My Personal Experience with a Spinal Injury & how Massage helped … Kat’s Story
Most of my regular clients have heard me talk about the spinal injury I live with, but for those that do not know…
In 2008, I ripped my L5-S1 intervertebral disc clean open – ouch! – which led to spinal surgery in 2011 for Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) to repair it. Massage was essential for me in the 3 years from injury to surgery, and it continues to play a huge role in keeping me on my feet today … In fact – it was this injury that inspired me to study Remedial Massage!
How did massage help? … Well, hopefully I can explain this more easily by answering some of the questions I frequently get asked, and it may help YOU to decide whether you would like to incorporate massage into your own recovery.
Did you get massages before surgery?
Yes – along with a physio program, I also regularly saw a Musculoskeletal Therapist (MST) and a Remedial Massage Therapist (RMT). Mostly, treatments were about decreasing inflammation, encouraging normal movement – or as close to it as possible – and managing pain while I waited for my surgery date to roll around.
Of course, treatment would vary between each appointment depending on what my body was deciding to do that day:
- On good days, treatments could be quite deep and incorporated trigger point release, deep tissue massage, cupping, and stretching.
- On bad days, treatments would be restricted to lighter techniques to simply calm the area down.
- On the truly awful days, treatment would be a heat pack on my lower back, and a scalp/neck/shoulders massage while my therapist listened to me ‘vent’ about it all.
Massage helped trigger a relaxation response in the body which had a flow-on effect to other areas that were too angry to treat directly.
Do you think massage helped you prepare and be ready for surgery?
Absolutely – Before surgery I was in a lot of pain, and pretty much lived on painkillers and muscle relaxants just to function like a normal human being. Massage helped keep the reliance on medications to a minimum and enabled me to live as normally as possible while waiting for surgery.
Talking to the Therapist also helped me learn more about my body – what was going on; why I was feeling what I was feeling; etc. I hadn’t started studying massage at that point, so I didn’t really have any idea what the heck was happening other than something was ‘broken’ and it really hurt! Learning from my Therapist was great and took some of the fear/anxiety out of the whole process too…because I understood what was going on.
Even my surgeon was impressed at how good a condition I was in leading up to the surgery, and actively encouraged me to keep up the massage appointments until a week before surgery.
Did massage help post-surgery/during recovery?
100% it did, and still does – Once cleared by the surgeon, I was back at the MST and RMT for regular treatments.
Treatments started off short – 30 minutes was all I could stand at the beginning – and was focused on calming and soothing the area. Gradually, as I healed and the fusion solidified, deeper pressure and stronger techniques were used. As always, the therapist and I worked together to adapt to what I needed, and what my body was doing on any given day.
These days – nearly 10 years later – I try to get a massage at least once a month for maintenance. It helps keep my back strong and healthy, so I can avoid further injury (or more surgery! YIKES!) and be able to be an awesome massage therapist for YOU!
Can you get remedial massage with ‘hardware’?
Yes! Trust me, no therapist is strong enough bend or break surgical implant-grade titanium…well…unless Superman has changed careers? I love nothing more than a good deep elbow into my lower back.
Of course, you must let your therapist know you are part-Wolverine, and if any areas are too tender to work on because of your plate/screw/pin. Also, surgical implants like plates, pins, and screws can often restrict, or completely prevent, movement in an area. When they know about it, your therapist can better understand your body and tailor-make a treatment that best fits you.
Never fear – you can still get a deep tissue massage when you are part of the ‘bionic club’!
How did this experience make me a better therapist?
It has given me first hand, personal knowledge and experience of a spinal injury – the chronic and intense pain; how it can effect every single aspect of your life; the struggles you face; the fear/anxiety about it all; the highs and lows of recovery; the feeling of taking one step forward, then ten backwards … I get it – I’ve been there.
I am more than happy to chat to anyone about my experience, whether this is something you have been through, are about to go through, or are just curious about!
Some other FAQ I’ve been asked about this surgery:
How long were you in hospital? – 4 days. Yep. That’s it. Just 4 days! I honestly thought I’d be in there way longer, especially with how sick and sore I felt the first three.
Did you have to learn to walk again? – Sort of … not from scratch, but my proprioception (sense of balance) was all out of whack, so I had to learn to walk normally again. A truly odd feeling!
Can you feel the screws? – 99.9% of the time, no. If I move awkwardly, I feel a strange ‘pulling’ sensation in my lower back where the screws are, but no pain.
What frustrates you most with having metal in your back? – That there isn’t enough to set off security scanners at the airport! All that effort, and I get no fun out of it … he he he!
What’s the funniest question you’ve ever been asked about your surgery? – I was asked this by a VERY nervous massage student: “When it’s really cold, or really hot, do you have to worry about it burning you?”
Bless her cotton socks. No, it’s kept at the same comfortable temperature as the rest of my internal structures.