I’ve never really considered myself an athlete. But I have always been a pretty active person (with the exception of a few periods in my life – I’m looking at you, college years).
I started dancing at age 5. I danced continuously until I graduated high school, and then off and on until my late 20’s.
I began running in my 30’s, and by my 40th birthday I’d run two full marathons and maybe about a dozen half marathons.
When I was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis and had to stop running in 2015, my interest shifted to yoga. I loved yoga, and despite my lack of natural flexibility, it felt right – like something I could someday be good at. I stuck with it for as long as my body would allow, but eventually I had to give it up too.
Since my spinal fusion surgery in May 2016, I’ve dabbled in yoga here and there, but for the most part I’ve been unsuccessful. But not so much because of my physical limitations – it’s the mental challenges that trip me up. Things like being patient with my body. Accepting where I’m at. Not letting my ego trick me into doing things I know damn well I shouldn’t.
I wind up frustrated, in pain, or both. Or worse, I become scared to even try.
Can you relate?
Yoga + Other Exercises after Lumbar Fusion
As I recently shared on Instagram, I’ve started to feel like I’ve reached a turning point in my spinal fusion recovery/life. Maybe it was reaching the 2 year mark in May. Or perhaps I’m just tired of sitting on the sidelines – I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I’m finding myself wanting to do more. I feel like I’ve plateaued in my recovery. It’s time to push past my fear, expand my limits, and get myself moving.
I’m still not ready for running. And as much as I’d love to learn to tap dance (#bucketlist), it’s probably not the smartest idea right now (ouch). But yoga – well, yoga seems like something I can do, as long as I do it with the proper guidance and modifications.
As I begin this next step, I’d like to share some of what I’m learning with you (here and/or on Instagram). My hope is that not only will it be useful info for you, but also that it will help keep me accountable. I feel a little like I’m starting from scratch, which is both exciting and daunting.
Alignment Paths: Spinal Fusion Yoga
There are a surprising number of online resources for yoga (and other exercises) after a spinal fusion. Some of them come from physical therapists or other medical professionals with expertise in spinal disorders. Others come from yoga practitioners with fused spines. My favorites (so far) are resources that combine the best of both worlds. That’s why I love Julie Wilkins, founder of Alignment Paths – she’s a licensed Occupational Therapist, a certified Yoga Therapist, and a spinal fusion warrior of 30+ years!
I first found Julie on YouTube (click HERE for her channel or search YouTube for Julie Wilkins), where she has a number of (free) videos to guide your practice, as well as practical tips for living safely with a fused spine.
I’ve followed along with several of her YouTube classes, and I like them a lot. But don’t let the idea of “modified yoga” fool you – her workouts are still challenging, especially for someone who’s just getting started or who’s starting over. But challenging in a good “shaking-quad-muscles” kind of way, not in a “what-was I-thinking” way.
On average, Julie’s YouTube classes are about 15 minutes long. She also has a number of longer courses and workshops, which you can find on alignmentpaths.com. These are paid classes, but I think they’re priced very reasonably – $20 or less per individual class, plus most are downloadable for future use. My goal is to work my way through the free resources (I’m particularly interested in her core workouts) and then try some of her paid courses.
Are any of you familiar with Julie, Alignment Paths, or her Forever Fused community? Do you use any online resources for spinal fusion exercises or yoga? Please share in the comments!
7 yrs ago I had a fusion @ L3-4. I found the best exercise post op to be walking, slowly increasing distance daily. I counted mailboxes adding one everyday. As I got stronger it was songs on my playlist that I added. Then I would play around with speed, picking up the pace between mailboxes and songs. But above all it was Pilates. Using the principles and breathing to engage my deep ab muscles to brace and support my low back fusion ALL DAY LONG I feel is the key.Think brace/engage before standing from a sitting position or bending down to pick up a basket of clothes or a bag of groceries.
Today I run, do boot camp, cycle and yoga ♀️ with modifications of course and always while protecting my back.
Hope that helps. There is a joy on the other side.
Pam Zimmerman says
So glad to have found your blog. My lumbar fusion, L 3-5, was 7 years ago when I was 60 years old. Thanks for reaching out to others about your success. I found it is so important to stay active after healing from surgery. It’s also imperative to strengthen the low back opposing muscles which would be abdominals. After surgery I asked my PT what would be the best way to do this and he told me to enroll in a mat Pilates class. I loved the classes so much I became a facilitator. Using a forced exhalation breath while engaging the TA is key. Pilates taught me to”lean” on my abs and not my fusion.
In addition to an occasional 3 mile jog, I facilitate/practice yoga, indoor cycling and boot camp. For me I feel the strong active core strength I learned while doing Pilates has been the key to staying physically active and engaged.
By the way, I did a Zoom session with Julie. She was e tremendously helpful.
Malinda Kassapakis says
Hello my name is Melinda I had a Lumbar fusion it went horribly wrong. I had this surgery in 2017. I trusted the doctor when he called me to tell me that he could take away all my pain and I would never have to worry about it again. I had just had a small bag incision where they scrape a little bit the week before so I was stunned when Dr. Hohl called and stated he could see what my problem was. I didn’t know there was a problem. I was still healing from the surgery that was only 10 days out when I got a call stating I should go back in for surgery and have this lumbar fusion. This call came on Wednesday and I was in having surgery on a Friday I didn’t even have a chance to research what a lumbar fusion was and why I needed one. It turns out I didn’t need one and after the fusion was done the pain was extreme. The doctor had to catch a plane so he wasn’t even there to see if I was OK after I woke up. I had complications immediately but they needed me to get out and start walking. I did everything I was told and so much more. I had to deal with the pain that was getting worse and worse and I called the Doctor Who is Dr. Justin Hohl. He said he knew that I needed this fusion but he couldn’t tell me why and he couldn’t understand why I was in pain. After many months we finally remove the metal and after having that removed I was still in so much pain. I went to have MRIs done CAT scans done talk to many different doctors including his own head surgeon. They had surgeon of Tosh in Salt Lake City Utah had said that I should never of had the surgery and he had no idea why I had it and that he would be asking the surgeon again Dr. Justin Hohl. After talking to Dr. Hohl he still decided that I should be fine and one day I will feel better but I haven’t in fact I have declined so much that I don’t know or remember how to feel good. I am in constant pain and I see a pain specialist because of the new laws preventing pain pills. So with everything said and done this doctor got away with doing surgeries after surgeries and not Just on me they were many others who I absolutely know have had surgery from him. With that said he continues to do fusion surgeries that are not warranted and he walks away with the money. I won hundred percent believe that he tells people they need surgeries when indeed they do not need this type of surgery. I am not just asking I am begging that anyone who goes in and was told that they need to have a back fusion that you think twice three times and even for get many many other Dr. opinions because if you don’t you will end up like me and your life as you know it will cease to exist. I pray that you all listen and hear what I’m saying and truly focus on what other means you can do before having a surgery that is so extreme. I have done much soul-searching and I cry every night before I go to bed and when I wake up and in the middle of the day because of the pain and Dr. Hohl Is allowed to practice and keep doing these surgeries that I don’t think he even knows how to do or understands what he’s doing or doesn’t care I’m not sure which but through this I hope that when you read this you know not to trust Dr. Justin Hohl he will truly be the worst thing that ever entered into your life.
Sharon, do you still feel like you are improving after the surgery? Or at what point do you think you finished seeing improvements? I felt that I improved extremely quickly in the few couple months after the surgery, improved much more gradually after that, and now have mostly plateaued in months 6-9. I have heard it can take over a year, but am just not sure how much improvement I should continue to expect. I appreciate you sharing your story and experience!
Sharon Wilhelm says
Hi Ashley! Let me see if I can articulate this… I feel like I’ve recovered from surgery. My bones have fused and I live a normal life. But I think I continue to improve over time, even now 2+ years post-op. It’s just so gradual that I don’t notice it as much. Like certain things will become easier – shaving my legs for example. And when I have a bad day, I seem able to bounce back more quickly. We went to TopGolf over the weekend, and my back was achy afterwards from all the twisting. But I felt better within a few hours, no ibuprofen or other meds required.
Does that make any sense?
Thank you for sharing! It is helpful to hear that the improvements should gradually continue. I need to work on being patient and not letting myself get frustrated thinking that “this is as good as it’s going to get”.
Barbara Amendola says
Hi Ashley, I hope you don’t mind me jumping in here. I am just at the nine month post op surgery mark. I too had a spinal fusion of my L4 of my L5. My plateau was probably around 5 to 6 months. I found that time to be the most frustrating and disappointing for me. However, I will say in the last two months, I have made huge strides. For instants the two activities that I do most often to strengthen my body are yoga and hiking. Hiking has been the most difficult because of the uneven terrain. But, with persistence I’ve been able to add a half a mile every few weeks to my route, and I am up to 4 1/2 miles per hiking trip. I too was told I can take a year to 18 months for a full recovery. It seems hard to fathom that nine months have already gone by, but I will say in those times where I thought my progress plateaued, the hardest work with to control my mind not to become discouraged.
Marlene Wallis says
I am about to have an L4-L5 lumbar fusion and laminectomy In the next few weeks. I am wondering if you would consider giving me some advise from your experiences during my initial post op recovery to your present time. I am physically active doing both yoga and spinning at this time can you tell me how you coped with any sadness or depression during recovery.
Hi Sharon. That’s a great article, I love this. I’m a Yoga beginner, I’m learning about Yoga to meet my weight loss point. I’m also thinking about other exercises such as Zumba dance as shown here http://www.womensedge.org/best-zumba-dvds/. So both Yoga and Zumba can help me meet the goal. What do you think about that? I have plan to loss weight 20 kg. Could you give me suggestions? Thank you in advance for your kindness.
Hi Issie! Do you have back/spinal issues? (Want to ask before I answer your question)
Barbara Amendola says
Sharon, I cannot tell you how refreshing and reassuring it was to read your post op 2 year status. As you know, I had my L4/L5 fusion last November, and while my recovery is coming along, being patient is the hardest part for me. I’m frustrated because I still can only walk about 3 miles pain free, but anything after that hurts. Yoga and stretches are my favorite things to do. I’m super flexible (which was probably part of my back issues), but endurance isn’t something I don’t have still. I hope this improves with time.
Most of my yoga poses or stretches were given to me by my physical therapy, or naturopath. Both of them also gave me acupressure points that I can do at home. I find these to be helpful to breakup lactic acid or relieve pain after pushing myself through walking or Yoga just a little too hard.
Here’s the link to a great online accupressure point finder.
Thanks again for your blog!!!
Hi Barbara! Thanks for the info. It sounds like something that could really help me at this point. I know exactly what you mean about patience. I just want to be my regular self some days, you know?