Skiing after back surgery

MarcoMarco Posts: 1,365 Crazy Baller
I'm staring down the barrel of a disectomy and laminectomy with fusion this fall. Basically, it is a single level fusion (L4-L5) with decompression to alleviate the stenosis, and the fusion is required due to severe spondylolethsis. My surgeon, who is a nationally renowned spinal surgeon, says that after recovery, I will be able to do all the activities I currently do, along with all the ones I have had to give up.

Does anyone have experience or knowledge about returning to skiing after such a procedure? I am 54, and am happy when I get a few at 38, but more often I am knocking my head against the wall at 35. Will I be able to return to the same level of mediocre skiing after surgery? Any feedback is much appreciated!


  • skibummskibumm Posts: 106 Baller
    I had a three level fusion from L4-S1 because I shattered L5 in a snow skiing accident. That was three years ago on Dec 31st. It takes some time to feel 100% ok for me its more like 90% but it does not stop me from doing anything. There are times when I fall that I feel it and it scares me a bit. You will be much better because you are not actually missing bone. They had to remove my L5 al but completely.
  • Chef23Chef23 Posts: 4,891 Mega Baller
    I have only had a micro-discectomy which was pretty trivial compared to what you are facing but I think if you do the rehab and get strong after the surgery you should be fine.
    Mark Shaffer
  • MrJonesMrJones Posts: 1,674 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    I believe that after a single level fusion you should have no problem returning to a high level of skiing. I would take the time that is needed for the fusion to solidify, mainly going with your surgeon's advice. You will have an excellent opportunity to rehab for an extended period.

    When you do start back you might want to take the opportunity to try and make some basic changes in you skiing that will make life easier on your back. I recently have been trying to incorporate some things that Chet Raley is a proponent of and feel that this style of skiing is less abusive than what I have been doing for years.

    Overall, I believe the glass is 1/2 full for you. Good luck!
  • grab2gograb2go Posts: 37 Baller
    Not trying to plug Dave, but the powervest has helped me...
  • ozskiozski Posts: 1,395
    Good subject, I'm skiing much less right due chronic back pain. Physio says that structurally everything is fine but its still nasty pain when I get it wrong. Best of luck whatever way you go.
    'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.'' Boat 2005 Nautique 196 6L ZO - Ski: KD Platinum

  • cragginshredcragginshred Posts: 645 Crazy Baller
    edited July 2014
    Marco, I work in PT and because I do not ski -38 my advice here is not always 'heard'. You seem to grasp the fact the fusions are never ideal and apart from your 'spondy' I would normally advise against it. I do not rehab many water skiers but can tell you one of the owners at my lake has a fused low back and skis hard into -35. The biggest thing I tell my pt's is 'do not rush the physiology'. You are looking at 6-8 months off skiing minimum but will definitely by ripping it up again!
    Gentle stretching of the hip flexor, ham, piriformis, calfs are all key while doing ****'non aggravating'*** cardio and core strengthening. pm me if you have any questions!
    Vapor pro 2017
  • 6balls6balls Posts: 4,530 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    5 weeks from 2 level cervical fusion. I was told no skiing this season...ideally til next spring. Bummer but want to get the healing right because if it heals well I'm told no restrictions ongoing.
    Now allowed to turn my head (avoid flex/extend), been back at work for 3 weeks, up to a 20 lb lift/carry restriction and can do upper body lifts in gym if don't cause neck strain or axial loading. Nothing overhead for now heavier than my hands n arms. Been working legs, riding stationary bike. Plan to hit the core hard over the recovery and perhaps build a stronger lower spine for future skiing.
    Dave Ross--die cancer die
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,365 Crazy Baller
    Thanks for all the feedback. It has reinforced my decision to move forward.

    @cragginshred - Your voice is important. Thank you very much for the input. I listen to what everyone has to say, regardless of skiing ability. Years ago, when I was teaching snow skiing, the head of the ski school once said to respect all of my clients regardless of skiing ability, because the one who might be struggling most may very well also be the best brain surgeon in the world. Everyone has their talents. That really hit home to me and I still think about it 30 years later.

    @6balls - Good luck on your recovery. I was definately taking your situation into account when I decided to have the surgery. Heal well!

    @MrJones - Thanks for the input. I am curious to hear about the techniques that Chet is talking to you about. I imagine it has something to do with low load skiing. If you have a chance, please elaborate.
  • RichRich Posts: 243 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    I feel your pain, I too have spondylolethsis. I discovered I had it when I was 15. The combination of learning to barefoot that summer and highschool football workouts made me realize something was wrong. The doc at the time said that I should study hard because I couldn't make a living with my body. I did stay in phyical condition, however I had at least 1 back episode a summer for the next 35 years. I found Yoga when I was 40. Bikram Yoga at 50. 4 years ago I decided to do Bikram 5-6 days per week. Since then I have not had any back problems. I can ski thru 38 and have been doing that for 20 years. Bikram has been the best thing I have done for my body. I would also work on my psoais stretches. I would avoid surgury if possible.
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,365 Crazy Baller
    @Rich - Unfortunately fusion is required due to the instability in my spine. I have already spent quite a bit of time and effort strengthening my core, which is allowing me to get through the summer. I haven't tried yoga yet, but maybe it is time to start.

    Way to overcome your back issues to be one of the top skiers in Mens 5! I'll look you up to say Hi at Regionals at Laku. I'll be the guy wearing 3 back braces and going off the dock early in Mens 5 (unless I am able to knock down a 35 between now and then)...I hate being early off the dock!
  • RichRich Posts: 243 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    Do Bikram... forget the surgury. Don't be paying for the doc's pool!
  • RichRich Posts: 243 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    I just signed up for regionals, my ski site is dry, practice is limited. We shall see how Bikram helps my mind. Its all there anyway! LMAO!

  • RichRich Posts: 243 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    western medicine treats the end... start from the beginning.
  • RichRich Posts: 243 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    Bones don't cause instablity, weak muscles do,
    tight psoais can contribute in a BIG way also.
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,365 Crazy Baller
    edited July 2014
    As do stretched ligaments. I am not familiar with where a psoais is. Please educate me.

    Sorry to hear about your dry ski site. Where in Cal is it? If you are driving out to ski in the warmup tournament, feel free to stop by our lake for some sets. We are an hour south of Grand Junction.
  • RichRich Posts: 243 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    here you go
  • RichRich Posts: 243 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    stretch psoas
  • 6balls6balls Posts: 4,530 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    I would have avoided surgery if at all possible, but given most of my spinal cord was compressed didn't have any choice. Was told in the meantime prior to surgery "just don't fall down" to avoid ending up a quad. Also had a number of severely crushed nerve roots due to neuro-foraminal stenosis.
    Don't even want to know what my lumbar spine looks like...been a problem since teens. My bro is having some success temporizing his with core work. @rich send me a link on Bikram yoga. My history is far from that as a comp powerlifter so philosophically very different but probably a road I need to explore with age...I'm also about the most inflexible person in the world so worth a look. Suggestions for how to start as a beginner would be cool, too. I probably can't do much of it just yet, but two months from now I should be cleared for all but heavy contact sports.

    Dave Ross--die cancer die
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,365 Crazy Baller
    @Rich - Thanks for all the info. I am leaving now to drive 175 miles to ski in a tournament, so I'll review the information on stretching the psoais when I return tomorrow.

    @6balls -I have severe stenosis as well, in my lumbar spine (and C2-C5 as well, but thats another story). Just the thought of eliminating the chronic pain is appealing. I hope your recovery is going better than expected!!
  • Than_BoganThan_Bogan Posts: 5,654 Mega Baller
    Psoas is huge for skiers. Few sports load them like we do. And the asymmetry of our stance makes it even more interesting.
    Nathaniel Bogan -- GUT Padawan
  • eddie_roberts_jreddie_roberts_jr Posts: 427 Water Ski Industry Professional
    I had laminectomy/decompression surgery on Thursday @ L3/L4. I'm sore as hell at the surgery site but WAY better in several places in my back and hips. The doctor was pretty proud of himself and said it only took about 45 min. and came out perfect. I probably should have had it done at least 6 months ago. I can walk upright now!
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,365 Crazy Baller
    @Rich - Thank you for the info on the psoas stretching and strengthing. I did the first go'round this morning, and can already feel the benefits! Like @6balls, I am pretty inflexible, and just a half hour of the stretches helped relieve tension in my back. I will definitely incorporate it into my daily routine.

    @eddie_roberts_jr - Glad to hear your surgery is already showing positive results! I can only imagine what it must be like to be without the chronic pain after years living with it. I hope you have a speedy recovery!
  • PatmasterPatmaster Posts: 143 Baller
    @Rich, been doing Bikram since I turned 45. Changed my life (now close to 53), I even financed my own studio. Last year been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which explained why I was so stewed up last season. Continued Bikram, however I find it hard to do it every day, especially if on a tournament. Glad to hear you swear by it, I'm also a big believer. Talked several skiers into trying, most did not stick. Once bumped into Natalia Brednikava near Orlando in a Bikram studio. She used it as a part of her rehab program. Not sure if she is now still a regular. Aside from skiing, Andy Murray was big on Bikram, but he had a back surgery last year. I wonder if he still does it. Anyway, it is one of the best quick-fix-it-all fitness routines I know. And if you are smart, you will not bend too much when it starts to hurt, but reap the overall benefit by sweating all the toxins out of your body.
  • PatmasterPatmaster Posts: 143 Baller
    @Marco, any updates? Did you go for surgery or did you start doing yoga? I was advised surgery a couple of days ago - have difficulties coming to terms with that!
  • JoeMacJoeMac Posts: 44 Baller
    I had c5-c6 fused 4 years ago. Tried to go back too soon. And was set back due to the muscle atrophy I had sustained from the injury. After the first setback I got a power vest and have used it for the last 3 years. At the end of this season I am finally able to ski without the power vest. It has taken me 3 years to strengthen my left shoulder back to about 80 percent of what it was. I still use a unilateral shoulder brace. I think it is critical to continue doing the exercises that the physical therapist shows you forever!!!! I think that if I had started doing those exercises from the beginning, I never would have had to have surgery. I know I didn't have lumbar injury, but I know a lot of skiers that have. I have seen those types of injuries end their skiing. For the lumbar having a strong core is critical. I would focus on that all off season. Hope that helps
  • skibummskibumm Posts: 106 Baller
    I had no choice on surgery as I had a vert that was crushed and in 20 pieces. I was walking on a treadmill (in my turtle shell) 1 week after surgery. I was not allowed to do anything but walk for 4 months. I did not do any formal PT at all. I am the type that hates to sit still and I kept asking about PT and the response was that he wanted to keep me from doing things as every appointment I would ask if I could do something like swimming or biking etc. I was in very good shape before the accident. Finally he allowed me to bike and even lightly jog on a treadmill. After 6 months I was back in the gym working out. I lift for strength (even though I am a puss still) but since my surgery I have run 5 full ironmans and 4 halfs. I have a stretching routine that I do twice a day and Yoga twice a week. I was 46 when I had my accident and I really have no ill effects from the surgery. I can't put my palms on the floor like I used to able to do but I am more limber than most still. Plus I have a cool scar.
  • 6balls6balls Posts: 4,530 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    @joemac i had C4-5 and C5-6 done June 5. Was on exercise bike by day 3 post op and within a few weeks light free weights though no shoulder work. Kept after legs throughout. Now back to pushing heavy upper body and have one shoulder workout under my belt. Did some smith military press, lat raise and shrugs for sets of 20. Getting away with heavy curls, heavy bench and flies, weighted dips, and tricep press downs. Core every a.m.

    Today legs n back. I haven't pushed back (lats) real hard kinda like the shoulders hoping to dial back and shoulders up slowly now. Like you each time I started to advance my neck muscles would get sore...I think mainly they are just out of shape from disuse. Just before the 3 month mark I hit tennis balls with my daughter and was stiff/sore for 2 weeks.

    Was tempted to ski in practice at skiwatch tourney as feeling good but glad I didn't...they tell me not to ski til spring and my back/shoulders are not in shape. I am now bringing a rope to the gym and doing some static leans in ski position as well.

    I think the hard thing about these neck procedures is I started feeling pretty good pretty quick...but it wasn't ready to "go" yet.
    Dave Ross--die cancer die
  • MarcoMarco Posts: 1,365 Crazy Baller
    @Patmaster - Good timing for reviving this old thread. I am going in for surgery on Monday. Unfortunately, yoga would not help the instability in my spine, or the stenosis, so surgery is my only option. My surgeon said that after surgery (and recovery) I will be able to start doing all the things I had to give up over the years due to my back. I'm sorry to hear you may need surgery also. Keep in mind that medical techniques have advanced drastically over the last several decades, and full recovery is the norm, not the exception.

    @JoeMac - Point well taken on taking the PT seriously. I learned that during my rehab from a major shoulder rebuild several years ago. I spent 2 hours a day for 7 months doing my exercises, and that shoulder is better than new.

    @skibumm - That sounds like a major injury. How did you crush your vertabrae?
  • skibummskibumm Posts: 106 Baller
    @Marco‌ I was snow skiing (coaching some under 16 big mountain skiers) I hit a cliff a bit too hot and over jumped where I should have landed and landed on a much less steep location. So I landed a 60 ft cliff and came to a stop too quickly without enough angle to dissipate the speed. The compression of the spine basically burst the weakest link. Moral of the story stop doing stupid stuff before you turn 46 as your body will betray you.
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