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Back to Work: Life after Spinal-Surgery (Part Two)

Hello and welcome to my continuing rehabilitation after spinal surgery. In the last post I detailed my procedure and the steps I took to recover right after surgery. Now I’m in the rehabilitation phase of my post-op and continually going to Physical Therapy sessions to get strength and limberness back in my muscles to better facilitate healing and growth. Everything I’ve done is to help me get back to living a normal life as a working Musician and Musical Educator. It may not seem like the most taxing occupation, but playing an instrument in a professional capacity requires a great deal of physicality and stamina. Practicing and performing at the highest level possible involves standing and/or sitting for lengthy periods of time; both of which put a significant strain on the lower back, especially if poor posture is present. I suffered through many rehearsals and practice sessions without giving my body the proper care and forethought. When I finally put the thought into strengthening my back and body, the damage of my mind had already been done. This Blog is meant to share my experience as a younger-person going through an advanced form of spinal arthritis and how I’m handling my situation, but also in hopes that it can be used as a cautionary tale for those walking a similar path. With that being said, I’m in my second month of Physical Therapy and the results so far are promising.

After months of nothing but light walks around my neighborhood, stretching and stability exercises made my body feel like a folded up lawn-chair. My sessions in the beginning were short but still humbling. Every exercise and stretch was aimed at strengthening my body’s core and surrounding areas, most importantly the lower body. Stretches focused on my glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors while the exercises focused on lightly stabilizing the muscles most affected by the surgery. I’ve been to Physical Therapy many times before for back issues in my life and I expected the exercises to be very much the same, and some were; however the majority of the stabilizing exercises were completely new to me this time around. This might have been because the circumstances surrounding my need for therapy were different but regardless I found myself in uncharted territory for the first time in all my sessions.

For the first two weeks all of the exercises were meant to be completed entirely while laying down either on my stomach, back, or side. Most, if not all of my previous sessions in physical therapy had at least some form of standing exercise. Although it was a slower start, the exercises were refreshing while still making my body feel like something was changing and strengthening for the better. I had mentioned that I wanted to take my time and slowly ease into harder exercises, so it was exactly what I asked for, but still shocking in how different it was from previous experiences. After roughly two and a half weeks of very light core exercises, my therapist started upping the ante to increase strength and gave me one of the toughest exercises I’ve personally experienced in any workout program of my life, Exercise Ball Bridges.

Currently I’m doing the exercises I’ll probably be continuing with at home as my covered sessions are coming to an end. After the initial exercises my therapist added new and more challenging versions of exercises, all still focusing on stability but now adding in strength and stamina. One of my absolute favorites has been Exercise ball Squats. Normal squats are fantastic for building strength and stamina in the lower body, but put a tremendous strain on the lower back. Exercise ball Squats mitigate the exertion on the lower back by placing some of the strain on the ball itself. The exercise itself is simple but requires an Exercise ball to complete. All that’s required is to place the ball between your mid to lower-back and a wall, and then perform a normal squat with as stable a form as you can. Being that I’m an ambitious person when it comes to my body, I enjoy being able to do squats and feel like my legs are strengthening as well as my lower back and core. The rest of the exercises are common strength and stability exercises for the core such as deadbugs, clamshells, bird-dogs, and simple step-ups. One exercise in particular caught me completely by surprise this time around; Exercise-ball Bridges. Perhaps one of the most intense hamstring exercises I’ve ever experienced in my life, and one of the most humbling, these bridges are not for the faint of heart. Again the exercise requires the ball, but this time it requires additional spirit and gusto. While laying on one’s back, both feet are placed on the center of an exercise ball so that the legs are raised at roughly a 90 degree angle. From this position you must engage your core and prepare yourself for some “bullshit” as you lift your body into a bridge, raising your lower back and hips into the air while keeping your neck and shoulders planted, and pull the ball in towards your butt. Afterwards, you reverse the motions and that is one rep. I’ve done many odd and strenuous exercises in my life, but I can tell you with no ego that this is the hardest and most strenuous physical task I’ve ever had to complete.

Since doing these exercises at my provider's office and at home my strength and stamina are slowly returning and I’ve been able to actively start practicing more and more with every passing day. Sitting has become easier, standing is more bearable, and I’m more conscious of my body’s cues and discomforts. I feel very strongly that within the coming months I’ll be able to start working at a regular pace and get back to lifting weights in some capacity, and hopefully I’ll have the strength and stamina to start performing regularly again. While the process and my outlook are positive, the road to get to this point has been grueling and taken over a year to reach. I’ve lost so many opportunities and put so much of my life on hold that I’m starting from zero again. Please, if anyone reading this suffers from an ailment of the body, don’t wait. Seek out help and guidance from professionals and follow their advice. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it or overwork yourself, regardless of how mentally tough your mind is, the body has a very finite limit. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit equally. Until next, this is Andrew Garcia wishing you the best in all your endeavors.

Mr. Garcia holding a guitar. Whether he's playing music or just looking cool -- that's hard to tell!


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