Dealing with spine problems - experiences, advice

alparrott

Platinum Member
I had the privilege of serving 20 years in the Army, during which time I also had the privilege of carrying what amounts to a medium-sized refrigerator on my back for untold miles and jumping out of planes to get to work. As a result, I've had multiple back and neck issues in retirement. I'd like to share what's going on with me in the hopes that if there are any other folks on the forum with similar issues, you might chime in with advice or share your experiences in dealing with your issues.

The first and most expected is a chronic lower back injury that's been around since 2005. In short, I have two herniated discs that when overworked, reach out and punch my sciatic nerve, leading to a spasmed back and loss of function in my right leg. When this happens, I'm in intense pain and pretty much unable to walk for several days until the spasming muscles in my lower back unclench. The first time the injury happened was midway through rehearsals for a musical, probably exacerbated by loading and unloading equipment, but also due to my day job. I was only 32 at the time.

More recently, a lingering neck problem has turned into some bulging discs that likewise pinch my cervical nerve, leading to pain, tingling, numbness and/or loss of function in my left arm and shoulder (cervical radiculopathy). These symptoms can last for a couple months and besides loss of sleep and chronic pain, I lose fine motor control in my left hand and some coordination on my left side. On top of which, the medication of choice for pinched nerves, gabapentin, can sometimes lead to a spaced-out feeling (not ideal for live performances).

I'm seeing a spine specialist and I'm on medication, plus I use an inversion table pretty regularly. I have Tempur-Pedic everything, try to practice good posture, keep my weight down, and exercise regularly. Both the conditions seem to flare up based on singular events (for the lower back, I might be mowing the lawn or lifting a box; for the neck, it's usually a cricked neck from an awkward sleeping position).

While the lower back issue is the more intense of the two, usually it's resolved within a week and other than loading, unloading, setting up or tearing down, it's not affected my playing. I have in the past played through a lower back episode when need be. The neck problem, however, is affecting my actual playing. My left hand feels like a hamburger on a string some days, and most other days I feel a loss of precision - and that assumes that I'm not experiencing too much pain to play in the first place.

Is there anyone else on the forum dealing with similar issues? What's your doctor saying to you? How is your playing coping (or not coping) with the problem? Any more holistic methods working to resolve pain or function?

Hopefully most of you reading this will have years of pain-free playing ahead of you. Please just remember, that when us old guys say "lift with your legs", we have a good reason for it!

Happy holidays, by the way.
 

tamadrm

Platinum Member
I know people that have tried everything under the sun,with lumbar back pain.It usually gets worse as we age,and eventually,it's bone on bone,with little cartilage left.I had several lumbar injuries,one was coughing while turning my head quickly,and the other was picking up a propane tank,and moving it to my left,with my feet planted,and just using my back.

The pain from the last injury,literally brought me to my knees.I also suffered boughts with sciatica.I foung a good chiropractor,and physical threrapist,that specialized in sports injuries..I also use warm moist heat and a TINS machine,when I first feel the pain.

The sciatica problem,went away,after he told me to put my wallet in my left pocket.When I placed it in the right rear pocket,it impinged on the nerve,and that created the pain.

There things worked for me,but everybodies different.I went to numerous orthopedic specialists,and all they want to do is cut....they are surgeons afterall.

So,in general,when I first feel the pain,I don't try to fight through it.That only makes it worse.I take some ibuprophin,a warm moist heating pad,and the TINS machine.and try not to move.

Normally,I'm infamous for telling people,NOT to seek medical advice ,on a drum forum,and see a real doctor.So as I stated in the above,this works for me,but it may not for you.Good luck with your L and C spinal problems.I know how painful it can be.

Steve B
 
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DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
I've had some really bad neck/shoulder problems.

I've had x-rays, MRIs, seen multiple Doctors.

The only things that worked in the end:
Good healthy eating
Deep tissue massage.

A good chiropractor can help, but I've found you might see 10 of them before you find a "good one".
 

Skyking

Senior Member
Short answer is to just live with it. Exercise and watch the weight. Carefully, use Hydro/Oxycodone for pain and finally avoid doctors as much as possible. The harm/benefit ratio is as loaded as between you and a Vegas Casino, and you ain't "the house".

My credentials come after a gear up crash landing and then another crash landing in a snowy, rutted field. Taking X-rays for constant back pain and then I was told I had an extra vertebrae but no disc to cushion. And finally let's not forget Osteo arthritis.

After about an hour in the chair practice is painful and the idea of gigs and hauling equipment confirmed my decision to bench myself. (That and the request to play country music). Good luck but there is no real answer to aging.
 
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Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
Short answer is to just live with it. Exercise and watch the weight. Carefully, use Hydro/Oxycodone for pain and finally avoid doctors as much as possible. The harm/benefit ratio is as loaded as between you and a Vegas Casino, and you ain't "the house".

My credentials come after a gear up crash landing and then another crash landing in a snowy, rutted field. Taking X-rays for constant back pain and then I was told I had an extra vertebrae but no disc to cushion. And finally let's not forget Osteo arthritis.

After about an hour in the chair practice is painful and the idea of gigs and hauling equipment confirmed my decision to bench myself. (That and the request to play country music). Good luck but there is no real answer to aging.
This is extremely loaded and potentially dangerous advice. He is supposed to take oxycodone on your prescription? Since you tell him to avoid doctors that must be the case.

Oxy addiction is serious stuff. A cortisone injection into the disc area is much safer and provided lasting relief for me after I violently herniated two cervical discs a few years ago.
 

mpthomson

Senior Member
I had the privilege of serving 20 years in the Army, during which time I also had the privilege of carrying what amounts to a medium-sized refrigerator on my back for untold miles and jumping out of planes to get to work. As a result, I've had multiple back and neck issues in retirement. I'd like to share what's going on with me in the hopes that if there are any other folks on the forum with similar issues, you might chime in with advice or share your experiences in dealing with your issues.

The first and most expected is a chronic lower back injury that's been around since 2005. In short, I have two herniated discs that when overworked, reach out and punch my sciatic nerve, leading to a spasmed back and loss of function in my right leg. When this happens, I'm in intense pain and pretty much unable to walk for several days until the spasming muscles in my lower back unclench. The first time the injury happened was midway through rehearsals for a musical, probably exacerbated by loading and unloading equipment, but also due to my day job. I was only 32 at the time.

More recently, a lingering neck problem has turned into some bulging discs that likewise pinch my cervical nerve, leading to pain, tingling, numbness and/or loss of function in my left arm and shoulder (cervical radiculopathy). These symptoms can last for a couple months and besides loss of sleep and chronic pain, I lose fine motor control in my left hand and some coordination on my left side. On top of which, the medication of choice for pinched nerves, gabapentin, can sometimes lead to a spaced-out feeling (not ideal for live performances).

I'm seeing a spine specialist and I'm on medication, plus I use an inversion table pretty regularly. I have Tempur-Pedic everything, try to practice good posture, keep my weight down, and exercise regularly. Both the conditions seem to flare up based on singular events (for the lower back, I might be mowing the lawn or lifting a box; for the neck, it's usually a cricked neck from an awkward sleeping position).

While the lower back issue is the more intense of the two, usually it's resolved within a week and other than loading, unloading, setting up or tearing down, it's not affected my playing. I have in the past played through a lower back episode when need be. The neck problem, however, is affecting my actual playing. My left hand feels like a hamburger on a string some days, and most other days I feel a loss of precision - and that assumes that I'm not experiencing too much pain to play in the first place.

Is there anyone else on the forum dealing with similar issues? What's your doctor saying to you? How is your playing coping (or not coping) with the problem? Any more holistic methods working to resolve pain or function?

Hopefully most of you reading this will have years of pain-free playing ahead of you. Please just remember, that when us old guys say "lift with your legs", we have a good reason for it!

Happy holidays, by the way.
Genuinely, and said as a medical professional;

Ignore any advice on an internet forum regarding treatment or medication for any spinal/musculo-skeletal problem unless you KNOW that person is a physio or doctor and have been examined by them.

The post regarding oxycontin is not good advice, even if well-meaning. Clearly medication should only be used as directed by a medical professional, even more so if it's one that has the potential to cause addiction. As I'm sure you know all mechanisms of injury are different and require specific treatment/maintenance.

Nothing wrong with discussing treatments or medications that others will tell you about with your doc/physio, just don't take anything as gospel.
 

alparrott

Platinum Member
Genuinely, and said as a medical professional;

Ignore any advice on an internet forum regarding treatment or medication for any spinal/musculo-skeletal problem unless you KNOW that person is a physio or doctor and have been examined by them.

The post regarding oxycontin is not good advice, even if well-meaning. Clearly medication should only be used as directed by a medical professional, even more so if it's one that has the potential to cause addiction. As I'm sure you know all mechanisms of injury are different and require specific treatment/maintenance.

Nothing wrong with discussing treatments or medications that others will tell you about with your doc/physio, just don't take anything as gospel.
Not intending to, and, no offense to anyone who posted, I am not interested in increasing meds at this time, or taking meds beyond what I am currently prescribed. I really am not looking for a prescription, but lifestyle/holistic/therapeutic choices that made pain, symptom, or flareup management liveable for folks. The chiropractic advice was well taken, and I will be following up with the VA to see if I can be referred to a local clinic. I realize that age brings with it some issues, but I do not intend to go quietly into that good night if there's no reason to.
 

Skyking

Senior Member
Jeff Almeyda;1314071This is extremely loaded and potentially dangerous advice. He is supposed to take oxycodone on your prescription? Since you tell him to avoid doctors that must be the case. Oxy addiction is serious stuff. A cortisone injection into the disc area is much safer and provided lasting relief for me after I violently herniated two cervical discs a few years ago.[/QUOTE said:
Not meaning to start an argument but the OP asked for "experiences and advice". As a licensed health care professional and fellow sufferer I gave a short answer and I still stand by it. Just re read carefully and I'll explain. Also, the quote above purposefully infers things that I did not say. This is what I said ...

"Short answer is to just live with it. Exercise and watch the weight. Carefully, use Hydro/Oxycodone for pain and finally avoid doctors as much as possible. The harm/benefit ratio is as loaded as between you and a Vegas Casino, and you ain't "the house."

Notice the words "carefully" and "as much as possible". I did not infer, as you imply, that anyone should or could get a prescription from me. One needs to see a doctor for pain control and management. But having spent the last 8 years of my life as a licensed health care professional and being responsible for the administration of thousands of physician prescribed medications, I too have seen many problems. One of the biggest are indeed pain killing drug seekers. Some people overuse Hydro/Oxycontin. Hence, I used the word "carefully", but most people use it as prescribed and it can be very effective for pain control. Otherwise doctors would not prescribe it and that is clearly not the case.

As for avoiding doctors, I said "as much as possible" and I stand by that. Yes, you need to see doctors. Just don't over trust or over do-it. I have seen many people harmed in this way. And finally I'm glad your spinal injection worked. However I personally would be very hesitant (never say never) to let anyone inject anything into my spine. There are real risks there too. That's my experience and advice.
 
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John Lamb

Senior Member
There's no reason to just go quietly into the night.

I have not had back issues that you describe, but I have had arm issues that led me to totally re-work my technique and posture for the better. I happened across something that is like the Alexander Technique, only specific to musicians. It is now being offered at Berklee and I had the good fortune to study with one of the leaders in the area, a pianist. I'm currently working on the book for drummers, due out in May. Reworking my technique solved my physical issues and helped my musicality to boot.

I'd recommend finding a teacher in your area, and if one is unavailable, an Alexander Technique practitioner. I'd recommend this specifically because your herniated discs. There is new research that shows Alexander Technique outshines physical therapy and massage over time for back pain.

Yours may not be related directly to the drums, however, and the solution may not be found behind the drum set alone. If something is physically changed/weakened then you might require a fair amount of physical therapy to change it back. The body does change, though. The entire skeleton destroys and rebuilds itself every month. The rebuilding rate slows down as you age but doesn't stop.


EDIT: Regarding doctors.... Finding a good doctor can take work. I never had a doctor accurately diagnose the cause of my arm problems. Repetitive motion injuries are mostly off their radar and most don't know how to find them or treat them. If you find the right doctor then the cure is often pretty easy (if you count relearning to play the drums as "easy" that is! lol) ... A hospital wouldn't be the first place I'd go to get something like that treated, as I've found a great chiropractor who specializes in musicians. May even be worth travelling for?
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I do not intend to go quietly into that good night if there's no reason to.
That's a great attitude right there. As many know here, I have a benign spinal tumour. The prognosis in 2007 brought me back to drumming, because I didn't think I had much motive time left. Here I am some 8 years later, & functioning better than ever. A lot of that is good fortune, but backed up by a serious "1 finger up" attitude to my situation. If you looked at my back scans, you'd wonder how the hell I walk, let alone play drums.

Al, there's no specific actions I can suggest, other than to stay motive & motivated. Constant activity whilst keeping away from those danger postures is the key for me. When i was first diagnosed, I was told to never lift anything heavier than a bag of sugar - so I immediately set about renovating a house & undertaking a massive landscaping project. It's my nature. I confounded the doctors, but they conceded that my activity had greatly strengthened my back muscles, & those in turn had supported my crumbling spine.

I still have bad episodes, really bad episodes when I have to resort to opiates. Luckily, that's not too often. I have 4 eroded lower back vertebra, two upper back/neck eroded vertebra, 5 pretty much non existent discs, all damaged by primary & secondary tumours that have propagated to neurofibromas & become highly abrasive elements. In short, I have very similar symptoms to you Al. I'm 54 years old, & I'll keep going until it becomes an impossibility - then I'll keep going some more ;) ;) ;)
 

Les Ismore

Platinum Member
I'm seeing a spine specialist and I'm on medication, plus I use an inversion table pretty regularly. I have Tempur-Pedic everything, try to practice good posture, keep my weight down, and exercise regularly.

Yes, love your inversion table.

MY PILLOW over TEMPUR-PEDIC

Get a CARMICHAEL throne.

Orthotic foot ware also helps me stay aligned.
 

evolving_machine

Silver Member
I have 7 discs that are ruptured now. I have to take it really easy. When I move a drum kit around I make the packages as light as possible, take my time and make many trips. I use a folding hand truck to move my stuff instead of carrying it. I got a cheap light set of hardware that I use and tie everything down with tie wraps for stability when playing. I like my Pearl hardware because it does not move, but I use a cheap set of impulse hardware because it is much lighter.

I use a throne with a back rest and make sure I use the back rest instead of balancing myself on my rear and I push my rear into the back rest and can distribute my weight better.

Stress tends to cause the back to tighten up and cause pain. Unfortunately, I still have to work for a living in a very stressful job.

Little things effect my back. If I use the high-hat too much, I can strain my back, sometimes if I play with socks instead of shoes, I can cause the back to go out. I think this comes back the balancing issue. When the two legs are playing different patterns, you are bound to have both feet off the ground at some point, and when that happens, you are balancing on your rear, and your back is then doing a lot of work. With the socks, the feet slide more and do not have a good placement to distribute the weight.

Staying fit is the key, but I find I have to be without pain in order to exercise. I have some medication that I keep for those bad days, but really do not take them but once every other month or so if that often.
 
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