Spine Athlete ::: Bob's story

Advanced degenerative disc disease

Diagnosis: Advanced degenerative disc disease at L4-L5

Treatment: Transforaminal Lumbar Inter-body Fusion (TLIF), L4-L5, May 2009

Neurosurgeon: William Tobler, MD

Initial Injury: I have always led an active lifestyle, enjoying skiing, golfing, and working out. The problem began with cramping in my legs and feet, particularly on the left side. I was not experiencing any back pain, but to my surprise my doctor suggested an MRI to see if my back was the source of the pain. Soon afterwards he called to inform me the test results showed a herniated disc. He was aware of my plans for ski trips over the next few months and advised me not to go. That got my attention!

Turning point: Initially I had epidural steroid injections, which provided only temporary relief, becoming less effective over time. The pain got so severe I could not even walk a city block without sitting down. Surgeons never tell you to have elective surgery. They let you tell them that you’re ready. With the loss of my mobility it became clear it was time. The good news was my homework had validated there was no reason to leave town for the procedure. The most advanced procedures and leading-edge physicians are right in Cincinnati.

Being a spine athlete: Some people see the goal as recovering from their surgery. Mine was to get back to doing all the things I love to do. This would require dealing with the issues that had made the surgery necessary. If you don’t fix the underlying soft tissue weaknesses in your body, most likely you will be back again for more surgery. Dr. Tobler told me that if I didn’t take care of my back, I had a 30 percent chance of needing the adjacent vertebrae fused as well. This was the source of my motivation to make my spine health a priority every day.

I had always assumed that I was in shape, but I discovered that wasn’t actually the case. While working with a physical trainer I learned that my spine problems resulted from a lack of mobility in my hips. When you lack flexibility, your body is working overtime to get you through the day. I also learned that my body fat was higher than it should be and that the foods I was eating were not well balanced. I made a commitment to a new lifestyle. I work out five days a week now. I use free weights, focusing on strengthening my core muscles, and spend about half of my workout stretching.  I eat more protein and fewer carbohydrates than before, and I always eat breakfast. I might eat a French fry – just to remember what they taste like – but I cut out all the bad stuff. And the way I feel now, I don’t miss it. I’m in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. During a recent ski trip I received the ultimate compliment from another skier. He said, “If I want to ski like that, who should I call to have the same back surgery?”

My update is now 7 years later at age 67. I am still going strong and enjoying the slopes as much as ever. If you take care of yourself, an active lifestyle is possible for many years to come. That’s what I am working on!

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Spine Athlete Story Disclaimer -"Bob's Story" is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.

"The best-selling book,
'Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond,'  by Chris Crawley & Henry S. Lodge, MD, is an inspiration to us Baby Boomers who are hanging on to our active lives."

- updated 3/15