Coming back to training after a major physical setback – My scoliosis recovery.

Coming back to training after a major physical setback – My scoliosis recovery.

In January 2010 I underwent a major back surgery to correct a collapsing curvature in my spine (scoliosis.) I was at a point where my torso was contorted and my lower rib cage had no support on one side, stopping my lungs from expanding fully and I was in constant pain from the spasms I would get from my postural muscles working overtime to hold me up straight.

The surgery I had was a spinal fusion of twelve vertebrae (from T2-L2). Two, 15″ titanium rods and twenty four screws now hold my spine in a neutral position and I have no movement through any of the fused joints. The surgery was 100% a success and I do not regret making the decision to undergo the operation one bit. The recovery though, was hard work, took a lot of patience and I had a lot of mental barriers to break through to get to where I am now. This is where I hope my story can help someone who is getting back into training after time off for an injury or their health or someone having the same surgery as I had, to know you can live a full and active lifestyle and it doesn’t need to hold you back. In fact having strong muscles in your core and back is the best prevention of future complications.

At the time of my surgery I was a dancer and a karateka and I had a lot of fears about what this would mean for the sports that I loved. I had to re learn to walk and find my new centre of balance, I spent the first three months mostly laying down, then I started going to classes just to feel involved and to learn what I could by watching. By six months I could join back into my dance and karate classes for small periods of time, standing up the back and moving very slowly through exercises and kata, nothing high impact and obviously no sparring. I set myself lots of small goals and couple of big ones.

What I didn’t know I would struggle with.

  • Fear of jumping. ( I wasn’t allowed to jump for 9 months, once I was allowed,  the fear of jolting myself was anxiety inducing.)
  • Fear of looking stupid. (now I say stuff it, there are things I cant do, but heck there are things i can do that many people with fully functioning spines cant – I’m proud of my abilities)
  • Fear of using it as an excuse.
  • Fear of everyone knowing I wasn’t ‘normal’.
  • Fear of progressing too slowly.
  • Becoming used to holding to holding back.
  • Not knowing what was actual pain and what was just weakness or in my head. (major struggle in the early days. My weak atrophied muscles confused me)

Maintaining motivation 

It only takes three weeks to create a habit. So its fair enough that when you take time off training to recover from illness or injury, it can be hard to find the motivation to get back into it. I got past all of the above fears by setting small goals and holding myself accountable by telling people what those goals are. Some real examples of goals I set during my recovery are below.

Early recovery – first few months
“I get to go home when I can walk 20 metres without the walker and up 10 stairs, I want to do it by the end of the week”
“By the end of the month, I’m going to shower all by myself”
“I’m going to try to stay out of bed all day today”
“B the end of this week I’m going to put my own shoes on”

Mid – late recovery 6-12 months
“Soon I’ll be able to get through a whole kata”
“By the end of the month, I’m going to stay up the whole class without taking a break”
“By the end of the year I’m going to perform at least one dance on stage at the annual concert” (smashed it btw – did eight routines)

After recovery
“I’m proud of my scar and my story, I’m going to own it”
“I’m going to compete overseas at the world cup”(check – several times)
“I’m going to handstand again” (this was just last year)

Take the time to recover and listen to the doctors. Don’t punish yourself for needing to take the time. If you are involved in group training, go and watch. You can learn a lot and you get to be around the people who you enjoy training with. It reminds you of what you want to go back for so you don’t just find something else to fill that time in your routine. Set some fun small goals and one or two big ones and tell people about them to hold yourself accountable.

Let me know if you found this post interesting or useful and I’d love to hear your own stories about getting back into training after having to take time off for something out of your control.


2 Replies to “Coming back to training after a major physical setback – My scoliosis recovery.”

  1. dude that was a really good read, everyone works at there own pace but you sure make me wanna go harder with getting back into things, hears my story i grew up in the canadian wilderness with literly no kids for miles so i grew up siting in the forest without socializing and litterly just eating food, i was the most over weight and un popular kid going into middle school, i worked out super hard to try and impress the most popular girl in school and eventually became so fit that i got to go to our provinces version of the olympics for under 15 year olds, got to highschool and was the bench warmer and still pretty un popular, by grade 12 i was captain of our rugby team and had more stats than our whole team combined and i was easily the most popular kid in school, graduated and made 10 000 dollars the summer after graduation fire fighting i had my whole world in front of me but my mom got cancer and all of my higschool freinds went to college and i stayed home and looked after my single mother, she made it but in the process i got addicted to drugs for 6 years which was full of arests suicide attempts mental break downs and literally no excersize but slacklining. Eventually met a girl who brought me out of all my bad habits, she moved away and i fell back into all of them and just recently got back into the swing of things, in my freinds group now of about 40 people im teh go to guy for when someones struggling with an addiction and health problems, i would do it all again just to know how strong i am and how it helps other people, just like what you do, also have you googled slacklining yet? your other post on balance makes it good timing to read into it

  2. Loved this article Helena. Loved hearing about your goals and how you smashed them out of the park!
    Ps Thank you for helping me feel more motivated even after X amount of time off because of health.