View Full Version : Spinal Surgery and Aikido

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Karen Wolek
03-08-2006, 12:20 PM
One of the dojo guys (49 years old, 2nd kyu) asked me to ask::

"ask if anyone out there has had spinal fusion surgery (l5/s1 vertebrae) and if they do aikido and what the recovery time is"

He's got one messed up back...he has had sugery before and now may need it again. He has been off the mat for a few weeks now, due to bad back pain.

If anyone can help, that would be great!


03-08-2006, 02:47 PM

Nope. Nobody cuts me unless I am out of options. Bad back here. Last 25 years a cripple compared to how I was before some very serious groin and abdominal injuries.

Keeping this short - Chi Kung, Rolfing, Tai Chi Chuan, better options. Spinal surgery is largely experimental - chi kung has been helping (patient) people for over 4000 years.

The above are my opinions, but I will share that I'm back. I can do koshi nage, and take ukemi, about half as well as before I got hurt. Not bad for 'gimpy dave'.

Bid your friend good luck from me please.


Karen Wolek
03-09-2006, 07:12 AM
Thanks, David. I sure will.

James Kelly
03-09-2006, 07:13 PM
I had terrible back problems for years. The only thing that worked for me: Yoga. Iíd recommend a light style like Bikram.

03-14-2006, 12:41 PM
Thanks, David. I sure will.

Ask away. I have had three lumber surgeries but I passed on the fussion. That was a good thing since I am bad enough off as it is. I can still practice but I have to stretch up to an hour in advance and my whole left leg goes to sleep if I dont keep moving. Weapons are a killer! I would be happy to anwer any questions you, the original poster, or anyone has. I started a thread you can find by searching the work Handicapped or the like. Beyond just getting on the mat, there are many issues involving teachers that are not very understanding. Thankfully I got to shodan rank before I lost some functionality. Email direct to itsdaveh at comcast dot net it you like.

shodan 83
03-15-2006, 07:48 AM
I have had two surgeries; both at L4-5 and L5-S1, these were disectomies and not fusions, the first one was great for a while until scar tissue wrapped around several left side nerve bundles and would cause severe left leg phantom pain about five minutes after waking up. I could do weapons work for about five minutes then Iíd have to bend and stretch my lower back or go insane. After about a year of severe pain I opted for another surgery which has worked out well.

Here is what Iíve found since, if your friend is having back pain he most likely does not need surgery. Surgery is for the relief of pressure on the nerves which run from the spinal area and cause pain in the lower extremities if they emanate from the lumbar and sciatic area of the back.

In retrospect; if I had it to do all over again I would have not had the surgery. I would suggest having your friend explore weight loss, physical therapy, Tai Chi, Taijiquan, spinal decompression, and acupuncture. Continue to train when he can, and be aware of his limitations. Shop around for other neurosurgeon opinions, and remember they make their living from doing surgery. Find one that will prescribe an aggressive alternative to surgery, and will do the surgery only as a last resort. Iím not a physician; this is just my experience, Iíve been training Aikido for thirteen years now. Tell your friend good luck!

03-15-2006, 02:49 PM
A lot of whether he will be able to practice is going to be individual. If he has severe disc degeneration, a herniation hitting nerve roots, spinal stenosis, etc. all play a factor. Surgery success rates are not encouraging and I have seen statistics stating anywhere from 30-50% failure rates. New technology has developed artificial discs. One of my patients had this done in Germany where they have done it for over 10 years using the Charite (French)-I believe that is the spelling-artificial disc. He traveled all over Europe after the surgery and had a great result. However, everyone is different. The artificial disc is encouraging since it comes close to the movement properties of the normal disc. This prevents or lessens the likelihood of a disc at another level going bad.

A surgeon specializing in sports medicine would be more likely to be encouraging about getting back on the mat-that's what they get paid for-getting athletes back on the field, mat, etc.

Another possible treatment might be decompression therapy if he is a candidate-VAX-D for example.

Karen Wolek
03-15-2006, 09:33 PM
Thanks, everyone. I am passing all of these posts onto my friend. Thanks so much for your time and sharing your experiences!

Janet Rosen
03-15-2006, 11:09 PM
i don't have link to research but its over 10 yrs ago probably that the study was done showing NO correlation between disc abnormality and back pain. that is, the study -- which was large and controlled, etc-- showed that folks with NO back pain were about as likely to have abnormalities on mri as folks with a lot of back pain. which should indicate that something other than/in addition to the disc abnormality alone is causing the problem. as a nurse, whil ortho was not my specialty, i knew of few people who were happy w/ results of fusions (though in some cases where the spine is really severely messed up it is probably necessary--most back pain patinets do NOT fit this profile)
personally, i agree w/ those who recommend looking into therapies that involve dealing with areas where the nerves can be pinched/entrapped by muscle distal to where the nerves exit the spine (myofascial trigger points) and movement based therapies.

Karen Wolek
07-09-2006, 12:59 PM
My friend wanted me to let you all know he "hobbled onto the mat" yesterday morning. He had the surgery on April 11th, so he got back on the mat a little less than three months post-op. He did the warm-ups/stretches and the first half of class or so. No falls. I did not get to practice with him, though....sensei had him pair up with the second-in-command the whole time. To protect him from the rest of us or from himself, I dunno. ;)

James Kelly
07-09-2006, 04:53 PM
that's great. let us know how long until his pain comes back...

Lyle Bogin
07-12-2006, 09:44 AM
Spinal injuries and ukemi...I dunno man. I wouldn't be able to throw someone if I knew that had this problem.

07-12-2006, 09:50 AM
Spinal injuries and ukemi...I dunno man. I wouldn't be able to throw someone if I knew that had this problem.
then by all means don't throw the man! ;)

07-10-2007, 01:10 PM
I have tried it both ways and I am much worse if I dont practice Aikido anymore. Just the stretching is not enough. I quit taking breakfalls along with most of my over 50 friends. I am with a teacher that is aware of my situation and of course they all get their signed waivers. I can do most anything except any Koshi and standing stationary waiting to do a weapon's kata throws my back pain off the charts! As long as I keep moving and dont let gravity increase pressure on my lower disks I am practically normal. CBS news reported on a study of people with severe spinal stenosis and surgery was working out well some 70% or the time. This wasnt true though for herniated disk patients. But they are still all 'Practicing' their medicine and even if you feel cured after a surgery, you dont really know what the end result is until the area has completed healing. (BTW, it took me about 4 months after surgery before I could return to the mat.) Scar tissue forming after a seeming successful operation can give you back symptoms worse than you started with. That is the part they dont tell you. If they ever discover a way to remove material from arthritis and stenosis encroaching on your nerves, without cutting tissue, only then do I think aggressive procedures can be assured of always producing good results. I think a spinal stimulator, installed sort of like a pacemaker, would solve my current problems (unchanged from my initial entry near the top) but I doubt I could get myself thrown around the mat with such a device installed. Recently I have started to get some extra relief by hanging upside down for 20 minutes a day, but too soon to tell if it is helping long term. You all keep stretching!