Feeling sad...back surgery, anyone?

Yesterday I had my first follow-up appointment with my neurosurgeon after a herniated disc and lumbar discectomy. I am cleared to work cautiously and very lightly ride my bike. In another month I’ll be cleared to ride gravel roads again. Unfortunately, I mentioned unicycling and he said absolutely not. He made it sound as though I should give the sport up entirely. Admittedly I haven’t been unicycling regularly since before nursing school, but my hope was that after graduation and starting my first job, I’d get back into it. Unfortunately, 3 weeks into my job I got injured, so once again I’m putting unicycling on hold. After yesterday’s appointment, though, I can’t figure out if he’s advising against unicycling because he doesn’t understand it, or because it is truly a bad idea with my 3 shot lumbar discs. I’ll likely be giving up muni because I fall the most then, but I was planning on at least trying road and dirt road riding…they sound relatively safe. The UPDs scare me because of the running and pounding required to catch myself, but maybe in a year I’ll be up for it. Even if I was given the okay to unicycle, it’ll still be up to a year before I can ride, since I still have slight drop foot, leg weakness, and my big toe is numb. Flexing my foot to find the pedal just isn’t going to happen. :frowning:

Any unicyclists out there who have had this surgery and/or have disc problems? What have your providers advised? Has unicycling made things worse or better in any way?

Wow, so sorry to hear about this development.
I can partially relate, since I have several bad discs myself, but certainly not as bad as your experience (no surgery!). But I will say that unicycling strengthens the muscles all around that area, so the more I ride, the fewer problems I have. That being said however, a UPD with a bad landing could be really bad for you, especially at this stage of your recovery. It might be possible to work up to riding, but I definitely recommend caution. I’m guessing a good physical therapist would be able to provide a lot of good insight. (Of course, when I told my PT I was riding a unicycle, she laughed and thought I was nuts.)
Good luck, and take it slow and careful!

The riding itself is probably excellent for your back, coming off especially at speed could be devastating. Depending on your confidence and skill level you could probably do some limited riding but please be carefull and try not to push yourself (increasing chance of fall).

Doing everything the PT suggests is probably the best advice. If it’s anything like when I wrecked my shoulder you won’t have time for much else.

Sorry to hear about your frustrating and painful injury bwrightback. :frowning: But I don’t think you should be too ready to give up unicycling forever.
With your best interests at heart, the neurosurgeon is going to warn you off anything that sounds risky for your back. That’s very sound practice on his part, but does he really know whether unicycling is in fact risky for your back?
You are cleared for riding a bicycle gently. Cycling makes your lower back work hard too.
Running is harder work for your back than cycling or unicycling. Like you said, the UPDs are more scary than riding. It might be worth asking the neurosurgeon about whether you will be fit to run again, even maybe sprinting.
Nursing is the activity that is really risky for your back, with the unexpected forces that occur. It’s important to stay fit to protect yourself there, and unicycling might be more beneficial than harmful in the long run.
I wonder what skilewis74 has to say about back injuries and unicycling? Also check out Danny MacAskill’s injuries.
If you can recruit a sports physiotherapist who’s interested to observe you unicycling and work with you on specifically unicycling, that would be the best thing.

My surgeon laughed at me too. :slight_smile:
I definitely agree that unicycling builds up the core. It’s just the running that I can’t do. Or the falling. :slight_smile: I start PT soon to rebuild all of my core, hamstring muscles, etc. and work on waking up the nerve signals in my foot again, so I’ll see what the PT and Doctor think when I’m done and fully recovered. Thanks!

Thanks! I was told to give up running 3 years ago, as it is the reason my back is now messed up. Wish I’d received that advice sooner in life. I was also told to stay away from nursing, but my bedside nursing career isn’t going to be long. I intend to go to NP school within the next 1-2 years.

That’s a good idea to demonstrate to the PT the actual unicycling mechanisms. Probably won’t happen for a while though.

I wish I could say I was as good of a unicyclist as Danny MacAskill is a trials rider. Haha I doubt my injuries are as severe as his. :slight_smile:

Here’s a video if you’re familiar with Martin Ashton.

Talk about emotional. Brings tears to my eyes every damn time.

I’m sure we could do the same with you Bri.


One of my discs has degenerated almost completely, I can’t bend over any more without tremendous pain. Another disc is on the way out. Surgery is somewhere in my future.

I had to stop unicycling over a year ago now due to the pain. Low key rides helped me a bit (the main issue is working through the pain to freemount) but muni would ensure that I’d be walking hunched over for a day or two.

We’re in the same boat, but it sounds like you’re actually doing something about it. I’ve got to wait a little longer before I can get my back fixed.

Really sorry to hear about your surgery etc… I have had problems with my lower back for the last year (I had a bad fall on my back). I was getting better but a bad bash on my coccyx when landing from a jump have put me out of action for a few weeks. I haven’t been to the doctors about it yet (hoping that is just an mild sport injury and it will heal itself) but hearing about your slipped/herniated discs does make me worried. I can see how falling out unexpectedly out of the unicycle could aggrevate your discs/injury (it does to me at the moment), even if you land on your feet. Also I guess the sudden twists of your spine when turning the unicycle etc… might be also not be a good thing?

I guess the only thing you can do is to follow the advise of your physiotherapist/doctor. The last thing you want to do is to make it worse…

Good luck and I hope you get better

Sorry to hear you’re still hurting. I could not even imagine being able to free mount right now, and if I am allowed to unicycle in a year, I’ll probably have to learn how to do it all over again! I hope things start looking up for you!

Coccyx injuries usually heal on their own, albeit very slowly. I have an injured coccyx from probably a year ago that is still tender. I actually mentioned this to my surgeon, wondering if maybe it was referred sciatic pain, but he said no, and that there’s usually not much physician can do to treat coccyx injuries other than allow time for natural healing (and maybe prescribe a donut pillow for sitting). But every case is different!

Wow, it’s been so long since I’ve unicycled, I forgot to imagine the twisting involved. So I guess that’s more to consider as I get closer to the year mark. All of this is very helpful, and I will see what my PT recommends at the end of my therapy.


sorry to hear it
i hope you will be better asap

Sorry to hear that.
I think my stuff was not so bad, but I’ve had bulged/ruptured discs 3 times in the last 15 years (originally from lots of running combined with sitting at a desk, but the recurrences were more just from sitting at a desk combined with vibration from lots of offroad/downhill mountain biking). With the last one 7 years ago the radiologist said it was really bad and recommended surgery. I talked to a bunch of specialists and as it sounded like there were almost as many bad outcomes after surgery compared to those without, I didn’t (it depends on the injury but most top doctors recommend conservative therapy over surgery if at all possible). Mine got better slowly but was always kind of there (like when driving a car more than 1-2 hours it was unbearably painful) until I started unicycling regularly. I now attribute my rarely ever feeling it (basically only when bending over for extended periods like when working on my bike or unicycle) to unicycling, as it uses and strengthens all those muscles along the back and spine.

As has been said above, I think unicycling itself is way more good than bad (and way better than bicycling as you have to sit upright). It’s just the UPDs and falls that you have to worry about. Obviously while you have any major pain and restricted movement it must wait. But it seems like road riding should be doable and even beneficial after you heal up if you work in to it gradually. I personally haven’t found any therapy or training that keeps my back pain-free than unicycling.

bwrightback, there is hope.

I fractured my 1st & 2nd Lumbar (L1, L2) when I was 19. I was in a brace for the summer but over time got my strength back (no pun intended) and was able to do just about anything after a year or two.

A few decades later, late 2008, I started having severe leg pain. I had an MRI which showed my lower back had a kink in it. It looked like an S. To make a long story short I went to a surgeon and had a laminectomy on L1 - L4. A laminectomy basically removes tissue, lamina, from the back of your vertebra to relieve pressure. After I recoverd from surgery I found out that it basically did nothing. I still had shooting pain down my leg.

Within a few months I found another surgeon, he said he would’ve done the same thing on me and so he recommended I get a fusion as the next step. So less than a year and half after the first surgery I had L1 - L4 fused. ie. two screws in each vertebra with a rod on each side holding them all together. He also straighten my kink, though it’s still not perfectly straight it is much better.

It took a several months to recover but I lead a fairly normal life. My surgeon told me no running. The last thing your back needs is more pounding.

In 2013, I did what people with bad backs shouldn’t do, I yanked on my kayak trying to get it out of the water. When I yanked, I blew my L5 disc. Man that was painful, probably worse than my surgery. When I did that it was the beginning of my wife and I vacation. We were with 20 or so people on a kayaking trip on Lime Island which is a small island in the middle of St. Marys River. No cars, no doctors and the next day I had to kayak back (~ 3 miles) to the Upper Peninsula.

Anyways after recovering from that mess I started getting into unicycling to help tone my core. (I learned when I was a kid but didn’t ride much since.) I bought a 20", than a 29", than a 36". You should’ve seen my wife’s face when I first showed her the 36", she almost fell over, actually I was a little scared at first, the thing is huge.

Anyways, When you feel your back is ready I would spend a lot of time on the smaller wheels so you can sort out how your back is taking it. If you fall off a 20" chances are you’ll land on your feet. As you get into the larger wheels you have a greater chance of not landing on your feet. Not good. I’ve upd’d on my 36" twice where I didn’t land on my feet, not good, but it made me more cautious. I’m 60 years old now and don’t really want another back surgery. Plus I’m spending more time on my 29" which is much easier to ride.

As far as pain is concerned, I always have pain, whether I’m sitting in a chair, lying down, or unicycling. It’s part of the gig, don’t let that stop you. I hope everything goes well with your recovery. Give it some time, take it slow.



Lots of good advice in here, but use caution on back advice. Everybody’s backs’, and back injuries, are different. Even people who had the same surgery on the same vertebrae may have very different neurological issues. My wife went through years of pain and a destroyed disk, before having surgery in 2012. Pins and needles in the feet, feet on fire, etc. Which she still gets sometimes, but usually only after a long or hard day.

She rides a recumbent. Those are very back-friendly, but not great as unicycles. While riding a unicycle is very good for your lower back, crashing and possibly even mounting, can tweak your problem areas. Not to mention riding over lots of bumps. So my advice is to proceed with caution. If you ride lightly, on smooth ground (Road riding, essentially) it’s probably not a bad thing, but probably wait until your current owies have subsided. Oh, and on the Road riding, you probably want to stick with an upright posture. the semi-aero position I use can sometimes aggravate my back after long rides. I have some form of disk damage that can bother me after a lot of lifting or other, similar activities.

There are probably some light exercises you can also do to strengthen your core and lower back, but I don’t have recommendations. I would seek those only from professionals familiar with your specific problem. Much as I hate to say it, a healthy back is more important than riding unicycles! :frowning:

Hope you recover from the surgery quickly. Just remember you know your body better than anyone. Be patience and good luck.

Great news! I was recently cleared to start a run/walk program and to ride bikes on gravel roads. I think that means I can unicycle and maybe even ride along some forestry roads. During my recovery I’ve been doing a lot of hiking and ultralight backpacking. I just completed a 72+ mile backpacking trip in the Sierras and it went very well. So my next step is to get back into unicycling.

I have a 20", 26", and possibly 29" remaining. I imagine this will not be as easy as getting back on a bike. Has anyone gone almost a year without riding? Did you start on a smaller wheel first or was it an easy muscle memory process with the larger wheels?


I’d start with the smaller wheel. To run out UPDs off a 29er cuold be bad for you back. So I’d start with the small one and step to the next size whenever I feel comfortable an confident to do so.

It sounds like you are doing great! I had a recurrent back injury 6 months ago and I am still struggling with pains/stiffness in my lower back and neck. No idea what the cause is (strain, sprain mixed with anxiety? - they don’t think is a slipped disc). In my particular case I find basic distance riding
the best for my injuries rather than using a smaller unicycle where is easy to get carried away and to try tricks, quick turns and so on which at the moment don’t agree with my back. As they say the only problem is avoiding UPDs… I would say a 26 is good size to do a bit of riding but small enough to avoid UPDs if you stick to smooth tracks/roads.

Glad to hear you are back on the wheel Bri :slight_smile:

Mainly a +1 of the previous replies: try each one on a smooth parking lot to see which one feels better. Then take it on pavement without hurry and it should help your back to have extra exercise while limiting brutal movements (as far as possible…).

Nice to hear your recovery went well.

I would recommend starting with the 20" unicycle just because it is a shorter distance to fall. I know its been a year, but I think you’ll pick up riding again very fast. Welcome back.

Hey, great to hear you’re back in the game, Bri!
As the others, I would recommend the small wheel on hard, smooth surfaces to begin with. That way you will have the fewest bumps and shocks to your back, and if you upd, you can just step off. I don’t think it will be much to re-learn your skills, you’ll just be a little “rusty.” Just take it slow and easy. (I had a similar “re-entry,” and it wasn’t too bad. You never really forget how to ride.)
Wow, great backpacking trip! That would be a big effort for anyone, let alone someone coming off a major back surgery. What a trooper!

cheers! :slight_smile: