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"Can I use an exercise bicycle to stay in shape without any damage to the spine?"


I am 73, male. I am an exercise freak accustomed to regular early morning walks coupled with mild aerobic exercise. Of late, while walking or standing for a long time I experience numbness in my toes, wobble, and lose my balance. An MRI revealed that there is “circumferential disc bulge and posterior disc protrusion at L-4 to L-5 levels, L5-S1 level with compression on S1 nerve root.” I was put on spinal chord rehab which has given only 50% relief. I am continuing the exercises, but not walking as much as I used to, with the result my weight is increasing.


Trying to stay physically active is an excellent goal, particularly for overall cardiovascular health. The symptoms of numbness, gait instability and back pain you describe are, unfortunately, very characteristic of disc bulging. Treating lower back pain can be very difficult and often takes a significant amount of time.

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In order to continue an active lifestyle and maintain your overall health, there are several things you can do. First, it is important to realize that getting relief from your back pain could take months (research studies on back pain can follow patients for up to 18 months). While you continue with the spinal cord rehab program, it will be important to be patient with yourself and to consider other lifestyle options such as modifying your diet to help control your weight. If you have previously been very active and you are now unable to exercise as much, you will need to decrease your caloric intake in order to maintain a stable weight. Your primary care doctor can help discuss this with you and may also be able to refer you to a nutritionist. In addition, you can also talk to the physical therapists in your rehab program as well as your primary care physician about other exercise options if walking is bothersome. An exercise bike may be a good option for you, and pain is going to be the limiting factor that lets you know you should avoid the activity. Other possibilities for low-impact exercise include swimming or even pilates. You can continue to discuss these options with your therapist and physician based on how you tolerate new activity.

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