Happy New Year – 2014!

A bit late now I guess but Happy New Year! 

I wanted to write a bit of an update on me and how my back is doing now I’m 3 1/2 years post op. 

Flexibility wise my back is the best it’s been since surgery and bending to pick things up off the floor, rolling over in bed and things like that no longer seem to be an issue for me, which if you’d told me that at around 3 months post op I’d never have believed you! It seems that I can now bend quite normally and I notice my metalwork less and less now despite being fused to L3, which is encouraging. 

The only annoyance for me now is my shoulder, which I still get quite a bit of pain and discomfort in, partly because I have a winged scapula and the shoulder blade is not in the correct place. I’m not sure if this is down to my residual thoracic curve or as a side effect of the surgery or a bit of both. I went to the doctor mid last year about pain in my shoulder and lower back (which is not as bad, only if I’m on my feet alot) and she prescribed me Naproxen and referred me to the physio again. 

I started taking the Naproxen for a while but found it didn’t really do anything so, for now, I don’t take any painkillers as 1. I don’t like taking them and 2. I haven’t really found a painkiller that does the job and doesn’t have any horrible side effects. 

The physio I saw late last year was quite useful, she basically said the reason I get pain in my back and after I’ve been to the gym for example, is that as I have the metalwork in there, my muscles have essentially become “lazy” and some of them aren’t working as they should as they rely on the metalwork to do the work for them. So if I go to the gym for example, I end up using more muscles than I should do to over compensate for the ones that are being a bit lazy, which gives me more pain and achyness the next day.  I suppose it makes sense and I never thought of it like that. She showed me some simple exercises to do to “activate” some of my muscles again which I found very useful, although I must admit I didn’t have the time to do them as religiously as I should have done.

As it was an NHS phsyio, they can only see me for 6 weeks at a time and then discharge me even although I’ll never be “cured.” I think this time it was worthwhile going though, although no doubt I’ll be back again at some point! I think there should be a different system for people with long term conditions, as we need really need long term physio and support rather than continuously having to go back, see a new physio each time and be discharged again.

She did recommend a pilates DVD for people with long term back pain, so my plan now is to try that and see how I get on. It’s so hard to know what the best exercises are when you have spinal fusion as you want to keep your muscles strong but you don’t want to do damage or make any pain you have any worse.  I wanted to start going to the pilates classes at my gym but I just know I won’t be able to do half of the moves and will just end up feeling embarrased.

Anyway, I’ll update how I get on with the DVD, hopefully it will be of benefit to me!

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.

can you feel the metalwork in your back after scoliosis surgery

Half Woman, Half Robot…

So, what it is really like living with titanium in your spine?

Can you feel the metalwork in your back after scoliosis surgery?

Does it restrict you in any way?

I know I asked myself these very questions prior to my scoliosis surgery.

I am fused with two titanium rods and 21 screws and from T3 to L3, which is most of my spine.

The screws are also pretty big, as you can see from my X-ray above!

Can I feel the metal work in my spine?

Yes and no.

As I am quite slim I can feel my screws in some parts of my back if I actually touch my back but they don’t cause any pain or problems. If I lean back on a hard chair it can sometimes be uncomfortable – some of the screws at the top of my spine can dig into certain chairs. It’s not painful just a bit uncomfortable sometimes depending on the chair. A cushion is a must!

In everyday life though when I’m walking about I can’t actually feel the metal in my spine. Straight after surgery I was very stiff and walked a bit like a robot for a while but as my recovery goes on I’m starting to feel much more “normal” each month.

Maybe I’m just getting used to it but it is at last starting to feel normal for me.

I only notice it now really if I bend down to pick something up or I’m in a situation where I would usually bend my back. For example, when getting dressed, shaving my legs, tying shoelaces, getting in and out of the car etc as I can’t bend the fused part of my back.

This is sometimes awkward but on the plus side I now have thighs of steel as I have to bend by bending my legs instead. I can still do all the above things, it just takes me a bit longer now 🙂

If you had a shorter fusion you would probably notice this lack of flexibility much less as you mainly use the five lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5) when bending. The more of these lumbar vertebrae fused, the more your flexibility will be affected post surgery.

Internal support…

A benefit of having titanium rods in my spine is that I feel like I have an internal brace and I personally love this feeling!

I feel supported from the inside and I can now sit for hours unsupported (e.g. on a bench or stool) and feel really comfortable, which I could never do before surgery. Also, because you can only sit up “straight” it gives you fantastic posture without even trying, which is a huge plus.

For me, I think this is a novelty that will never wear off, especially after years of looking like I had bad posture due to my scoliosis.

I’ll try and show you an example of this – the below picture is me sitting up “straight” before surgery, it looks like I’m slouching due to my “rib hump”:

can you feel the metalwork in your back after scoliosis surgery
Posture before scoliosis surgery
can you feel the metalwork in your back after scoliosis surgery
Posture sitting after scoliosis surgery

I know the one above is taken from a different angle but this is me now sitting on a chair sitting normally or “slouching” from the same side.

I now don’t really need to lean back as the metal supports me and in fact it’s actually comfier not to as my back won’t bend and mould to the chair.

If you have any questions about the metal work, please contact me and I’ll do my best to help!

Louise xx