Getting back to fitness after surgery

An expert in the psychology of exercise, U of A professor has firsthand experience about the importance of keeping active through back pain

Author: Jamie Hall

Wendy Rodgers knows a thing or two about back pain, but she knows even more about exercise. A professor in the faculty of physical education and recreation at Edmonton’s University of Alberta, she has spent her entire professional career studying the social psychology of exercise, health and lifestyle behaviour.

Shara Vigeant

Wendy Rodgers has spent her entire professional career studying the social psychology of exercise, health and lifestyle behaviour.

She also knows firsthand the value of remaining active through back pain. Several years ago, when her now 20-year-old son Michael was just a toddler, she purchased a baby backpack that doubled as a stroller. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but she soon found out differently.

Never stopped moving

“I call it the straw that broke Wendy’s back,” says Rodgers, laughing ruefully. “The backpack was very non-ergonomically correct. It rode so high on my back I was sure my son was going to fall out, so I was always walking at a slight forward incline.

“I’m sure I was pre-disposed from other earlier muscle imbalances, too, but that’s what did it.”

The “it” was a ruptured disk in her spine that took nearly three years to resolve, and which ultimately required surgery.

Through it all, Rodgers never stopped moving, despite what was at times excruciating pain. She continued walking right up until the time of the surgery, and started walking again—and using her stationary bike--as soon as she got the go-ahead from her doctor, working her way up in five-minute increments until she was comfortably able to exercise an hour each day.

“I didn't allow myself to get unfit." – Wendy Rodgers

Rehab a lifestyle change

“I didn’t allow myself to get unfit,” says Rodgers. “When you do, you have to do double rehab to come back from the surgery to regain that fitness. There’s a lot of evidence now that suggests pre-rehabilitation—having patients improve their fitness level to the extent they are able ahead of surgery—provides the best outcome.”

Rodgers says it’s important for people to approach rehabilitation as a lifestyle change, rather than a temporary fix. “People tend to treat rehabilitation from a physical injury like it’s a course of antibiotics,” she says. “You take it for 10 days and the bug is dead and now you’re fine. Really, though, it’s about teaching yourself a new lifestyle, and one that you can maintain forever.”


snap shots of activities

Been to before?
We've updated our site with more healthy back tips and facts. Learn more about simple ways to protect your back every day!

Talk with your doctor, chiropractor or physiotherapist about what kinds of activities are safe for you to help you manage back pain.

Feature article archive:

It starts with a stretch

Cargill participates in Take a Walk day.

The many benefits of Nordic walking

Walking the walk. Safety association gets behind back health initiative.

Eric Parent: many back pain sufferers can heal themselves

Shara Vigeant: low back pain common among office worker

Try wall yoga to alleviate back pain

Wendy Rodgers: Getting back to fitness after surgery

Judy Negrey: Kundalini yoga

Rosalyn Fung: Movement is the new exercise

Tyler Fix: Staying active through low back pain gets high praise from Edmonton chiropractor

Deb Pineda, Purolator health and safety specialist

Shambhavi Hughes: healing through yoga

Jillian Schick joined colleagues for Take a Walk Day

Kerri Deuna's colleagues have her back

Take a Stand. Why sitting too much can be bad for your health.