After getting a downright depressing course of action from the orthopaedic doctor I had been seeing for my hip, I was referred to the spine specialist in the same sports medicine practice. And there, I got some tentatively good news.
The orthopaedic spine guy agreed with his colleague’s diagnosis, but not with the ‘what to do.’ For the record, here’s the formal diagnosis in all of its hypermedical detail. This time I took notes:
Grade I-II spondylolisthesis at L5/S1
Bilateral foraminal stenosis at L4/L5
Bilateral severe foraminal stenosis at L5/S1
They believe the damage was caused by chronic pars defects which probably happened in my teen years. This is pretty typical for athletes who participate in activities that require repeated, quick extension of the back. Think of a defensive lineman in football who, as soon as the ball is snapped, immediately stands up. Or better yet, think of a kid of who loved to play baseball and from the time he was eight years old until he graduated high school played 95% of his innings as a catcher. That was me: Stand up. Crouch. Stand up. Crouch. Rinse and repeat several bajillion times.
The tentative good news is that the spine specialist’s advice was to avoid surgery for the time being and that I could keep running, except slow down — the pain only really comes on strong when I run at higher paces. He told me that if I have surgery now, it’ll guarantee that I’ll never run again. And even if I don’t run, but I do stay active, I’ll just be back for additional surgeries later. Fusing the disks will stabilize that area, but any force put on the back would just be transferred to the disks above and then they’d begin to deteriorate. Also, he said that surgery today for someone at my fitness level would actually result in a tougher recovery than the average bear since much of the recovery involves repairing the muscle they’d need to cut to do the surgery. When asked if surgery would be riskier sometime down the line (if necessary), and he said no, not in my case. His explanation was that the typical increase in risk as people age is usually due to people’s poor health unrelated to the surgery, like obesity, high blood pressure, smoking … none of which I have, thankfully. My wife asked him if I’m putting myself at risk for anything catastrophic by continuing to run and he assured us that I am not.
So, for time being, I’m getting back to running a bit while I wait to get a second opinion from a neurosurgeon. That should happen sometime in the next couple of weeks. While I do hope that I get the same advice, I want to make sure I have all of the best thinking before I start training in earnest.
In the meant time I’m keeping the pace nice and leisurely.