Kayaking after back surgery

I just had back surgery on Monday (discectomy and laminectomy L3-4; L4-5) and would appreciate any advice from those you have gone through this and are kayaking again. When I injured my back about three weeks ago and realized I had lost my entire summer of paddling, I searched the archives and found out that I’m not alone in this. I’m hoping to get back on the water by fall and would like to know what any of you did to get going again. Fortunately I recently added an Enlightened T16 to the fleet, which at 50 pounds is about 13 pounds lighter that my other kayak, a Prijon Kodiak. That should help with the loading and unloading. I’m wondering about seat comfort and how long I’ll be able to stay sitting in that position. It this the time to invest in the “ultimate” inflatable or foam seat? Also, what are your thoughts on paddling and its relation to strengthening/damaging your back. I would think that paddling would strengthen core muscles, which seem to be important in maintaining a healthy back. But some folks I know have asked me if I thought I had actually ruptured the disks by paddling. While I am imprisoned at home healing, I’d appreciate your thoughts.

I have chronic lower back issues

– Last Updated: Jul-23-08 10:54 AM EST –

and have had the same surgery. BTW, it didn't work. 3 months afterwards I had the worst ruptured disc incident of my life.
That surgery has a success rate of about 50%.Since the disc issue, I have had 2 epidural steroid injections. The first one kept me pain free for 2 years.I can't see how paddling could damage your lower back. Those are typically compression injuries.
I have never been hurt by paddling;generally my back feels great during and after. I have been hurt loading and unloading boats.You should probably never lift anything over 10 lbs over your head from now on.My current boat weighs 30 lbs and I get help loading and unloading it.
As for core strength, it definately helps to maintain your abs but it will not protect you if you do something stupid. My buddy Seatec can tell you all about that since he is recovering from a bad lower back issue. He is a gym rat, but it didn't make up for poor lifting technique on a heavy couch.
My neurosurgeon told me the best back exercise is walking. He had me up the day after surgery.
You really should consider a solo canoe unless it just won't work for where you paddle. Much easier to get in and out of than a kayak.

Paddling is great for the lower back
Moving the boat to and from the water is not. Get a vehicle with a low roof and get help moving your kayak around whenever possible. Be mindful of body mechanics. In the meantime, walk as much as you can tolerate and within the limits set by your neurosurgeon.

Back Surgery & Paddling
Welcome to the club. I blew mine out trying to surf a Gulfsteam off Pensecola in 1996. I suffered to the point that I nearly lost total control of my left leg. Then the doctor agreed to surgery. Mine was successful with the discectomy and lapendectomy (opening up the channel). A month later doing rolls at a Valley Canoe Products demo day in Detroit. BTW I am not a yougster as I will be 61 next week. I found the key to successful paddling after back surgery is to construct a cockpit area that is supportive not necessarily cushy. I quality backband that supports the lower back and does not extend above the cockpit rim works best for me. Make sure the seat has an extended pan that supports the thighs. Adjust the footbraces and pad the knee braces to insure a good upright posture. No slumping allowed anymore. Work on proper paddling form with lots of torso rotation. Get a shorter paddle that requires a more vertical whitewater style stroke. Low angle sweep strokes cause too much torque on the back and lead to poor paddling efficiency. Stretch your hamstrings religiously before paddling. Loose weight if that’s an issue.

Encouraging info
Thanks guys. It’s good to hear some success stories. I was pretty active before this, paddling about twice a week and playing handball twice a week, so hopefully things will come back fairly quickly.

Being in good shape helps you
get back faster. Speedy recovery and think before you lift.

Talk to your physical therapy
people or an exercise physiologist. First guy I met who started paddling in middle age for rehab started paddling after an L4L5 fusion.

Paddling after back surgery
I had my L-4 repaired in 1998 after trying to just deal with it for about 25 years. Every case is different but a lot of the people I know that have problems after surgery do nothing to take care of it or even follow doctors orders.

I can do most anything within reason but I try to be very careful with my back. The longest trip I have paddled is 90 miles over 3 days.

I say just ease into paddling and listen to your body and good luck.

bet your Dr or PT
will say give it at least 3 months—and then proceed slowly—big issue and risk is unloading and loading your boat—might want to get help with that initially to see how it goes. Also when paddling start with short trips and progress to longer–if your back starts acting up, you might want to adjust your seat, or buy a new one—I find the 3 point seating system in W/S kayaks very comfortable and ergonomically friendly–unfortuatly W/S doesn’t sell the seats seperatly—you have to buy one of thier boats as well.

good advice
yes, I definitely plan on starting slow, and I’m not sure yet how long I’ll be beached. My impression now it that it will be at least a month before I can do any strengthening exercises other than walking, which I’m encouraged to do a lot.

My surgeon had me work up to
3 - 15 minute miles a day. I was released when I got to that point.

Did you have surgery three weeks after
your injury? I hope not. Unless you were losing bowel and bladder control, that might have been a rush to the knife. No point in looking back (no pun intended), but most back issues eventually resolve themselves to one degree or another. My first year after my tri level decompressive lamenectomy was aweful. I herniated another disc and thought my life was over. I really credit kayaking for turning things around. You should walk and do very light stretching. Consider a hulavator from thule, it takes alot of stress off my back. I use a cart from seattle sports to move my boat. I only carry it with the help of another. As far as a seat goes, forget cushy. The back band will be necessary for a while, but you should work your way to not using it at all, or only to lean back and stretch and then a slight lean forward with a vertical and forward stroke. Sometimes when I get in from paddling, I have abdominal cramps from the workout, but my abs are getting very strong. I think padding really works the core without having to stress the spine with sit ups or crunches. If you tweak your back, lay off immediately and hit the motrin. Do not sit with your legs crossed, EVER, and always sleep on your side, NEVER on your stomach, and not on your back if you can help it. These are my opinions based on my experiences, good luck, better days are ahead. Do not rush into anything, the first year after surgery can be a duzey. Bill

Get out and walk
I had back surgery a few years ago and got out and walked as soon as I could. Start off with short easy hikes and build up from there. As you build up your distance you’ll help improve your abdominal muscles without realizing you’re doing it. Do that along with any therapy your doctor recommends and with a positive attitude you should be back paddling in no time.