Spinal cord injuries (sci) are complex. No two injuries present in the same way. However, it can be helpful to compare symptoms and to try treatments that others have found useful. I believe that exercise and stretching are critical to successfully managing the nasty symptoms that I experience – pain and spasm. The older my injury (it’s been over eighteen years since I damaged my cord at T7/T8) the more fervent my belief in the power of exercise becomes.
And here’s why.
List of recommended Surgery:
Lengthen my Archilles tendon
Insert baclofen pump in my spine
Treat trigger thumb
Treat carpel tunnel syndrome
Instead of surgically lengthening my archilles tendon the surgeon injected botox into the gastroc and soleus muscles (muscles that make up the back of the calf). He did this four times over a year, providing a window during which time I could intensively stretch, exercise and stimulate these muscles, with the help of a physio, personal trainer and osteopath. These muscles had progressively shortened because of spasm and tone, and I could no longer put my heel on the ground – not good for the small amount of walking I can do and would quickly reduce my mobility. That was about two years ago and as long as I continue to stretch these muscles every day I’ll be fine. I also walk on a “stone board” every day to continue to stimulate the sensory nerves in my foot. Exercise 1, Surgery 0 (The surgery and after care in hospital would have cost ACC $70,000)
Instead of inserting a baclofen pump in my spine the same surgeon changed and added to my medication to manage spasm, and injected botox into my left quad, right hamstring, and both adductors. The injections in my hamstring and adductors were one offs, I have had three injections into my left quad and no more are planned. My spasticity is complex and extensive, but the botox and on-going medication allow me to stretch and exercise so that spastic muscles no longer pull my body out of alignment and mask and prevent any voluntary movement I have. I now walk using an Odstock rather than a dictus (a brace to lift my foot into a flexed positiuon). I walk for an hour on a treadmill every day, exercise at the gym to improve my posture and alignment, and frequently stretch shortened muscles every day. I religiously exercise and stretch every day. Exercise 2, Surgery 0
The surgeon in both these cases works in the Burwood spinal unit and I have found that people who work here take an holistic view to treatment and surgery is considered one of many tools. Not so other surgeons …
Instead of surgically lengthening the tendon in my thumb I independently embarked upon a programme of intense stretching and massaging my thumb. A physio later endorsed this. The trigger thumb was probably caused by my using crutches. Surgery would have meant that I would have lost my mobility for months, and that I would have needed help with personal care. This particular surgeon was adament that surgery was the only treatment if I wanted to straighten my thumb. Turns out he was wrong. (I subsequently spoke to two men whose surgery was unsuccessful and were having to have it repeated, one for the second time.) Exercise 3, Surgery -2
The same surgeon has recommended surgery for carpel tunnel in both my wrists. He says that without surgery the nerves to my hands and fingers will die. However, surgery will for months prevent me using crutches and I will require 24 hour care including someone doing all my personal care for me. Not if I can help it! An osteopath has given me exercises and stretches to help release constriction of nerves through the carpel tunnel; I have found web sites that show how to do other exercises; I have a dynaflex to exercise my wrists; the Odstock I use reduces the pressure I put through my wrists onto the crutches.
So, hopefully, Exercise 4, Surgery 0