Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

General discussions about getting and staying fit that don't relate directly to your indoor rower
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Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

Post by ms2187 » November 19th, 2019, 5:11 pm

Hello everyone,

This is my first post on this forum, so please excuse me if I am posting this in the wrong sub-forum. I have a question about post-surgery rowing.

I am wondering if anyone has had any experience rowing after spinal surgery. Last month I underwent surgery on the C5/C6 section of my spine. For those who are probably unfamiliar – the C5/C6 section is in the upper area of your spine (in your neck region). In my case, the surgery involved removing a bulged/herniated disc and replacing the disc with a new fake disc that is being held in place by a small plate. The surgery sounds intense, but it really is not that bad. In many hospitals this is a same-day surgery and you will return to work a few days later.

I am now 1.5 months removed from surgery and I am itching to get back into the swing of things. For the past few weeks I have just been on the treadmill five days a week walking/jogging, just trying to keep myself in the habit of going to the gym. Before surgery, I was a fairly novice gym-goer with only about four solid months of weight training/rowing under my belt. Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, I just had my four week follow-up at which time my surgeon cleared me to resume VERY light weight-training. He said no lifting weights over five pounds, so I am going to put weight training on hold for at least a few more months (if I ever even go back into it at all). I asked him if I could ease back into rowing, and he advised me that I would probably be better off using the StairMaster for the time being, as my fitness goals are to primarily get more toned. With that said, I love the rowing machine and I wanted to know if it is okay to slowly get back into this. I do not care about gaining or losing weight, I care only about looking and FEELING better.

With that said, can anyone offer some input on my situation/rowing in general. I know that rowing is a great workout, but can I achieve my fitness goals of getting toned/feeling better while just using a rowing machine (and obviously adjusting my diet accordingly)? What type of rowing workouts should I focus on? Is it okay to row every day, or should I focus on rowing three days a week while continuing some light jogging on alternating days for the time being? Are there any type of stretches that help specifically with rowing?

For reference: I am a 30 year old male, 5ft 9in, 160lbs, and I am very much a “skinny guy with a small gut.” Before surgery I was using the rowing machine 3-4 days a week. My rowing workouts usually looked something like this: 5min warm-up, followed by 15 intervals of 90 seconds work, 30sec rest, on a setting of 5 (based off 1-10. The machine in my gym is not a Concept machine, but I am guessing the settings are similar).

For the record: I have never experienced any pain while rowing, and working out is NOT what caused my bulged disc. I spent many days and hours working on my rowing form long before I began taking it seriously, and I am confident that my form is on par with what it should be.


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Re: Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

Post by lindsayh » November 21st, 2019, 2:58 am

sounds like you are doing well so far
IMO in the longer term the erg will be a great rehab tool as it is a safe non weight bearing exercise
I really wouldn't take the advice of forum members in a situation like this - your medical condition is complex and professional advice best.
I would engage with a sports physio and/or exercise physiologist and follow their advice.
There is likely to be very little or no relationship at all between the settings on the erg in your gym and a Concept 2 rower and also very little relationship between one C2 machine and another in the gym - search here for drag factor and damper setting information. There is no way to compare the numbers between one brand of rowing machine and another.
Your interval training session is not the most effective way of gaining fitness - again there is a lot of information in the training thread about what works best. That is not to say you cant just keep doing it once back on the erg.
This thread is a good overview of the things you need to think about even if not a complete newcomer:
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Re: Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

Post by Dangerscouse » November 21st, 2019, 4:44 am

I agree with Lindsay as I wouldn't feel comfortable in advising what is suitable or not, but hopefully as a bit of comfort is the fact that my wife had L4/L5 disc replacement surgery almost four years ago and she competed in a 5km obstacle course race seven months post surgery.

Admittedly my wife has notably benefited from having done lots of Pilates over the years prior to surgery which given it was a lumbar issue Pilates was far more relevant, but her back hasn't given her any issues since so hopefully the prognosis is equally as good for you
46 HWT; 6' 4"; 1k= 3:09; 2k= 6:36; 5k= 17:24; 6k= 21:09; 10k= 35:46 30mins= 8,428m 60mins= 16,331m HM= 1:18:40; FM= 2:45:49; 50k= 3:21:14; 100k= 7:52:44; 12hrs = 153km

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Re: Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

Post by left coaster » December 2nd, 2019, 12:24 pm

Likewise, this isn't a place to seek medical or rehab advise.

I am intrigued by your story though and hope you will continue to post updates! I protruded my c5/6 disc about 10 years ago and had a very difficult recovery. It was touch and go for a while as to if I would need a disc replacement. Back then they were only doing fusions so I really suffered through a lot of nerve pain with the hope of not needing to go that route. The disc is pooched though, I believe it will eventually need to be replaced. The new ADR technology looks really promising!!

I took up rowing years, not months, after my disc injury. Given how brutal and debilitating my symptoms were, I would be doing only lower body exercises in your situation and would follow the doctors recommendations to the letter. It sounds like you can do some upper body mobility work, which is great. It's easy to get the 'feel good' effect of exercise on a stair master :)

If you're up for it, perhaps continue posting as you work through recovery.
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Re: Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

Post by abprops » June 28th, 2020, 9:58 am

Hi. I had an intradural schwannoma tumour removed from my Thoracic Spine in 2009. The tumour was replaced by a giant pseudomeningocele due to a dural defect in the incision in my spinal dura which caused leakage of cerebrospinal fluid. The pseudomeningoicele was located and repaired in 2012 and the large cavity the neurosurgeon had created over the back of my spinal canal filled and closed. The cavity having been created by removal of bone and muscle during the double laminectomy (removal of the rear sections of my T9 & T10 vertebrae) necessary to access my spinal canal and dura.

I bought a Wattbike in 2016, which has a power meter on each pedal. I knew my left leg was weaker than my right due to muscle spasticity problems. However, I was surprised to find the power produced by my legs to be 30/70%. It has taken until 2020 to build my left leg up so that power levels are 50/50% give or take 2%.
In April 2018, I bought a concept 2 rowing erg which has helped strengthen my legs, back and arms with its full-body exercise. I also cycle a lot and participate in AIUDAX events of between 100 km and 300 km in a day. The longest and hardest so far being the Snow Roads AUDAX through the Cairngorm Mountains which involves some 4,000m climbing. At 75, I was the last to Finnish within the 22 hours maximum time by 4 minutes. Sixty out of the 100 who started to finished and qualify. The combination of cycling and rowing was good but appeared to be causing abdominal muscle problems so I bought a Concept 2 Ski Erg in May 2018. I found the Ski Erg hard work but can now do 5,000 regularly and enjoy doing so. I have done over 1,250,000m on the Rowing Erg and some 250,000 on the Ski erg plus some 260 hours on the Wattbike. I also compete in the Concept 2 monthly competitions and the Indoor Rowing League monthly competitions as an individual and as a member of 8/10 boat crews for added incentive.

The combination of cycling, indoor rowing and skiing has proven to be very successful. I need to stretch and exercise every day to ensure muscle spasticity does not pull my skeletal structure out of alignment. I forgot to say the surgery also left me with a distorted spinal cord due to my spinal dura being tethered to my spinal cord at the location of the repair patch on my dura.

In 2019, I volunteered as an AUDAX UK member over 65 to undergo 4 hours of breathing and heart tests in Kings College Hospitals London Cycling-specific labs. The first two hours covered all breathing tests available within the UK NHS. The second 2 hours involved additional tests both on and off a stationary recumbent bike. The objective of long-term research is to help determine how AUDAX members over 65 can continue to cycle distances in excess of 100 km when men over the age of 60 start experiencing heart and breathing-related problems. I passed all tests which confirmed my VO2 max to be 43 and my FTP to be 165 as per my Carmin Fenix GPS watch and STRAVA data, putting me within the top 10% to 20% of my age group.

Indoor Rowing and Indoor Skiing have definitely not caused any problems with my spine. The Thoracic spine is however not very flexible in comparison with other areas of the spine. Much more important are the benefits of exercise. I have however always exercised and my initial spinal problems came to my attention during my night-time sleep period half-way through a week-long climbing holiday based in Glen Clova in 2008 during which I continued to climb 3,000 ft mountains by day as the problems at night became increasingly problematic. I continued to climb by day during the second half of that week as when I fully awoke the discomfort disappeared as if a swith had been thrown. The severe and increasing pain was with me 24 hours a day from then on. Until the tumour was surgically removed in 2009. GPs, Hospital doctors Neurologists and `neurosurgeons having claimed my problems were merely sciatica or psychological in nature. Following an immediate recovery following the initial surgery the pseudomeningocele and associated dura defect resulted in increasing neurological problems until 2012. Neurological problems which though partly resolved have continued to slowly progress resulting in confirmation in Dec 2016 that bleeding from the defect in my dura between 2009 and 2012 had resulted in the incurable and progressive neurological condition Central Nervous System Superficial Siderosis. As a result, I still have serious neurological problems which without regular exercise would be impossible to live with. It then took until Nov 2019 to obtain the only possible treatment with the Iron Chelation drug Ferriprox which hopefully will at the very least STOP the progressive nature of CNS SS.

Take care and any advice you consider necessary. However in the end only you will be able to determine exactly how much and what exercise you are capable of. But don't just give up keep moving and exercising.

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Re: Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

Post by mict450 » June 28th, 2020, 6:42 pm

ms2187 wrote:
November 19th, 2019, 5:11 pm

....I asked him if I could ease back into rowing, and he advised me that I would probably be better off using the StairMaster for the time being.....

... .With that said, can anyone offer some input on my situation/rowing in general.
Hello & welcome to the campfire. I would advise you to follow the instructions of your surgeon to the letter. Nobody on this forum has the training, know how & experience to offer a valid opinion to contradict the counsel of your MD, no matter what their anecdotal evidence. Yes, you maybe one of the fortunate few that can get back into erging right now, dodge the bullet & not exacerbate your cervical condition, but why take the chance? You just have the rest of your life to erg...You stated that you're a novice rower & contrary to what you may believe (this is common with all of us, including me), your technique is probably sub-optimal. View some videos on youtube of crossfitters trying for sprint records, a few with horribly flexed cervical spines. A little patience will pay great dividends later. Whatever you decide, best wishes to you & a speedy recovery.
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Re: Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

Post by abprops » June 29th, 2020, 12:15 pm

Obviously medical advice is vital. However its always advisable to seek a second or indeed a third opinio, Just as you hopefully would when seeking a quote for any form of service be that legal, medical, building work, plumbing etc. When doctors in the UK NHS insisted any further surgery to investigate the pseudomeningocele and associated dural defect they claimed was a perfectly normal clinical finding following a laminectomy and opening of the dura for further surgery, I took advice from specialist spinal neurosurgeons in Baltimore, Lucern and Baltimore. Unlike the surgeons in the UK NHS those in the USA, Switzerland and Germany recommended that investigative and corrective surgery was required to locate the defect repair the defect and fill the large cavity over the back of my spinal canal which the UK NHS neurosurgeon had relied upon nthe pseudomeningocele to fill. Three emergency admissions as a suspect heart attack and two for min strokes forced me to make a decision. So I accepted the offer by the German NHS. Thank heavens I did. Not only did the surgery correct the immediate problems when done in Jan 2012 but the photographs showing the larger than expected dural defect between the remains of the stitches used by the UK NHS neurosurgeon in Feb 2009 led the consultant neurosurgeon giving the second opinion in Oct 2016 to suspect that bleeding from the expanding defect had resulted in the increasing neurological symptoms I had complained about since Jun 2009. Neurological symptoms that had been denied. It then took until 2018 for my continuing neurological care to be passed to the tertiary care National Neurological and Neurosurgical hospital in Queens Square London who in Nov 2019 provided the only frug which can possibly halt my continuing decline.

Always seek at least a second opinion. But make sure you prepare and ensure you have verifiable evidence. Don't simply rely on the UK NHS doctors doing the right thing. They will take the easy way out rather than face the wrath of the UK NHS doctors you are asking them to disagree with.

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Re: Rowing Machine after Spinal Surgery

Post by Citroen » June 29th, 2020, 3:06 pm

Medical advice is disallowed on here.