonderful holiday and did all the things I never imagined doing again (comfortably!) last summer.

Nothing is impossible and I still look forward to seeing what else I can do as each month passes by! 
Louise x

Psychological aspects of Scoliosis Surgery

Ever since my surgery I have been paranoid that my back will go back to how it was before my operation or that it will move/change in some way. I know the metalwork is strong but I can’t help worrying about it.
For the first few weeks that I was home after my surgery I was constantly taking pictures of my back from different angles and I would panic if I thought that it looked slightly different from the one I took a few days before. It almost became an obsession.
Even now I still look at my back constantly, if I pass a mirror or a window I look at my back to make sure it still looks how it should do. I still take photos of my back to compare to a few months ago albeit it not as frequently now.
I do wonder if this is something that will ever go away or will I always feel this way? If so I feel like I’m living on edge, constantly worrying/thinking about my back.
My mum sees me looking at my back a lot and tells me to stop and “move on” with my life but it is hard. I think 10 years of looking a certain way which then suddenly changes overnight is a lot to deal with. I’ve been so used to looking at/taking photos of my back constantly before surgery that I guess old habits are hard to break.
I truly believe that the psychological part of this condition is often overlooked by doctors and yet for me it’s a part I feel I suffer with the most, even after surgery.

For me, my back looks alot better than before but I don’t feel I look “normal.” I still don’t feel comfortable in certain clothes, I still feel very self concious most of the time and I still don’t like anyone seeing/touching my back.

I didn’t expect to feel this way after surgery and have received no guidance on how to deal with it. I don’t know if others feel this way after scoliosis surgery but for me this recovery is not just physical, it’s emotional aswell.

I don’t know if I should go to my GP and explain how I feel or whether this is just normal after such a huge change to my body. 
Hopefully I won’t feel this way forever and will be able to have just one day without even thinking about my back.

Weekend Away

This weekend I went away to York for a few days.It reminded me that I still find travelling/weekend’s away a bit of a pain, here’s why:
Train Journeys – luckily I wasn’t alone but I don’t think I could travel on my own with a suitcase on a train. Trains are annoying at the best of times, I could rant all day about them to be honest. 
I have to reserve a seat really as I can’t stand for an entire train journey. The annoying thing about this though is that if I can’t reserve a seat for some reason then because I look young/”normal” I feel as though people are judging me for sitting down say, for example, if someone older is standing nearby.
I also can’t carry my case and it’s virtually impossible to get through a train journey from start to finish without having to carry your case at some point, even if you have a roller case like I do. There are generally lots of stairs (why do sooo many train stations have so many stairs?!) and when you get on the train there’s usually a pile of cases already in the luggage area so then you have to either struggle to lift to put it on the pile of cases or stuggle with your case through the train aisle to get to your seat, which are not wide enough to wheel your case through.
Then when you get to your seat if there’s nowhere to put it next to you, you have to lift it to get it onto the overhead lugguage rack, which I can’t really do.

After all this my back is generally killing and I can’t wait to sit down but then the train seats aren’t exactly the most comfortable and I have the usual problem that my back can’t bend and mould to the seat so it’s usually an uncomfortable journey.

Walking – weekends away in a city generally involve being on your feet all day and this weekend was no exception! Although my back was a lot better than the last weekend away I had late last year and the lower back pain wasn’t as bad but a long day walking round in the freezing cold (there was ALOT of snow in York and it was minus 7 at one point!!) does take its toll believe me. 
Plus I was scared of slipping as there was snow/ice all over the pavements.
I took some heels with me to wear out on the Saturday night but when it came to Saturday night it was sooo cold and slippy outside and I would have had to walk quite a bit between places and to the taxi rank that I just stayed in my flat ‘snow boots.’ 
I felt a bit too casual but I didn’t want to slip and I knew walking round in heels would be uncomfortable aswell so that was a bit of a shame – this is why I hate the snow!!! Most girls in out that night didn’t seem to care though in their skyscraper heels…. sigh.
-Taxis– We got alot of taxis because we didnt know our way round plus our hotel was just outside the city centre. This part isn’t specific to weekends away but I realised this weekend that I CANNOT get in and out of those larger taxis with the slider doors. I can’t bend to get in and out so it’s really awkward  and because of this I managed to bang my head a couple of times in the process of trying to get in – ouch! 🙁
-Hotel beds – The hotel bed was really hard, which made me appreciate how much I love my memory foam topper at home! I woke up stiff and in pain every morning and then had to walk round all day and attempt to awkwardly get in and out of taxis…

Don’t get me wrong I had a really fun weekend away and I’m happy that I can do all these things but going away on the train is still not the easiest. It’s not much of a problem if I’m with someone who can help with my case or not mind sitting down with me throughout the day while I rest my back. 

It’s annoying sometimes as I might want to visit friends who live in another part of the country for the weekend but it would be quite difficult for me to do by myself if I had to go on the train.

Hopefully the more I do it though, the easier it will get in time.

A Momentous Occasion…1 year 6 months post op

Last night I got into bed but then I realised I needed to turn the light off, so I sat up.
Then I realised. I can sit up! I can actually sit straight up from lying down!! Without even thinking about it!!

This may not sound like much but for me this is a big deal.

I’m now 1 year 6 months post op and it’s only really over the past couple of months or so that I’m starting to notice improvements like this. 

I’d say I’ve pretty much felt the same between the 1 year post op mark and 1 year 5 months or so and I was worried that I wouldn’t improve much more.  That this would be it now. The best I’d ever get.

This to me though is proof that I am still improving. Proof how long this recovery actually is.

I can’t help but think that all my hard work at the gym is also paying off. For the past few months I’ve been working really hard, going 3 times a week and focussing on core muscle work.
Last week my fitness instructor asked me to do the “Plank,” which is basically lying face down on a mat, resting on your forearms and pushing off the floor so you’re resting on your toes and elbows only.
I was a bit reluctant at first as I haven’t really done any exercises on the floor since surgery and I was worried about hurting my back. It was awkward getting down that low and getting back up but he was impressed with how long I could hold the exercise, he said I can hold it longer than most people he sees so my core exercises must be working!
I’m now doing this exercise when I go to the gym, but resting on a pilates ball rather than the floor so I don’t need to get down that low.

I have really noticed that my lower back pain has improved since I started all these core exercises and I’m so happy that I can now do things like sitting up in bed, like I used to before surgery, without log rolling out.

Honestly, I thought I would never do this again. I thought that maybe the rods restricted me from being able to sit up without rolling on my side but it must be weak muscles and now I’m regaining strength in my back muscles things like this are getting so much easier.

Yes, it’s always in the back of my mind that what if I’m doing damage to my back/fusion/metal going to the gym all the time? This thought sometimes takes over and I’m scared to try new things but I’m getting to the point slowly where I’m realising that my back is stronger than I think.

I actually feel like I’m getting my old life back, after all this time.

Woohoo!!!

1 Year, 5 months post op

So I’m now 1 year 5 months post op and thought I’d update how I’m doing now. I think honestly things have been pretty constant which is why I’ve not updated for a while. 
Last month my physio referred me to an exercise on the NHS scheme, as I still needed physio but there was nothing more she could do for me herself as she didnt have the right equipment. I still have problems with my lower back feeling weak and painful, especially if I’ve been walking alot. 
So I’ve been referred to a local council gym where a qualified fitness instructor has designed a programme for me to help strengthen my lower back muscles and my shoulder. 
This is all free for 3 months which I think is pretty good! It’s all low impact stuff, basically using resistance machines on low resistance levels, walking on a treadmill or cycling for 30 mins, and various exercises on a pilates ball and with 1kg weights which I need to do 3-4 times a week. 
To start with I was quite cautious using the machines at the gym as it felt strange and I was worried about doing damage to my fusion or metalwork. This has been tough for me as I’m constantly worried about everything I do causing damage – I think because I was never really told what I could or couldn’t do after surgery. 
Anyway, the fitness instructor was saying that I’m actually behind in my recovery and I should have been doing these things much sooner to help my muscles and recovery. The reason why I didnt though was because I wasn’t sure if this was ok and you just don’t know what to do for the best half of the time. At least I’ve started now though and I have to say even after 4 weeks of going I HAVE noticed an improvement. 
My back muscles feel stronger and I’m able to do things I havent since before surgery like rolling onto my side to sleep and I also find it easier getting in and out of the car. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m now 1 year 5 months post op and it all just takes time, or it’s because of the physio or a bit of both but my back DOES feel stronger and I’m starting to feel more like my old self at long last. 
Although certain things (like wrapping Xmas presents, as I discovered the other night!!!) are still tough and I don’t think I was prepared before my surgery just how long this recovery takes and how frustrating it would be. 
I just need to remember how far I’ve come, this time last year I was still in my brace and on 8 tramadol tablets a day. Now I work full time and hardly take painkillers, maybe 1 tramadol now and again if I’ve had a long day walking.
Determination is the key… onwards and upwards!!
Louise xx