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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

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Old 01-15-10, 04:34 PM   #1
John's Wife
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Road Biking Post Spinal Fusion Surgery

Help! My husband is an avid road cyclist - almost 10,000 miles a year. After decades of pain due to degenerative discs, he just had double spinal fusion surgery of the L3 and L4 discs a month ago. Recovery is going well and his goal is to resume riding in the Spring, but the doctor/surgeon is recommending against it due to the riding position and the resulting increased load on his lower back. Doctor is recommending he switch to a recumbent, but as you can imagine, that's not a welcome option to a guy who parks his bike in our formal dining room so it's the first thing he sees when he comes downstairs in the morning!

We can't believe he is the ONLY road biking enthusiast out there who has had this surgery and also wanted to get riding again - at least that's our HOPE!! If you are one of those individuals, or a neurosurgeon with some experience in this area, can you tell us the following:

Is it possible to resume riding after this surgery?
If so, how long does it take?
If so, what needs to be done to ensure the back stays "fixed" while riding, i.e. special PT or equipment?

Thanks in advance for your replies....I can't imagine him ever being truly happy again without the ability to take to the road on his bike.
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Old 01-15-10, 04:38 PM   #2
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Bunch of us over Fifty Riders found that the Forward Lean on a road bike has eliminated most of our lower back pain.
I have 2 herniated disc's.
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Old 01-15-10, 04:43 PM   #3
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Can't speak to post-laminectomy riding, but my back feels best when I ride the most. Keeps it limber and strong -- and there's no twisting, which is where I have the most trouble.

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Bunch of us over Fifty Riders found that the Forward Lean on a road bike has eliminated most of our lower back pain.
I have 2 herniated disc's.
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Old 01-15-10, 05:48 PM   #4
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I hate to say it, but this is not a very good place to find unbiased opinion on a topic like yours.

This forum's readers and avid cyclists in general have a "suffering is good" credo. You'll probably get a lot of posts like the ones above. A commonly used term is HTFU....which means harden the f**k up. Of course those posting such advice won't have to live with chronic back pain, degenerative discs, a restless and grumpy spouse, or any of the consequences you've probably been dealing with.

Listen to your doctor. That he recommended a recumbent tells me that he does know something about cycling. More importantly he knows a hell of a lot more about your husband's particular case than anyone here.

My advice to your husband is listen to the doctor, do the most he can to enjoy his life. If that means giving up cycling upright on a road bike, so be it.
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Old 01-15-10, 06:14 PM   #5
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I have had L4/L5 fused. The doctor told me I should not bike. That was in 1997. I feal great riding and have no back problems.
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Old 01-15-10, 06:45 PM   #6
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I have T11, T12, L1, L2, & L3 spinal fusion, and harrington rods. This was done after a motorcycle accident in 1986. The doctors said I would never walk again. I spent 18 months rehabbing in wards. I started riding months after I got out of the hospital, or 2 months post walking without a cane, crutches, or walker. So less than 2 years post surgery. I have been riding for the last 21 years. When I do not ride I get intense back pain, and need drug therapy to deal with the pain.

Doctors are not the end all. A good athlete knows their own body. If I listened to the Doctors... I may still be in a wheel chair.
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Old 01-15-10, 06:50 PM   #7
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There is a lot to be said for cycling as therapy. I'm no doctor, but from what I have seen with friends/cyclists who have had back injuries, cycling makes it better or at least prevents the injury from getting worse (to support JaceK's position and that of others in this thread).
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Old 01-15-10, 07:15 PM   #8
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I have a C5/6 fusion and cycling is a huge benefit for me in regards to the usual chronic pain and stiffness I get in that region. I also have DDD in 3 lumbar discs with mild herniations as well. Cycling, emphatically does not cause me any problems. The opposite seems to be true. Riding a bike seems to help keep my core strong and the riding position does not aggravate it any way whatsoever. I can't imagine how a recumbent would be better in anyway at all. I tend to have the most pain and stiffness in my lumbar spine after 'sitting' for long periods at a desk, in a car or even on the couch. Cycling is the tool I use to undo all the damage my regular daily activities of driving and sitting seem to cause. Besides, the discs have been removed so you can't really make it worse. Sure you could stress the joints above and below but I firmly believe that as long as you manage your lifestyle by not over exerting your spine while bending or twisting all will be well. Might consider getting an adjustable stem to start out just to get the bars up and back a bit until the core muscles can be rebuilt. Best of luck to you both. Back pain is a terrible thing for someone to live with and it's not often you find another person who does not have back pain who understands what it's like and sympathizes.
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Old 01-15-10, 07:34 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 10 Wheels View Post
Bunch of us over Fifty Riders found that the Forward Lean on a road bike has eliminated most of our lower back pain.
I have 2 herniated disc's.
Correct. L5/S1 fusion for me in 2001. 60,000 road bicycle miles from 2005 through today. No problems.
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Old 01-15-10, 07:36 PM   #10
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The doctor told me I should not bike. That was in 1997. I feal great riding and have no back problems.
Ditto.

F the doctors and their cluelessness about backs. This cannot possibly be overstated. You won't know if you can tolerate it until you TRY It, but cycling is not particularly stressful on your lumbar spine, more stressful for your cervical spine (neck) area.

P.S. I had a neck fusion (C6-7) in 1999. That never bothers me either.
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Old 01-15-10, 07:37 PM   #11
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To wit:

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Old 01-15-10, 08:15 PM   #12
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Yup, me too. 60 yrs old, been riding since my teens. L4-5, 2 surgical procedures .. one at 27, second at 56. Still riding. Last year 4200 miles living in Ak.

Keep trying.
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Old 01-15-10, 08:26 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by patentcad View Post
Ditto.

F the doctors and their cluelessness about backs. This cannot possibly be overstated. You won't know if you can tolerate it until you TRY It, but cycling is not particularly stressful on your lumbar spine, more stressful for your cervical spine (neck) area.

P.S. I had a neck fusion (C6-7) in 1999. That never bothers me either.
+100. I've been through the chronic back pain wringer, too, including surgery. The most helpful advice I ever got about back pain was to look at what was happening in my life instead of my spine. Turns out, this was correct. Pain free for years now.
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Old 01-15-10, 10:40 PM   #14
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"the doctor/surgeon is recommending against it due to the riding position and the resulting increased load on his lower back."

Hmm......hubby rides 10,000 miles per year and this issue comes up AFTER surgery?

It's difficult for me to accept this is a serious post. Granting the benefit of doubt, though, I suggest, if you haven't done so already, contacting at least a few other surgeons for their thoughts about your husband's condition.
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Old 01-16-10, 12:35 AM   #15
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Two surgeries at L5/S1, including a full cage fusion, and one surgery at L4/L5. I was told to not ever ride again and foolishly listened for way too many years. I eventually decided to try and get back on the bike and it's the best thing I have ever done. I did seek other opinions before doinig so due to some nerve damage.

I feel best when I ride and train regularly. Extended amounts of time off of the bike leave me with lower back stiffness and increased numbness in my legs and feet.
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Old 01-16-10, 05:02 AM   #16
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To wit:

Honestly, I think about pcad and how his riding helped his back issues when my back hurts and Im trying to feel better. I have a disk with a circular crack in it and riding often makes it feel better.
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Old 01-16-10, 05:20 AM   #17
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....I feel best when I ride and train regularly. Extended amounts of time off of the bike leave me with lower back stiffness and increased numbness in my legs and feet.
+1
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Old 01-16-10, 06:41 AM   #18
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Doctor is recommending he switch to a recumbent, but as you can imagine, that's not a welcome option to a guy who parks his bike in our formal dining room so it's the first thing he sees when he comes downstairs in the morning!
Why not? They're still bicycles, some are nice looking enough to do double duty as house decoration, and are equal in performance to racing road bikes. Upright, recumbent, so long as he's recovered and without pain who cares? Aside from the many people who've posted saying that an upright relieves their back pain, there are many, many people who made the switch to a recumbent to relieve back pain.

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Old 01-16-10, 07:02 AM   #19
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Why not? They're still bicycles, some are nice looking enough to do double duty as house decoration, and are equal in performance to racing road bikes. Upright, recumbent, so long as he's recovered and without pain who cares? Aside from the many people who've posted saying that an upright relieves their back pain, there are many, many people who made the switch to a recumbent to relieve back pain.
+1 about a recumbent. What many are offering here is the advice of those who assume that their recovery will work for the OP's husband. It shouldn't be that difficult to find a back specialist who is also a cyclist and ask for a second opinion.
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Old 01-16-10, 08:52 AM   #20
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Man, you all have given us some terrific advice and more importantly, you've given us HOPE! Can't thank you enough - John is smiling for the first time in a long time. We're up to the task ahead - this is a guy who came back from quadruple bypass surgery 11 years ago, so we know it's a long road to hoe before he can keep up with his riding buddies once again. You are the greatest!!!!
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Old 01-16-10, 10:18 AM   #21
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Talk to the doctor some more. The problem could be in his perception of cycling. Typically to a doc, when a 40+ yo talks of cycling, it means sitting upright and putting pressure on the lower back. I know that was my experience. Once my doc understood it better he switched to "sports medicine" mode. He advised that I should keep my cadence on the high side - iow no extended mashing and no standing during recovery. After recovery he advised to make sure I used good form when out of the saddle - IOW don't stand too straight.
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Old 01-16-10, 10:59 AM   #22
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I've had C5/C6 fusion, and I have a degenerative disk in my lower chest/upper abdomen that will probably need surgery some day.

The recumbent is a fallback if and only if he can't ride his normal bike.

Remember, the vast majority of the patients a "normal" GP sees are couch potatos.
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Old 01-16-10, 11:17 AM   #23
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I think I would rather have my spine extracted before riding a "bent."

*Not that there is anything wrong with recumbents.
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Old 01-16-10, 11:33 AM   #24
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Of all the shenanigans I went through in 10 years of various medically approved,(but not guaranteed cures),the best cure for me was the exercises on Web MD for Lower Back Pain.I stuck it out all those years to avoid surgery for a herniated disc which seems to have slid back in place.From 1995-2005 it felt like a sharp knife in the nerve of my lower back unless I was crocked or full of liver roaching Vioxx pills.
If you can deal with the pain,ride a bike a few years,IMO,avoid surgery at all costs.
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Old 01-16-10, 12:09 PM   #25
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We've all heard the old story:

Patient: Doc, it hurts when I do this.
Doctor: Then don't do that!

What we often don't think about is the opposite:

Patient: Doc, it hurts when I don't do this.
Doctor: Then, DO IT!

Like the typical back exercises that are prescribed for us: we feel better when we do them. Cycling is the BEST 'exercise' that I do and when I don't, I feel like crap -- aches, pains, numbness in my leg/foot.

To borrow a phrase from way back -- "If it feels good, do it!"

I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV.

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Talk to the doctor some more. The problem could be in his perception of cycling. Typically to a doc, when a 40+ yo talks of cycling, it means sitting upright and putting pressure on the lower back. I know that was my experience. Once my doc understood it better he switched to "sports medicine" mode. He advised that I should keep my cadence on the high side - iow no extended mashing and no standing during recovery. After recovery he advised to make sure I used good form when out of the saddle - IOW don't stand too straight.
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