The news that Andy Murray is to have a minor back operation hit the back pages last week. It is understood that he will undergo a microdiscectomy, a technique that minimises the tissue trauma in order to access the injured disc and the nerve that is being impacted upon by this structure.
Microdiscectomy – what is it?
For the decision to be made, it is likely that a disc has been seen on a scan to be affecting the health and physiology of a nerve root (where the nerve emerges between the vertebrae). In some people this will occur without causing pain but if pain and sensitivity does arise, then it is due to a gradual change in disc health over many months. Of course, it is very possible that repeated movements and in particular rotations with force will impact under certain circumstances. In fact, with any injury that is gradual, one has to consider the combination of circumstance (‘environment’) and genetics–termed epigenetics.
It seems that Murray has been experiencing back pain for several years. Many people who I see are in a similar situation having had pain for some time, often punctuated with more acute episodes. These acute bursts of pain are highly unpleasant and can make moving, working, sleeping and functioning very difficult for a few days and sometimes longer. When it comes to sports people, we can think about the injury or pain as threatening their career, however this is the same for others who plan to return to work following a back operation. Clearly the end point is different but the preparation and early rehabilitation need not be.
Preparing for surgery – see here
I make a point of encouraging a proactive approach to pre-op preparation both physically and mentally. Where possible, you want to be fit and healthy with ‘prehabilitation’, which is a structured programme of exercises to maximise tissue function. Picking up on the rehabilitation after surgery can be far easier if this is done in an orgainsed manner.
Equally, dealing with the mindset and fears that can encroach on one’s ability to train is as important. Understanding the pain, procedure, goals of the surgery and the recovery process will go a long way to reduce the stress and anxiety of an operation – or rather, the thought of an operation prior to the procedure. Using techniques such as mindfulness and relaxed breathing can be potently effective in reducing stress that occurs as a result of negative thinking. Certainly catastrophising about pain can lead to greater inflammation and thereby affect the healing process. We are seeking to optimise healing and therefore dealing with thinking that is overly worrisome can impact upon the immune system in the right way.
This will vary from person to person but in the initail stages it is all about allowing the tissues to go about their healing process, orchestrated by the neuroimmune system and certainly affected by other body systems. Beyond the gradual increases in movement, and tissues certainly need this for good healing, considering factors such as adequate rest, relaxation, good nutrition and a positive outlook are all key ingredients in creating the best possible conditions for moving forward. A range of strategies and techniques can be used including simple mobilisations but alongside motor imagery, mindfulness, movement of other body areas, the use of music and motivational techniques and cognitive tools to fortify resilience and coping to name but a few.
Rehabilitation is not just about exercising. It is about understanding, learning, motivating, creating the right context for movement with confidence and many more factors that can lead to optimised outcomes.
* Naturally, you should take the advice of your health professional when it comes to your treatment and rehabilitation.
If you are about to have an operation or are recovering, contact us now to learn about our comprehensive treatment and training programmes: 07932 689081