How can my father regain his mobility?
February 27, 2015 4:50 PM   Subscribe

My father, 57 years old, recently had C3 C4 spinal surgery to correct spinal stenosis. As I understand it, there was a narrowing of his spinal cord which prevented spinal fluid and motorneurons from moving freely so before the surgery, he was experiencing loss of feeling in his hand, had an uneven gate, began to have trouble moving his legs and fingers, especially after periods of rest. He was told that some patients regain almost all of their previous ability, but that most experience an end to the decline and regain some percentage of their prior ability.

He is very committed to regaining as much movement as he can. He's been doing physical therapy and stretching as prescribed.

5 months post surgery, he's still unable to sit for more than 15 minutes without then finding it hard to stand or walk. His gate is uneven, balance seems a bit better but is still an issue when he walks. Stretching seems to have helped. Sitting with his legs propped up or working while lying down improve his ability to stand.

I'm interested in collecting any useful experience of post-spinal surgery recovery; techniques; exercises, etc.
posted by sb3 to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My mother had this surgery in her late 70s. She never did regain the feeling in her fingertips, but with PT her balance and gait got much better. She's 84 now.
posted by OkTwigs at 6:21 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm younger than your father, and when I had spinal surgery at C5-C7 due to herniated disks I was in my mid-thirties. So it's not a 1:1 situation, but I can share what happened for me.

My first year after surgery was hell. The initial pain that caused me to go in went away immediately, and my strength in the affected arm muscles returned quickly, but it seemed like everything else suddenly was intensely painful. I found it hard to sleep, to sit in a moving car, to walk. I was depressed -- not just sad or angry, but intensely, almost suicidally depressed. One thing no one really tells you before you have surgery is that many, many people experience deep depression afterwards during recovery, and this can affect your progress.

It took me six months to convince my surgeon that I needed something more. He put me into intensive physical therapy, and I started to feel better in about 3 months. At a year out, I was still in pain, but just the sense of progress had me feeling hope again. Two years out, I felt 100% fine. But that first year... if it happened again, I'd probably rather they just take off the arm!

Spinal surgery is a huge insult to your body -- it changes everything. I went to PT three times a week at first, to build up muscles I never knew I had and remember how to move my body. In my experience, sometimes just going once a week and doing your stretching isn't enough. I needed to work out, and to get help working out, to regain my strength.

There were also some great isometric exercises my PT was able to give me that I did religiously, every day, to strengthen my neck muscles. Shoulder-shrugs helped, leg lifts helped, the kind of exercises where you put your hand to your head and try to press against it without tilting your head to the side, that also helped. Arm circles helped! The more I did, the more it helped. But one thing that was really key for me was having someone there to "spot" me for a while and tell me what was okay -- because everything hurt so much, I was afraid that I was doing myself damage. I didn't know where my limits were because I couldn't feel them - everything felt like something was tearing or breaking or about to snap.

I wish him all the best - it's a sucky place to be, and I hope he gets better really soon!
posted by kythuen at 6:22 PM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

You don't mention any physical therapy? Ask his doctor about a possible referral. PTs are the perfect people to assist with this sort of thing (advising exercise etc). Another possibility is a PM&R physician (physiatry/physical medicine and rehabilitation).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:56 PM on February 27, 2015

For outdoor movement, using trekking/walking poles with rubber tips on the end could be helpful. They're incredibly useful when one's balance is less than stellar, and when one has mobility issues. You can keep your arms quite still when walking on flat sidewalks/ground, letting them swing forward with their own momentum, so there's no twisting or shoulder swinging necessary for your gait.Here's a basic how-to, particularly on using the wrist straps in a better way than most do. Once you've built up the stabilizing muscles with PT, isometrics and everything else, you can wean off of them--they have been a part of my recovery (various things, including mid and lumbar spine stuff), getting me back on my feet sooner than I would have been otherwise, for longer durations.
posted by the letter at 9:00 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

« Older Trip cancellation etiquette amongst friends   |   New ipad recommendations. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.