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Making ourselves healthy

To what extent can we affect our own well-being?

Making ourselves healthy is a subject that pops up in the media with increasing frequency. Every day newspapers and magazines tell us what to eat and what not to eat, how to exercise and how much sleep we need to stay young, fit and healthy forever. And a few years later, these recommendations will be reversed completely:

  • Drink red wine
  • Don't drink any wine
  • Drink green tea
  • Drink black tea
  • Drink freshly-squeezed fruit juice
  • Fresh orange juice is just as bad as Coke
  • Coffee is bad
  • Coffee is good
  • Nope, coffee is bad, after all.

We all wish to improve our health, but to what extent can we affect our own health? My dearly beloved mother-in-law was very slender, walked a lot, had a healthy diet and died of cancer at age 74. Sometimes people just get unlucky.

How spinal hernias develop

So what’s the deal with spinal hernias? Are they congenital, are they a matter of fate, or are they a way to punish people for having an unhealthy lifestyle? In order to answer that question, it is useful to investigate which people are prone to hernias. Thankfully, there is a considerable amount of literature on this subject.

Genetic disorder

First of all, spinal hernias are more common in some families than in others. Some people grow bald by age 30, while others are more likely to develop a hernia. Such a predisposition to hernias is embedded in our DNA, which is to say it is congenital.

Lifestyle and profession

In addition, certain aspects of our lifestyle also put us at an increased risk of hernia. Back in 1975, an American researcher, Ms J. Kesley from Massachusetts, reported on various professions that are overrepresented among hernia patients. You see, it turns out that there is link between people’s profession and the risk they run of developing spinal hernia.

Ms Kesley demonstrated that spinal hernias are more common among people who have a sedentary profession, e.g. office workers and professional drivers, particularly lorry drivers on long-haul shifts. Sitting may seem like an innocuous pastime, but it’s not that great for your back. If you spend more than 50% of each day driving, you are three times more likely to develop a spinal hernia than someone who does not drive. Even if you only drive to and from work, you’re at an increased risk of spinal hernia.

After childbirth

Moreover, hernias are more common among women who have given birth to a child, or to multiple children.

Manual labour

What is notable about the results of Ms Kesley’s research is that they show that people who perform heavy work which puts a considerable strain on their backs, e.g. removalists, dustmen, farmers and paviours, are not at an increased risk of developing spinal hernia.

My own experience bears this out. In my 15 years as a neurosurgeon, I have only operated once on a removalist. The great majority of my patients are ICT specialists, secretaries, tram conductors, taxi drivers and lorry drivers.

So what can you do to avoid developing a spinal hernia?

Let’s get back to making ourselves healthy. Is there anything people who are at an increased risk can do to avoid developing spinal hernia? Thankfully, there is.

Avoid getting overweight

Of course, there is no need to start looking for another job. But if you are in a profession that puts you at an increased risk of spinal hernia, you could do worse than avoiding getting overweight (refer to my previous blog on this subject).

Stay in good general health

In addition, it’s a good idea to ensure that you stay in good general health. I especially recommend training the muscles directly surrounding your spine. You can make these so-called core muscles stronger, thus allowing them to help the spine carry your body. Because the real reason causing us to have hernias is the fact that at one point in the course of evolution we human beings began to walk upright.

After all, a hernia is a bulging intervertebral disc. These discs grew to have an additional function in us human beings, which was to absorb shock. Ponies, for instance, only need intervertebral discs to keep their backs mobile. They do not get hernias.

Last but not least, according to Ms Kelsey, people who are married are not at an increased risk of spinal hernia. Now there’s a relief!

In other words, having a healthy back is a gift of nature and the result of human efforts. But if those two aren’t working for you, you can always come and see a surgeon in the event of trouble.

Surgery manual

Dr. Schröder is happy to inform you about the surgical treatment of your neck or back condition. He also discusses the possible complications of the procedure with you.

After you've carefully weighed up the pros and cons of the surgery, you can decide for yourself whether you consider your condition serious enough to operate.

View the surgery manual

  • Instructions for after you have left the clinic

    Once you leave the clinic:

    • Make sure that someone comes and picks you up in a car, and refrain from driving yourself
    • Make sure that you recline your car seat
    • Make sure that you are not home alone for the first few days following the operation
    • Allow the wound to heal for the first 2 to 3 weeks
    • You are allowed to shower, as the nurses will give you a waterproof plaster to cover your wound before you leave the clinic
    • You must not drive for 3 weeks, but you will be allowed to sit in the passenger seat while someone else drives you around
    • You are allowed to do whatever you feel up to, as long as you keep listening to your body and stop doing whatever it is you are doing whenever your body tells you to stop

    Your doctor, nurse and/or physiotherapist will provide you with more information on how to look after yourself following the operation.

  • How long will I have to stay at the clinic?

    Depends on the nature of the operation

    The duration of your stay with us will depend on your situation and on the type of surgery you are undergoing. If everything goes according to plan, and if you are undergoing a minor back or neck operation, you will only have to stay with us for one night. If you are undergoing major surgery, such as a spinal instability operation, you will generally have to spend a few nights at our clinics.

  • Swelling after surgery

    Swelling reduced after 2 to 3 months

    After the operation, your wound will swell, which may be painless but may also be a little uncomfortable due to your skin being pulled so taut. Generally speaking, the swelling will subside of its own accord within 2 to 3 months of the operation, and the skin will grow less thick.

  • Medication after surgery

    Following the operation, you will be given painkillers for as long as you need them. You will receive these painkillers in accordance with a set schedule. It is vital that you take your medication at the scheduled times, even when you are not experiencing any pain. In this way, your body will build up a steady level of analgesia.

    Most people will be able to stop taking painkillers a few days after undergoing back or neck surgery. If your painkillers somehow fail to provide you with a sufficient level of relief, we recommend that you notify a nurse as soon as possible. If you were on morphine-like medication prior to your operation, we advise that you gradually cut down on your medication after the operation, if your level of pain allows you to do so, in consultation with your GP. Acute withdrawal may result in adverse events.

  • Post-operative pain

    If you are experiencing an excessive amount of pain, you will receive additional painkillers

    The level of post-operative pain differs from person to person, and from operation to operation. Generally speaking, major lengthy operations will prove more painful than brief minor operations. At our clinics, all patients receive proper painkillers following surgery, as a result of which very few of our patients ever experience a great deal of pain. In consultation with yourself, we will determine your pain score, both at the ward and once you are home (we will call you to discuss this with you). If your pain score is too high, you will be given additional painkillers.

100% insurance covery

Nearly all treatments performed by Dr Schröder are covered by health insurance. This is true for the following conditions: neck hernia, spinal hernia, lumbar spinal stenosis and cervical spinal stenosis.

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Dr Schröder's blog

Dr Schröder regularly publishes new articles on his blog. Read all about spinal hernia, neck hernia, spinal stenosis, neurosurgery and other related subjects.

View all blog posts

  • 13. On coincidence, bad luck and science

  • 12. Dozing off

  • 11. The Big Spinal Quiz for the articulate patient

  • 10. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

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