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Golfers returning to golf after lumbar fusion surgery may become very impatient with the lengthy recovery period. However, one must understand that when a fusion is performed, it represents a significant loss of motion and flexibility of the fused segment.
It is important to have realistic expectations about your ability to play competitive golf after this surgery. It is important to follow the rehabilitation protocols carefully and meet with your surgeon for re-evaluation prior to returning to golf.
Golf Injuries That Require Lumbar Fusion Surgery
Golf is a very demanding sport. In order to achieve success, certain muscles have to work together in specific patterns. Each golfer has a unique set of muscle strengths and weaknesses as well as mechanical faults or tendencies.
Keeping this in mind, we will discuss the types of injuries that require lumbar fusion surgery for successful treatment.
Golfers with Lumbar Spine Instability
The major concern for this group is developing an instability of the lumbar spine (often called spondylolysis). This happens when one of the vertebrae slips forward over the other in the lower back due to stress from repetitive impact forces such as those experienced by a golfer.
The condition can be easily identified on an X-ray. In some cases, the condition is present from a fall or other injury that occurred in the past. It can also be present from birth. Instability of the lumbar spine causes pain and instability in the lower back and is easily diagnosed with special imaging such as CT or MRI scans.
Golfers with Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a condition where the spinal canal narrows. It can cause lower back pain and shooting pain down the leg and into the foot. It can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the lower back. It can also make it difficult to stand or walk for long periods of time.
Spinal stenosis is usually caused by arthritis of the vertebrae in the lumbar spine. The cause of spinal stenosis is an arthritic change in the spine that can occur as a result of trauma, degenerative disk disease, or various genetic disorders such as Down’s Syndrome or Marfan’s Syndrome.
Golfers with Incomplete Lumbar Fusions
Many golfers who have spinal surgery experience incomplete fusions. An incomplete fusion may be due to a number of factors, including poorly performed surgery, stress on the lower back from repetitive impact forces from the golf swing, an intervertebral disc extrusion, or a previous injury to the area that had not healed properly.
An incomplete fusion can cause back pain and weakness as well as significant loss of flexibility. The patient may experience the same symptoms as a ‘failed back syndrome.’
Patients who have experienced an incomplete lumbar fusion will need to undergo additional surgery to complete the fusion. In many cases, the additional surgery is minimally invasive and can be performed as an outpatient procedure.
Recovery After Lumbar Fusion Surgery
Many great pros have been hampered by low back problems during their careers, the likes of Freddy Couples, Rocko Mediate, Ken Venturi, Lee Trevino, and others. Some of these talented professionals have even undergone low back surgery for their problems.
The good news is that despite the high incidence of spine injuries among golfers, the majority of these people have returned to swing again and swing well. In this section, we will address how one can return to golf after having lumbar fusion surgery.
3 Steps to Lumbar Fusion Surgery Recovery
Step 1: Pain Management
The first step in the recovery process is to get rid of back pain and stiffness. For patients with lumbar spondylolysis, a combination of pain medications is prescribed to reduce pain and allow a return to more normal activities.
For patients with spondylolisthesis, physical therapy is needed to strengthen the muscles around the low back to prevent further forward slipping of the vertebrae.
Once the pain is under control, flexion exercises will need to be done frequently in order to regain flexibility. A flexion exercise is performed by bending forward over a table, bed, or other flat objects until you can feel your back muscles working.
This can be done several times a day to restore flexibility in the spine.
Step 2: Strengthen & Condition The Back
The next step is to strengthen and stretch the muscles around the lumbar spine. New exercises need to be learned in order to avoid a recurrence of lower back pain. These exercises can include abdominal strengthening, gluteal strengthening, leg stretching, and hamstring flexibility exercises.
Step 3: Return to Activity
Once the pain is under control, the patient needs to slowly increase activity levels. This includes aerobic exercise, low-level sport-specific exercises, and then finally, a return to sports-specific practice and games.
Return To Golf After Lumbar Fusion Surgery
Returning to golf after lumbar fusion surgery is possible but not recommended.
Each person is different in terms of their individual recovery time after lumbar fusion surgery. The total recovery time will also vary depending on each person’s own functional status before surgery as well as other factors such as general health, surgical complications, etc.
Golf is an enjoyable sport that can be played when appropriate precautions are taken. One important factor is whether a golfer is suffering from a different type of back pain or not.
This must be figured out prior to returning to the golf course. If you experience low back pain every day that gets worse with activity, it is not a good idea to play golf.
This may be an indication that there may be some joint instability and that you will ultimately develop more problems down the line if you do not take care of the problem now. It is, therefore, best to rest and avoid impact activities such as golf until your lower back condition improves.
Another question that must be addressed is whether or not you have undergone lumbar fusion surgery for your back condition.
This must be decided prior to returning to golf because there could be a problem with throwing and twisting motions. These types of motions may cause some instability in the fused vertebral segment(s). If there is instability present, it is recommended that you refrain from playing golf for a period of time after lumbar fusion surgery.
Wait 6 Months After Surgery
If you do not have any serious back problems and have had lumbar fusion surgery, then it is generally recommended that you do not return to golf until at least six months after your surgery. Your doctor will explain why this is needed and help you develop a specialized exercise program which can then be gradually increased as the recovery progresses.
It was cited in an article on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health that “most surgeons indicated they would allow patients to return to golf six months after lumbar fusion; however, shorter times were recommended for competitive golfers.”
The main reason why you should avoid returning to golf prior to 6 months after your lumbar fusion surgery is pain. Your surgeon will always put his/her patient’s best interests in mind, which usually entails a relatively long and slow recovery.
The doctor may also explain that even if you could physically return to golf after surgery, there could be a greater risk of re-injuring the area due to poor movement patterns and/or biomechanics.
If you are still determined to return to golf six months following your lumbar fusion surgery, it is very important that you follow all of your doctor’s recommendations.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is lumbar fusion surgery?
Lumbar Fusion Surgery is a surgery that permanently joins adjacent vertebrae in the lower back together. The joining of the two vertebrae can be done with bone grafts and plate, rods, screws. This can be done either using open surgical techniques or minimally invasive technique(s).
2. When should I return to golf after lumbar fusion surgery?
If you are not in extreme pain when you play golf, it is usually recommended that you wait at least six months following your procedure before returning to golf. Your doctor will let you know if it is safe to return to play sooner than this time period. Here is an article about the Importance of Physical Therapy
3. What precautions should I take after lumbar fusion surgery?
If you have had a lumbar fusion procedure, your doctor will tell you not to lift anything heavier than 15 lbs or more than 20 lbs. for the first six weeks after your surgery. Golf clubs weigh about 4-7 lbs. per club, depending on if they are wood or shafted metal clubs, so it is recommended that you don’t start to play golf immediately following your procedure.
4. Will I ever be able to play golf again if I have had lumbar fusion surgery?
Yes, in most cases, the answer is yes. However, precautions should be taken before and after your procedure to ensure that there are no complications that may prevent you from playing this very enjoyable sport.
Dealing with any health issue is not easy, but golf is an activity that you can always enjoy without putting too much strain on your lower back.