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Riding after Spinal Fusion?

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  • Riding after Spinal Fusion?

    Has anyone or know of anyone who was able to return to riding after Spinal Fusion with instrumentation?

    My DD will be having surgery soon and has not ridden in a while due to other issues then her back. We went on a trail ride today and she was glowing. Said it felt like she never took a break from riding. This made me happy until I thought that it may be the last time she can do this.

    Most Dr.s don't have experience with riding, so looking for the horse people who have some in both areas. I will be sad for her if there is no option for riding after she heals. She has always said once she finishes school she wants to get back into Dressage riding.

  • #2
    Knowing what the reason is for surgery and what levels would certainly help.

    I see no reason why dd can't ride after surgery as long as the horse is calm and quiet and her goals reflect her current condition.

    It would greatly help finding a MD that understands riding and what it involves. Most MDs will blanketly say no.....

    It depends on a lot of variables that can't be answered until more information is provided. I have known a lot of people that have ridden after back surgery with fusion/instrumentation.

    It depends.
    Life is too short to argue with a mare! Just don't engage! It is much easier that way!

    Have fun, be safe, and let the mare think it is her idea!


    • #3
      I had a spinal fusion (L4-L5) 6 years ago and returned to riding but I no longer do any dressage work - my surgeon told me that the torque on the vertebrae both above and below the fusion would be increased (to make up for the lack of motion at the fused place) and that repetitive motion (such as following the horse's movement at the sitting trot) could eventually cause more bone spurs to develop possibly causing more sciatica (removing bone spurs caused instability in my spine which is what led to my fusion). Since I did not care to risk having another fusion in the future, I decided that I would only do my dressage training at a rising trot or two point canter. It took me a while to regain my strength - I double bounced like a beginner at first trying to post but eventually was riding pretty well again as long as I posted and did 2 point. Unfortunately, doing so for a couple years did a real job on my knees so I now just trail ride mostly walking with a bit of a trot or canter now and then. But I am way older (I assume - almost 65) than your DD so her experience may be different. If you have any questions, feel free to PM me.


      • #4
        Where is the fusion? I had a c5 - c6 fusion over fifteen years ago and have continued riding ever since w/o any problem at all. My Dr. did know riding (his daughters rode) so he knew how to sabotage plans to ride during rehab. BUT he always said I could ride again. I was back on a horse in less than 3 month flatting (one horse a day not my usual four for a couple of months). In fifteen years I've fallen off and been ok too. I do agree that the fusion does put extra tension on the vertebrae above and below but riding isn't going to change that. I also went back to snowboarding. So two different fusion stories with two different results.

        I do suggest following your doctors instructions during the healing process - I knew someone who had the same surgery as mine who didn't listen, and she had problems.

        Don't wait either - nerve damage can not be un-done.

        AND get the best doctor around. My Dr. was one of the top spinal surgeons in the area. MUCH better choice than the Dr.s that diagnosed me!!


        • #5
          FYI I have titanium plates and a cage + bone from my hip in my spine now. The hip was the worst part of my surgery! Still gives me the willies!


          • #6
            I know a lady in her 60's who shows A circuit hunters very regularly that had a spinal fusion of the Lumbar region. Did all her rehab, got back on and never looked back! Your DD has hope and hope is essential to a healthy life. She'll be back on and enjoying horses again in no time.
            Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!


            • #7
              Mustangtrailrider has it right.......

              Not much to add, except to say have everyone involved in the process sit down and analyze everything that could figure into making the to ride or not to ride decision.

              Medical Mike
              equestrian medical researcher


              • #8
                I have had a lower spinal fusion of three vertabrae, this was done in 1989 so quite a while ago (and after two previosu back surgeries). I have ridden ever since. I do have some issues with sitting trot and really sitting the canter, as I have lost some mobility. I also, now that I am 52, am having more issues with my back hurting and my hip (where they took a bone graft from). But if I had not had this procedure I would have been unable to ride at all, so was worth it. I still lift and do a lot of manual labor, that probably I shouldn't, but there is noone else going to do it!


                • #9
                  I think it mostly depends on how much she's getting fused and where. For example, if she is getting half her spine fused (rare, but it happens), she will not have much mobility. But if she gets only one or two vertebrae fused, it shouldn't make too much of a difference.

                  I'm not sure, but I would assume that a fusion in the lumbar area would probably be more restrictive for riding than, say, the cervical area. But don't quote me on that, just thinking aloud.

                  In any case, make sure that she sits down with her doctor/surgeon and discusses it thoroughly with them.


                  • #10
                    When I was 13, I had my entire thoracic spine fused. I rode about 6 months after the surgery. It was a bit like riding with bricks attached to your back, but I think if I had stuck with it it would have been fine...I started driving a lot around the same time, have much more confidence driving than riding.


                    • Original Poster

                      So far the response are on the positive side for riding in the future. We will discuss this with her surgeon too. I'm glad to see that the fusions haven't stopped those of you who replied. I wanted to get an idea from those who have been through this to see if it is possible.

                      DD will be having a long fusion, T-3 or 4 --> L-3. I know the Thoracic region is not as mobile as the Lumbar - which she will still have two unfused vertebra.

                      I don't think she will want to get back into Dressage riding - mostly casual Trail riding. Interesting about the different feeling while riding after fusion. I had wondered if it would be just to uncomfortable.

                      Thanks for your replies


                      • #12
                        I have a lumbar fusion at L4-L5 (in 1995) and a cervical fusion with instrumentation at C4-C5 (in 2001). I am stiff and do not have a ton of mobility, but I still ride.


                        • #13
                          I had my first fusion in 2001 (I was 22 years old). L5-S1 was fused; had 4 pedicle screws placed with vertical rods connecting them. They did take a block of bone from my iliac crest - that was the worst part of the recovery. The back felt better long before the hip did.

                          My second fusion was in 2004. This time they fused L4-L5. The S1 pedicle screws were removed as that fusion was solid and they weren't needed. They used the existing L5 pedicle screws, added screws to L4 and placed vertical rods and a horizontal crosspiece connecting the center of the rods. This time they removed the L4-L5 disc and placed a block of cadaver bone in it's place.

                          Recovery from the second surgery was much quicker. I've had no problems since, I have excellent mobility (can still touch my toes while keeping my knees straight!), and I can ride without any problems. I do mostly dressage work with my OTTB who is prone to "Thoroughbred Moments" when he thinks something will jump out of the trees and eat him

                          I do a lot of routine work around the house; gardening, bending over, waxing the cars, stacking firewood... I might be a little sore after waxing 2 cars in a day, but who wouldn't?

                          I do have a patch of permanent numbness on the outside of my right thigh; that's been there since the first surgery.

                          One more thing: My first surgery was done by an orthopaedic surgeon who specialized in spines. My second was done by a neurosurgeon. If possible, use a neurosurgeon. My second surgery was 8.5 hours long compared to the first (3 hours) and I really feel like the neurosurgeon was very thorough and meticulous where the ortho was just concerned with finishing the surgery.

                          Best of luck to your DD and please feel free to PM if you have any questions.



                          • #14
                            I had a similar spinal fusion while in high school. (T3ish-L3) Three months after my surgery, my doctor cleared me to return to riding, and at six months I was cleared to jump. Almost 8 years later, I'm considering a switch from hunters/eq to eventing. My ability to sit the trot IS limited, more by length of stride than quality of gait, interestingly enough.

                            My recommendations:
                            #1) Find the best surgeon available. (Mine pieces together top-level race car drivers in his spare time.)
                            #2) Keep that core strong. Upon said world-class surgeon's recommendation, I didn't do any PT and just generally returned to life as usual. Now I'm starting to realize that if I don't strengthen my abs, those two little discs are going to get pounded into oblivion and quit on me. Also, if I slack on keeping my shoulders open, the tops of the rods start to catch on the overlying muscle.

                            I did follow doctor's orders to a T, but when he lifted all restrictions, I chose to live my life. So far, so good.


                            • Original Poster

                              Wow - I had no idea how many riders have metal in them! You guys really give us hope!

                              Taryn - you have great flexibility with your low fusion! I'm glad you replied because as a Mom we don't want to think of our children having restrictions for life. She will have both an Ortho and a Neuro for surgery. My yougest had both Dr's last year for a shorter fusion and she is so much better pain wise then before. She's in pt now building core to protect those unfused areas.

                              findthedistance - Thanks for the reply - you had the same levels fused as DD will have. Riding at three months - that's great.

                              Sometimes you luck out and the MD's are horse people. We've never been lucky that way, but we are lucky to have the best Dr's for this task, and a board like this to get real life answers from people in similar situations.

                              Thanks everyone - stay pain free!!!