The recovery paradox: Movement causes pain; Moving reduces pain

recovering from surgery (c) Willow-Townsend ProductionsWe heard it from the surgeon. We heard it from the recovery-room nurse. We hear it every time we visit the physical therapist. Move! It hurts, but the pain will disappear faster. Think that will convince a 16-year-old boy snuggled cozy in the big leather recliner or his comfy bed? Yeah, not so much. So my role of father once again morphs to coach, trainer and – I have to say it – nag.

Before I learned the truth about my son’s condition, I spent most of dinnertime barking at him to sit up straight. Now the old bark-tone has slipped back in my voice a little, but I’m telling him to “Go walk” or “It’s time to sit in a chair.” The easiest thing for him to do is to stay in bed, even though he knows (from everyone) that it’s also the worst thing for him.

Building a better back
x-ray © Willow-Townsend ProductionsWhat’s amazing about the surgery to repair his back is it comes with no physical restrictions. Straight out of the hospital he was clear to walk, sit — heck even do a cartwheel — if he could manage it without opening his incision. The main thing holding him back is pain. Initially pain from the incision, which faded pretty quickly. But mostly pain from his muscles. Muscles that had been surgically moved out of the way for the reconstruction of the spine then placed back. Muscles that now, screaming reluctantly about the change, have to relearn how to move his newly straightened torso.

Managing that pain has become more routine and less complicated. The list of medications, which started at eight with a dosage schedule that didn’t leave anyone with more than two hours of sleep at a time, has dropped to two; acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The latter being the one that seems to do the most good. That and the big Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bathroom. He tried it after the physical therapist asked if we had access to a pool. We didn’t but the tub in my bathroom was bigger than the boys’ and it allowed him to float and get a water-jet induced massage. Joyfully he discovered this soaking would bring him to a zero on the pain scale. Temporarily. Still it was exactly what he needed to recharge.

Getting back to school
The goal has been to get him to the point of being able to get back to school. I pulled him out a few weeks before the surgery when the pain of his condition was taking too large of a toll. Our optimistic plan was to have him return to school when his brother and everyone else resumed class after holiday break. That was this past Monday and it didn’t happen. Pain numbers were still fives and sixes and he somehow pulled a muscle in his shoulder blade that compounded the issue. So it’s been one more week of home schooling and another week of nagging to get out of bed and walk, or to do his exercises. My son has put up with a lot. It’s easy to forget how far he’s come. He’s got a ways to go still. We’ll get there. One step at a time.

Note: My son is recovering from major surgery to correct his curved spine. He was diagnosed with “Scheurmann’s kyphosis” last summer. (Read: “My son needs surgery not ‘sit-up-straight’ reminders,” “Spine surgery is a marathon not a sprint” and “Home from spine surgery. ‘Wonder-parent’ powers activate.”) I’m being overly vague on names and places out of respect for my son’s privacy who isn’t thrilled when he’s the focus of attention. I write about it in case it helps other families. If you need to know more details please reach out to me.

6 thoughts on “The recovery paradox: Movement causes pain; Moving reduces pain

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