As some of you know, on December 27, 2009, I fractured my L1 vertebrae while sledding at Mt. Charleston (40 miles or so outside Las Vegas). I, later, also discovered I fractured my L5, fractured my coccyx, and rotated my sacrum. Oh happy days!
As of today I can say I am probably 97% fully recovered. I continue to have mild pain around my tailbone if I stay in one position for too long — sitting, standing, or laying down. Occasionally if I push myself a little too hard in a workout, or do it wrong I may have some pain around L1 and tailbone for a little while, but it never lasts too long. Nevertheless, I am fully active, playing sports whenever I can — basketball, soccer, etc. — and working out with P90X. Since I’ve lost weight, nearly 50 pounds, I have decided to start a running regimen. My goal is to run my first half-marathon next year around this time.
None of what I am doing, or plan to do, was possible in the days, weeks, and months following my accident. So, here are the methods* I used to get where I am today.
After the accident, I was confined to a back brace, chair and bed. All my furniture, except my office chair, aggravated the injury. My fiancee at the time, now my wife, encouraged me to try and walk occasionally. It was one of the best suggestions anyone could have made for me during those first two months.
My wife and I started walking short distances at first. From the apartment to the mailbox, and back. It was easy and didn’t cause me much pain. After a few weeks we would occasionally walk around the apartment complex. Not very far, but enough to make it around a few buildings. Then we started walking to the nearby park, making a lap or two, then coming home. By the time two months had past I was able to walk a full mile without too much discomfort.
An important note: I kept the brace on for most of the day during those first two months. I had significant loss of bond structure at the front of the L1 and the doctor was afraid I would lose height if I did not keep the brace on. In fact, he thought I was guaranteed to lose height. I did not. The brace not only helped me sit straight, but it also helped me walk as upright as possible. I mainly only took it off to lay down or use the restroom.
My advice: Find time and space to walk. If you’re prescribed a back brace, keep it on during the walks for at least a few weeks. I kept it on for 2 months. Consult your doctor about how long you should keep your brace on. As for the distance of your walks, just walk until you start to feel slight discomfort (pressure, pain, etc.). When you do, it’s time to back off or head home. Don’t push it. Try your best to enjoy the walks, and if you’re feeling stronger, don’t be afraid to go further and break a sweat. It’s good for you.
Our animals do it all the time. We even see our babies do it from a very young age. Yet, as adults we ignore a key component of staying in shape — stretching. I was guilty of this ignorant offense. It wasn’t until after this accident I realized the importance of some type of stretch regimen. Yes, you heard me right — a stretching regimen. Just like a balanced diet, or a workout routine, stretching should not be a once in a while activity. It should be fit into your weekly, and dare I say, daily schedule.
My first experience with the wonders of stretching after my accident was 5 months into my recovery. In May of 2010 I started my first attempt in finishing a round of P90X. I ordered the program after witnessing the results of one of my good friends. In the P90X program they emphasize the importance of stretching, and it is built into the schedule. Each week you perform Yoga X at least once and you have an option of performing an extra X-Stretch routine at least once. I really wanted to skip Yoga X. I mean, it’s yoga. I’m a man. Men don’t do you yoga, right? I was dead wrong! I tried it that first week, and the next day I felt amazing. Since then, as challenging as it may be, I am in love with Yoga X, and I love sneaking in a X-Stretch at the end of the week if I can.
I also visited a physical therapist a couple times. The therapist encouraged me to continue the yoga and emphasized a few stretches that would really help me recover. Most of them are included in Yoga X, and/or X-Stretch with P90X, but I’ve decided to share them with you just in case you’re not ready for P90X.
A couple words of advice: Please consult with your doctor and/or your physical therapist before attempting any of these stretches. Your fractured vertebrae may not be healed enough to start moving it around, putting weight, or adding pressure to it. Don’t assume that just because you can stand, bend over, or reach that you are ready to start a stretching regimen. Make sure your x-rays and/or MRI’s are update and evaluated by a doctor so you know the exact condition of your body.
This is very easy to perform. As shown in the picture to the left, all you need to do is get on your hands and knees. Position your knees under your hips. Position your hands beneath your shoulders. You should be in neutral spine, meaning your back is relatively flat, and your eyes are looking to the floor in front of you. Now, breathe in while bring your head up, look to the sky, lower your belly towards the floor and arch your back. Hold for 2-5 seconds. Now, breathe out while lowering your head, sucking in your belly, lifting your back to the sky, tuck your head into your chest, and arch your back in opposite direction from before. Hold for 2-5 seconds. Repeat 5 times, at least once a day.
If your back is tender, reduce the amount of stress on your vertebrae by only slightly lifting your head, and only keeping your back straight in the upward position, and not pushing beyond any discomfort when your in the downward position.
Another really simple stretch. Assume a hands and knees position (like neutral spine in cat stretch). Sink your butt to heels. Keep your arms outstretched, like in the image to the right. Keep your eyes facing the ground. If the stretch is to easy, try lowering your forehead to the floor while reaching farther with your hands. Hold for 30 seconds. Perform this once a day.
If you’d like, you may also incorporate a slight side stretch by sliding your right hand to the right, then placing your left hand on top. Hold then repeat on the other side with your right hand on top of your left. Finish the set by holding a straight child’s pose for a few seconds.
Standing Side Stretch
There are so many ways to perform this stretch. First, here’s the standard way: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Put both hands up into the air, palms facing each other. Take a deep breath in. Breath out while lowering your left hand to your side, kick your right hip out to the right, and lean to the left. Do not extend past the point of discomfort. If you feel discomfort, slightly pull back up straight. If you’d like to add your neck into the mix, turn your head to the right and look at the eye of the elbow. Hold for 15-30 seconds while breathing deep. Breathe in, comeback up straight and lift your left hand back up into the air. Breathe out, lower your right hand to your side, kick your left hip out tot he left, and lean to the right. Look at the eye of the left elbow to engage your neck. Hold for 15-30 seconds while breathing deep. Breathe in, come back up with both arms up into the air and breathe out while lowering your arms. Perform this stretch once a day.
Here are some variations: If you feel unstable you may perform this stretch on a chair, or your may hold on to a pole or chair while standing with hand that is lower during the stretch. If you feel really good, bring your feet together and perform the stretch. You will have to kick your hip out more to maintain balance. If you would like to really pull and stretch out the vertebrae, find a door frame, perform the stretch, but use both hands as you lean to the side to grab onto the door frame. Now, slightly pull on the door frame. Repeat on the other side. Feels good doesn’t it?
This exercise is a bit of a combination. The first part of it involves laying on your back. Bring your knees as far into your chest as you can while keeping them close together, like in the image. If you’re having too much trouble accomplishing this without your knees flaring out too far, you may try using a belt as a tie around your knees. This will help you focus on bring your knees to your chest rather than keeping them together. You can hold this position for 30 seconds. Lower your feet to the floor and relax for 10-15 seconds. Now, pull your knees up to your chest once more and hold for another 30 seconds. Lower them to the floor and you’re done. Perform this once a day.
If your back feel really good, then tuck your knees really high into your chest. Hold them securely and roll back and forth from the top of your back to the bottom. Start with gentle rolls and increase it slowly until your rolling the entire length of your back. Do this for 30-45 seconds, then lower your feet to the floor and you’re done. Perform this once a day.
Happy Baby Pose
This one was not prescribed to me by my physical therapist, but I found it helpful. Lay on your back. Bring your knees to your chest and spread them out, as if your trying to get them into you armpits. Slide your arms inside the knees and grab the outside of each foot, holding onto the bottoms of your feet. Try to pull your knees towards your armpits. Now, you can hold here, or start rolling from side to side. Hold or roll for 30-45 seconds. Perform this once a day.
There are so many ways to do this stretch, so we’ll start with the easiest (not shown). Lay on your back with your feet stretched out straight on the floor. Bring either your left or right foot up to the opposing thigh, as if your sitting cross-legged in a chair. Keep your other leg straight. Grab the foot of the bent leg and as much as possible, without passing the point of discomfort, pull your foot up towards your torso. You should feel this stretch in your back, but mostly in the butt cheek of the bent leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Another way is to lay on your back with your knees in the air and your feet flat on the floor. Bring either foot and rest it on the opposing knee. You can stay here or grab behind the thigh of the foot that is still flat on the floor by reaching one hand through the hole between your legs and the other on the outside of the flat-footed leg. Now, pull the leg towards your chest. Do not pass the point of discomfort. You can advance the stretch by grabbing the knee instead of the back of the thigh like shown in the picture. You may hold here, or pull on the knee if you feel really good. You may extend the stretch even further by lifting the foot that is flat on the floor into the air and grabbing the back of the thigh, like previously described, and pulling, or reaching above the foot that is placed on the knee, grabbing the calf, and pulling. Hold either pose for 30 seconds, then switch for the other leg. Perform this stretch once a day.
This stretch was not prescribed by my physical therapist, but I found it useful. It comes in handy if your fracture vertebrae also came with a tailbone injury of some sort. It mainly stretches the gluteus maximus, and hip flexors, but it also helps to pull at the muscles down by the tail. If anything, it just helps to loosen things up.
To start, assume a hands and knees position on the floor. Bring one knee up between your hands and slide your foot up so your knee bends in a 45-90 degree angle between your thigh and lower leg. Slide your other foot back, if it is not already and sit up tall. If you feel really good, bend at the waist and lower your chest as close to the floor as possible. If you can, rest your forehead onto the floor. Hold either positions for 30 seconds. Return to neutral spine (hands and knees), and repeat the stretch for the other leg. Perform this once a day.
Now you have it — all the main stretches I have performed week in and week out that have helped my back recover. Like I said before, I performed many of them through P90X’s various workouts, and especially through Yoga X and X-Stretch. I’m glad I learned them because I now stretch a lot more properly before I play a sport.
Whew! That was a long section. Onto the next one, shall we?
This seems like a “no duh” by now, but it is important to touch on a couple key issues. I made some mistakes myself at the beginning stages of my recovery. I learned from them and now I’m a little less than two weeks away from finishing my first full round of P90X. I tried three times before and happily failed. Why happily? Because in any case I was moving. I was getting exercise, and even lost 30 pounds in the process. So here are my tips for starting your exercise routine:
One (1), start off light. Whether that is by exercising every other day, or exercising at a lower intensity every day. No matter what, here’s minimum the formula:
- 20-30 minutes of constant movement, at least 3 days a week.
That’s it. Whether it’s walking, running, a combo of both, playing a sport, riding a bike, or chasing after your kids on the play ground. Just move!
Two (2), before you jump up and start running around, please make sure your doctor clears you to be active. You don’t want to hinder your recovery. But once you are cleared, just start moving. If you can move everyday, even better. If you get to a point you can start visiting a gym, do it. If you feel strong enough to lift weights, start lifting. Don’t just workout your back because it the weakest, workout everything. For your back to be strong you need a strong core. That’s abs, obliques, upper thighs, chest, as well as your back. And since your working out you might as well build some muscle in your arms, shoulders, and legs too. Your body will thank you.
Ladies, don’t be afraid of gaining muscle. You’re not a man, and you don’t have the testosterone levels to bulk up. Putting on some lean muscle helps you tone your body and give it shape in the areas you might need it the most. I, even as a guy, learned just how much different a chubby guy could look if he puts on some muscle. Everything fit me better. In my early days of this round of P90X I gained weight, but I looked slightly smaller.
I could go on and on about the importance of exercise, including the fact that it helps the blood flow, which is full of nutrients, to circulate through the injured area(s), but I digress and move on.
My advice: Consult with a personal trainer if you really want to target certain areas in your body. Remember, try hard, but don’t push so hard you injure yourself.
Nutrition (eating healthy)
Eating healthy? Boo! That is the exact type of reaction I received from some of my friends when they would see me snacking on broccoli or chomping on a spinach salad. In some circles, eating healthy is not popular, in other circles it’s trendy. No matter what circle you belong to, or if you are on the outer fringes of either circle, if you’re injured it is essential you eat and intake the proper nutrients to help your body heal.
For a fractured vertebrae you should make sure to intake calcium (no duh), vitamin D, and protein. You also need magnesium in your diet to properly absorb calcium. In other words — a balanced diet!
To keep your body strong you will need to eat a well balanced diet of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and protein (in meat or vegetable form) (http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/index.html). It sounds simple, and in most ways it is, but to maintain a balanced diet without getting board, or if you have an allergy, or if you are vegetarian or vegan (and all others), you will have to do some research and find some fun and creative recipes to keep you excited about eating healthy.
My advice: Believe it or not, I have known vegetarians who were not eating balanced diets. I’ve even known vegans with the same issue. Just cause your diet sounds healthy doesn’t mean it is balanced. Do your homework and/or consult a dietitian.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope this helps the many of you who are suffering with an L1 fracture, or any other lumbar fracture. All best to you all!
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below. If your question is private you may contact me through email.
*All methods outlined in this post are from my own personal experience, and only serve as personal, not professional, advice. Please consult a doctor, physical therapist, personal trainer, and a dietitian for a proper assessment of your own personal condition. I am not a professional in any of these fields and in no way do I represent myself as one. Any one who causes injury to themselves, or any one else, as a result of performing any of the exercises or stretches mentioned above does so at their own expense.