Marcelle’s Story

On 18th June 2019, I had a lumbar laminectomy and fusion, as well as a sciatica nerve repair, after the neurosurgeon determined that there were degenerative changes in the S1, L4 and L5 vertebrae due to osteoporosis and extreme irritation of the sciatica nerve, causing it to feel as if it were almost touching the spine.

Being a long-distance runner, you can imagine the shock of waking up after the operation to realise that my life would never be the same again. Well, at that moment in time and for the next 8 weeks, that is what I thought as I slowly started the long and painful journey back to doing the most common day to day tasks, i.e. showering, going to the toilet, dressing, sitting, standing and walking.

With help from my beautiful physiotherapist, I got out of bed the day after the surgery, walked to the toilet the second day, showered the third day and climbed stairs the fourth day. All of this was done in excruciating pain, with the simplest task, such as going to the toilet, taking half an hour and all of my energy. Running, let alone any form of exercise, was the last thing on my mind. My biggest priority was getting rid of the pain, getting out of bed on my own, being able to sit and bath myself and, more importantly, get dressed.

For the first 6 weeks, I was not allowed to drive or be driven anywhere, so my physiotherapist came to me and, with her help, I did exercises to help me do the above tasks in an easier way and was allowed to walk for 20 minutes a day. Being a runner, my first thought was that I would be walking at least 2.5km a day. What a shock when my husband had to help me put on my running shoes, I started my Garmin watch and began to walk. All I could manage was 400m in the allocated 20 minutes. For some, this might be acceptable, but for me as a runner, this was mind blowing. I realised that I had a lot of hard work ahead of me and needed time to heal. I was determined not to give up, so I painfully did every exercise the physiotherapist gave me and managed to slowly walk around the house every day.

At my seven-week check-up, I asked the neurosurgeon if it was normal to be in so much pain, when would the numbness in my right leg and foot go away and when would I start running again. He looked at me with a wry smile and said it could take 6 months or more. That shocked me even more. As a runner, that was not what I wanted to hear and my brain went into overdrive thinking of ways and means of speeding up the process. However, the pain simply brought me back to reality and I soon realised I would have to listen to my body.

In the 7th week after surgery, my friend, Mary-Ann, contacted me to say she had also had a spinal fusion 6 weeks before me, that she had started going to Aquafit once she could drive and suggested I join her. I joined the low impact group with Mary-Ann and remember the first time I gingerly walked into the pool wondering what I was letting myself in for as I slowly lowered myself into the pool, one step at a time. I, was driven to the first lesson by my husband, as my right foot was still numb. Sandri was and is an amazing instructor, always paying attention to our “injuries” and always checking that the specific exercise was not hurting or causing pain. I felt an immediate improvement in flexibility and relief in the lower back following my first week of aqua. Indeed, my physiotherapist was amazed at how much more easily I was able to perform her exercises. When I explained what we did at Aquaft, she realised that I was doing all her exercises in the water. I am sure she will be recommending Aquafit after witnessing my improvement. I even started driving after the 1st week. with pain medication only being necessary when I over exerted myself. My running friends have commented that they cannot believe how I went from walking hunched up and in pain to upright and pain free after such a short time at aqua. When I started Aqua, 8 weeks ago, I could walk 4km at a pace of 14.51 per km, whereas today I can walk 10km at a pace of 10.36 per km. I sleep better, I bend more easily, I can put my own shoes and socks on, do housework and more importantly I can sit for longer than 10 minutes.

On 5th September, I could not even think about lying on my stomach. A month later, much to my physiotherapist’s amazement, I was able to lay on my stomach for back treatment, although rolling onto my side was an issue. Without Aqua, this would have taken so much longer. Mary-Ann and I upgraded from a “low impact” to a “medium impact” class within a month.
Although there is a long road ahead, I know that aqua aerobics will help build and maintain my muscle strength and flexibility, which will lead to a quicker and more complete recovery.

At Aquafit one is taught to use one’s core muscles which should strengthen and support the spine. I am of the opinion that, with aqua aerobics and walking, the road to recovery will be much quicker than anticipated. I highly recommend water exercise after a spinal fusion, working closely with one’s physiotherapist. Indeed, I would not be where I am today without the dedication, advice and guidance of my physiotherapist.

Marcelle Mclean


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