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Dear Doctor: Will I ever be able to ski again?

Tips to avoid back pain“I had a skiing accident a few years ago and slipped a disc in my back. Every now and again the pain will flare up and cause me a lot of pain. Is there anything I can do, and will I ever be able to ski again?”

Tom, Emsworth

Mr Jason Harvey, Consultant Spinal Surgeon practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital:

A slipped disc can be very painful, but most people will get better by themselves with the right pain relief and physiotherapy. In the first instance I would recommend antiinflammatory pain killers, such as ibuprofen, to settle the pain when it flares up.

You can also work on strengthening the muscles in your back and stomach, so work on your core stability. Keep an eye on the factors that trigger your pain and try to avoid them if possible.

If the symptoms don’t start to settle within a few weeks, we need to investigate further to find out exactly what is going on. GPs and physiotherapists should look out for what we call red flags, and if they think there is anything to worry about they should refer you to a back specialist for further testing and treatment.

Treatment would usually involve physiotherapy, pain relief, injection therapy of local anaesthetics and steroids to settle the pain. We try to avoid surgery if at all possible, and only a few people will need an operation.

The procedure involved is called a lumbar discectomy, which is a relatively small procedure under a general anaesthetic. We move the nerve out of the way and take away the part of the disc that is pressing on the nerve. That should then resolve the pain.

As for whether you can return to skiing, it depends on your symptoms and what is causing your back pain. I have had several patients both with and without surgical intervention who returned to skiing, so it’s certainly possible that you can get back to the slopes in the future.

Dr. Jason Harvey
Mr Jason Harvey, pictured above, is a consultant spinal surgeon practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.

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Posted on Wed, October 28 2015