View Full Version : recovering from back surgery

February 28th, 2009, 07:28 PM
i had a question about swimming and recovering from back surgery. i just wanted some input from anyone that is in or has been in my position. i am 30 and had a microdiscectomy in december 2007 on l4/l5. i was a competitive swimmer until college and that's when the back problems started. ok so enough with the boring stuff, i have finished therapy after about 9 months and i began swimming again. my questions are more related to fears about rehernaition as i am not really sure how my back got messed up so bad in the 1st place. do i need to be worried about reherniation by swimming hard or doing flip turns, or really anything i used to take for granted in the pool? i have had some back spasms this past week on my 'good side' so i am beginning to worry a bit. its been tough because i literally think about every step or movement i make on dry land because i dont want to end up back on that operating table. as you could imagine its stressful :)

any input is appreciated.

February 28th, 2009, 09:23 PM
My wife just had a similar procedure done. Actually, twice in 2 months. She is considering swimming as a way to get her back into the great shape she was prior to the procedure, so although I don't have any insight to your questions, I'd be interested in hearing from anyone on this as well. Bump.

March 1st, 2009, 12:52 AM
I'd be interested as well. Just finishing up a second round of cortisone and surgery is looming. How are flip turns and starts after surgery?

March 1st, 2009, 06:28 AM
Swimming is often recommended after back surgery, especially for those with otherwise sedentary lifestyles. I started swimming daily at surgeon's insistence ("Swim!") about a month after open partial discectomy and laminectomy (L5-S1). Previously I was an occasional recreational swimmer, open water only, so my experience does not match any of those described thus far in the thread. Some reasonable steps:

1. Ask your surgeon and physical therapist.
2. Be reasonable. Even microsurgery is a major bodily intrusion affecting nerves, blood supply, skin wounds, and so forth. These tissues restore at different rates. The functional unit of the joint also needs to restore. If a nerve has been compressed, it needs time to return to normal.
3. I had muscle spasms from time to time for about 2 years post surgery. Stretch, be reasonable, etc.
4. Professional athletes get better therapy and have faster recovery times as a result. Some surgeons don't understand the kind of swimming you do; what is swimming to them might be noodling to forumites.
5. Every case is individual.

Swimming technique has changed over past ten years, and less stressful approaches might be available. A general strengthening program should also be helpful (30 is not 22!), one that addresses opposing muscle groups. Open turns work. Essentially, you are conducting an experiment of one. Most important here is making adjustments so that you will have a happy back and are able to enjoy life, including swimming, until you are 110.

(Yes, you will be able to do flip turns, but not 12 hours after surgery.)


March 1st, 2009, 10:48 AM
I went through some major lower back problems. My MRI revealed a bad disk. I had to quit running and I avoided surgery. I ran the 100, 200 and 400m. I never swam, so swimming was not the cause. I got into the pool and learned how to swim to reinvent myself. I would get alot if spasms and pain trying to learn swimming, but I continued to swim and learn. That was four years ago. I stuck with it and now I do all the strokes, plus about 100 flip turns a day. It just took time and alot of determination. I still get back pain and I must know my limitations, but I can train pretty darn hard.

I think there are real fast swimmers out there who have had back surgery.

March 11th, 2009, 05:31 PM
my questions are more related to fears about rehernaition as i am not really sure how my back got messed up so bad in the 1st place. do i need to be worried about reherniation by swimming hard or doing flip turns, or really anything i used to take for granted in the pool?

I'm four months into recovery from a lower back disc herniation with nerve root impingement (sciatica). I'm told it's a big-blowout herniation but surgery won't be necessary. I've asked and been told by medical professionals and other people with herniated discs that after I've fully recovered I can return to the same hard workouts I did before the herniation. The risk of disc herniation is always present whether you've had one or not, especially as we age. The only logical advice is "if it hurts, don't do it (until it gets better, i.e., manage it)."

The guiding principle is whether you compete. If you donít compete; hence, you swim just for exercise, you would incur less risk to injury simply because youíll naturally scrimp on intensity. But if you compete; hence, you swim for performance, risk would increase because youíre always pushing the envelope.

For me, Iíll see you at the races this summeróitís just flat-out too much fun!

March 18th, 2009, 01:56 PM
I had L5/S1 microdiscectomy surgery back in September 2003 (I was 35) after developing numbness and losing partial use of my left leg. I was swimming a little before the surgery and began swimming a lot after the surgery.

I was told that I should start walking the day after surgery and start swimming within a month. When I asked if there was anything that I should not do in the pool the doc said "no". Then I described what a flip turn was like. He suggested that I hold off on that. But he said that I could pick that up as I started to feel stronger. That didn't take long. I am guessing that I was swimming normally under two months after surgery.

Within 5 months, I was competing in all strokes. I was doing starts, turns and kickouts like I had prior to the surgery.

Since nerves take so long to heal, I had subtle problems like spontaneous cramping of the calf and numbness with my left leg that lasted for years, but as time has passed, I have gotten pretty close to normal.

I have had no additional herniation and have had a lot fewer low back pain problems since my surgery.

March 18th, 2009, 05:49 PM
I had L5/S1 microdiscectomy surgery back in September 2003 (I was 35) after developing numbness and losing partial use of my left leg.


What do you think the cause was in the first place? Does fly or SDK bother it at all? That's where I feel my lower back the most.

March 18th, 2009, 08:01 PM
I had microdiscectomy surgery on L3-L4 and L4-L5 in December 2000, the L4-L5 was actually ruptured and not realized until the time of surgery. I had been basically incapacitated for three months prior to surgery, not able to walk due to the crushing pain and then numbness in my left leg. It was very very painful, prior to and immediately following surgery. In February 2001 I was allowed to start walking in the pool, arms down at my sides. Once I was totally off all pain meds I was allowed to swim again and according to the surgeon "let pain be your guide." Thanks doc. I spent that entire summer swimming approx 4x per week long course and did a lot of kicking, with a board, no board, on my back etc. I felt a lot more flexible in my back after that summer and returned to swimming/training as much as I wanted. I am now swimming a lot faster than prior to back surgery. I won't say it never hurt again because it did, I had to learn to differentiate between pain I needed to push through and pain where I needed to stop. I think you have to push through some pain because if you stopped every time it hurt you won't progress. But only you will be able to make that decision for yourself. Swimming was/is the best thing for me personally, physically and mentally. The sooner I got back in the pool, even if I had to walk around like a water aerobics lady, the better.

March 18th, 2009, 08:27 PM

I do suspect that the SDK is involved. I had my first major flair up before the biggest meet of my senior year in college at a time when I was very focused on my kick. I also know of two other swimmers who had very good dolphin kicks who have had chronic low back pain and one finally went in for surgery.

I don't think it was the repetition of the motion so much that caused it. More likely, it was occasional incidents where the motion was pushed to an extreme; a bad start, an over enthusiastic kick or something like that.

Anyway, since my surgery, I don't have any concerns or pain doing dolphin kick.

March 19th, 2009, 08:29 PM

Glad your outcome was positive. It is nice to see swimmers deal with back issues and keep in the sport.

I love IM so I need to keep a certain amount of dolphin kicking in the program, but all in careful moderation.