My Health Update (Watch Your Back, Moms)

August 23rd, 2019 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

Sixteen days ago I had back surgery to have a bone spur removed at L3-L4, a ruptured disc shaved at L2-L3, and a rogue piece of bone hanging out around my spinal cord deported. I had gone many years living with chronic pain, especially when standing, that was the worst in my right leg. Since it went away with bed rest, I could live with it, but I finally decided I couldn’t go through life living on my back as my symptoms were only getting worse with age (I am 63).

The post surgical pain was worse than I expected. The pain meds they give you these days are almost worthless, so it’s a good thing post-op pain is severe for only a few days.

Then five days after surgery, I developed nausea with cold sweats and near-fainting. I started throwing up. For the first time in my life I called 911. I’ve never been hospitalized for anything (no prior surgeries), but decided that dying from stubbornness would not be in my family’s best interest. I lost a sister due to stubbornness a few years ago.

While in the ambulance the paramedic gave me nitroglycerin, just it case it was a heart attack. That brought on all of the worst symptoms again. I started cold sweats, my blood pressure plummeted and I started to lose my eyesight. I said something like, “OK, you’re losing me…reverse that last thing you just did.” I was wondering if this was what the death experience was like for some people.

At the hospital the first concern was that a blood clot from the surgery reached my chest. After a number of tests, including a CT scan of my chest with contrast and lots of blood tests, it was decided my heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver were all in great shape. I was sent home.

Still feeling like death, I started monitoring my blood pressure and heart rate every 20 minutes or so, and plotting everything in Excel, which at least gave me something to do. My systolic pressure and heart rate correlated very well with how badly I felt. The lower the numbers the lower I felt. After day 3 my numbers finally started to rise (systolic had gone below 100 several times and my HR struggled to stay above 60). I finally started feeling human again about 10 days after surgery.

Then, while my body injury repair personnel were off working on my lower back stab wound and my still-inflamed leg nerve, some bacteria decided it was the perfect time to invade my lungs and sinuses. I’ve gone close to two weeks now with little to no appetite.

I saw the surgeon yesterday for my first post-op checkup, and he passed it all off with, “Surgery is a major jolt to the body. You are getting better now, right?” I asked him about why I felt like I was dying when my BP and HR were very low, and he answered, “Well, when you die, they go to zero, right? You were just somewhere in between.” Funny guy.

He asked if I needed any more pain meds. I said, “I quit using the ones you gave me (Norco 7.5s) because they didn’t seem to do anything.” He smiled and said something like, “Yeah, we mostly count on a placebo effect with those.”

Watch Your Back

Before surgery I categorized some published data on the pressures put on your spine during normal activities and made a chart, which I gave the surgeon. He loves it. The reason I did it was because I read that sitting up straight after surgery is important because it puts less pressure on the spine. But I’m a sloucher, and I didn’t believe it. I needed to see some numbers.

It turns out that for many years no one really knew what kinds of activities cause what kinds of strain on the spine because there were no in vivo measurements of these pressures. Doctors just told you things they had no quantitative evidence for. So, some enterprising and inquisitive orthopedists drew straws and the loser had a pressure sensor implanted in the lowest disc on the spine and they took pressure measurements for various daily activities.

Here I’ve converted their pressure units to PSI and logically organized the activities into groups that put increasing pressure on the spine.

Other that verifying my suspicion that slouching puts much less pressure on your lower spine that sitting up straight, what the chart really shows is why you should avoid bending over for up to six weeks after having a disc shaved. Bending over (especially if you are pick up any amount of weight) puts a huge amount of pressure on your lower spine, and can put you right back into surgery if you don’t follow doctors orders.

In fact, it looks to me like there should be a lifetime ban on lifting anything while bending over. There should be a government regulations and an agency, with back enforcement police going around and cracking young mothers on the ankles with a baton if they see them picking up their toddler without using their legs rather than back.

Just kidding, of course.

Anyway, I am on the mend and will be back to causing trouble here again very soon. I’ve been following the other blogs and news and see that the field of climate change lunacy and hypocrisy continues to be a target-rich environment.

113 Responses to “My Health Update (Watch Your Back, Moms)”

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  1. Tim Rhyne says:

    Glad to hear that you are doing better. Your voice is important to a lot of us.

  2. SMS says:

    As someone who experiences back pain on a regular basis, you have my complete sympathy. I’ve talked to enough people to be very wary of back surgery. Many of those I talk to who have had surgery seem to think they are worse off or that they saw no improvement. But when the pain is great enough, surgery is the final act. Get well soon. We need the monthly world temperature updates and the trolls need a (any) reason to crawl out from under the bridge.

    • Lucas says:

      Just thought I’d throw in my two cents. I had two back surgeries for ruptured disc’s at twenty (sport’s related). I would do it again in a minute. I went from chronic pain to almost pain free overnight after the second surgery.

      That was 30 yrs ago. While I have stiffness and soreness occasionally I am still able to work in the yard, workout (run, weights), and play with my kids etc. I would imagine that over the last 30 yrs the surgical techniques have only gotten better.

      I would choose the surgery over the pain again any day.

    • Reziac says:

      Back issues that need surgery need not be painful. I’ve known two people who had serious stenosis and absent surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, would have eventually become quadriplegic. Their primary symptoms were 1) misdiagnosed for years as carpal-tunnel syndrome, and 2) persistent numbness in the feet. Afterward, the first had to wear a neck brace for several months, but was otherwise all right; the second had significant pain for a few months but then it abruptly became better.

      What happened to Dr.Spencer sounds kinda like potassium flooding from the muscle injury that’s a natural result of cutting through it for surgery. (Crush syndrome, on a very small scale.) Since everything else checked out fine, I think I would do a thyroid/parathyroid evaluation, just in case, as possibly being in response to calcium metabolism not being quite right (which could also cause the bone spurs).

  3. Bernie says:

    Have never posted before, mostly consider it an education for me. Glad you are doing better. Your narrative is a great example of how the pendulum has swung to far on the opiod crisis.

  4. Steve says:

    Glad the health is heading in the right direction (so you can get back to work!). I’m a sloucher too with sciatica. Therefore, the chart is helpful!

    I’m surprised that standing is more pressure than jogging! My sciatica gets worse when I jog (after jogging not during).

  5. A C Osborn says:

    Sorry to hear about your poor health both before & after the Surgery.
    I have had some back pain and my Father had 3 collapsed discs (he shouldn’t have tried to help pushing a 30Ton Locomotive).
    My son has major problems with his upper back due to work related RSI injuries, along with most of his collegues.

    I hope you get better very soon.
    Something that might cheer you up, M Mann lost his case against Dr. Ball.

  6. Mikec says:

    Get well sir.

    • Curious George says:

      I second the wish. I had a minor L3/L4 surgery a year ago. The sciatic pain was gone in a week, the surgeon assured me that I’ll recover totally in 6 weeks. However, I gained 12 pounds on weight, and I only managed to lose 5 of them so far.

  7. OleKlemsdal says:

    Dear Roy! As a cardiology specialist with interest in climate (and a Ph.D. on vasodilation and nitroglycerin related effects), it was interesting, but frustrating to read your experience. Medicine, lik climate, is a science with great uncertainty, several myths that needs to be debunked, and a lot of published studies that are stating false conclusions – all to well pointed out by Ioannidis in his famous paper (Why Most Published Research Findings Are False
    John P. A. Ioannidis
    Published: August 30, 2005 ).
    Sceptisism therefore is essensial.
    Yet, som basic pathophysiologic knowledge are quite good established, and your vasovagal symptoms with low blood pressure and nausea were quite typical, and also identical to the well known side effects of nitroglycerin (I have tried nitroglcerin several times during my ph.d. work to calibrate my measurements on the vasodilator effects).
    I greatly appreciate your blog, and hope you will get better very soon!
    Best regards Ole Klemsdal, Norway.

    • Thanks for the professional insights.

    • James Keil says:

      For people who have similar problems as Dr. Spencer’s I wouldn’t recommend this but if you experience back pain and it’s not yet chronic or if you want to build up strength all around doing planks at least once a day has made quite a difference with me. 30 seconds would be good to start and I’ve noticed considerable muscle improvement all around when I can now do 3 minutes at a time.

  8. John W. Garrett says:

    Get well.

    We need your expertise and your good judgment.

  9. MarqueG says:

    That sounds absolutely miserable! Hope the worst is all behind you now.

    As a long-term lurker here, I will be glad to see you recovered, posting your observations in your clear and often witty style.

  10. Thom Dillon says:

    Glad you are doing better.

  11. Massimo PORZIO says:

    Hi Dr. Spencer,

    Glad to ear that you are healing now.

    I should have back bone surgery too, I have 3 cervical herniated
    discs to remove, C3-C4, C4,5 and C6-C7. But I’m very afraid of surgeons and MD in general, so I’m delaying that : – (
    Anyways my worsening conditions are pushing to do it one day or another (sigh!)

    I wish you a quick recovery and great days.


    • I’ll admit there are a lot of horror stories about surgical outcomes. Physical therapy was not helping move the disc or bone spur away from the nerve. The only thing that helped was me getting stung by 3 bees a couple weeks before surgery.. about 1 week later I was pain-free, but that lasted only one week. The surgeon said he could fix it, so I said let’s do it.

      • skeptikal says:

        I really hope that the surgery works out for you.

        I know two people who have had back surgery and both of them are now ‘horror stories’, one of them even had a second “corrective” surgery but that only made his situation worse. I’ve suffered lower back pain most of my life and surgery is not an option for me after seeing how it messed up these two people. Back surgery is such a crap-shoot and I’m not feeling lucky enough to take that risk.

        Wishing you all the best… stay positive and you’ll heal faster.

        • Massimo PORZIO says:


          I was glad to listen to a story that could convince me to do that and now you added twos that pull in the opposite side!

          Jokes apart,
          Dr. Spencer, I suspect that my situation is bit more complicate than your, because I’ve also a C2 calcification that push on my spinal cord, or better is my spinal cord that lays on that calcification since I had the car accident at age of 18.
          Unluckily in last 5 years, due to growing of the 3th cervical herniated disc (the first two were already there just before the accident), I experienced a progressive degeneration of my walk and now my backbone is almost done.
          Honestly the doctors predicted this a long time ago, I just delayed year after year the surgery hoping in the medical progress, but I unluckily have to witness that at least here in Novara (the biggest city close to my hometown) that progress is evident for medical instruments, but it’s compensated by a reduction of the overall competent doctors.

          Here are all “specialist” in a particular organ or illness. There are almost no more doctors that treat your body as a whole.
          So, for example, one doctor cures your backbone pain, and in the meantime endanger your vascular system with the pills needed to do it. The other specialist endanger your stomach while is fixing the damages done from the pills prescribed by the first and so on.

          There are no more those generic doctors of a long ago which treated you as a whole human. Or better, probably they are still there but are hidden into the crowd of the specialists.

          Again, I wish you a quick recovery and great days.


          • skeptikal says:


            I didn’t want to talk you out of it. I was just saying that I haven’t seen good results from the two people that I personally know who have had back surgery and that’s why I wouldn’t even consider having such surgery now. I’m also fortunate that my back isn’t degenerating very fast. I’m very careful how I treat my back and maybe that’s helped me to get this far without needing to have any surgery. The things that I know I can’t do, I just don’t do.

            I think you may have a valid point when you say that the outcomes might be influenced by “a reduction of the overall competent doctors”. Maybe the two people that I know with bad outcomes just got the wrong doctors.

            If your back is degenerating and you really “need” to have the surgery, then try to find a good surgeon and get it done… you don’t want to end up completely crippled with pain.

          • Massimo PORZIO says:

            Hi skeptikal,

            don’t worry, I was joking with that.
            Excuse me if I was not clear about that.

            I’m in perfect agreement with you.

            Have a great day.


  12. Mark Wapples says:

    Just like to wish you a speedy recovery.

    I enjoy reading your website and regularly look to it for honest information.

  13. Roy A jensen says:

    Thanks for the post.

    Getting old has its challenges. Glad your doing better.
    I too have had back issues and have learned the value of stretching.
    It seems to me that the tendons, shorten when not stretched out. resulting in the muscles tensing to compensate which results in pressure on the joint.

    Squating slowly and often helps. sitting and pulling a knee as close to the chest, slowly helps. Sitting and bending forward till I can touch the floor with my fingers, also done slowly helps to. Loosing up the tendons take a great deal of stress of the joints.
    Keep moving with in the bounds of comfort, never stressing to the point of pain.
    Will keep you in my prayers.
    Your efforts for truth is a beacon to those who have been confused on the climate issues.

  14. garaud jean claude says:

    Bonjour Mr SPENCER,

    Je vous souhaite la meilleure forme pour le futur proche
    J’apprécie beaucoup votre blog,et peut être vous sera t il agréable
    de savoir que je suis de Toulouse ,donc très loin des USA ; ceci pour dire que vous avez un public immense qui a besoin de vous.
    sincèrement jean claude

  15. garaud jean claude says:

    Bonjour Mr SPENCER,

    Je vous souhaite la meilleure forme pour le futur proche
    J’apprcie beaucoup votre blog,et peut tre vous sera t il agrable
    de savoir que je suis de Toulouse ,donc trs loin des USA ; ceci pour dire que vous avez un public immense qui a besoin de vous.
    sincrement jean claude

  16. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    Get well soon Roy.

    Where I worked (British Telecom) they were having lots of people off sick with back trouble from incorrect lifting. They ran a series of training courses for all staff teaching them to lift by bending their legs and not their back. They then had an even bigger problem with staff off sick with damaged knee ligaments.


    Kelvin Vaughan

    • Kelvin Vaughan says:

      Just remembered a funny story. I was asleep in bed one night and all of a sudden I woke up with what felt like a knife sticking in my spine. I couldn’t breathe in or speak because the pain was so bad. I managed to elbow my wife to wake her up. She just said “stop it” and “go to sleep”. Eventually I managed to inch over to the edge of the bed and roll off onto the floor and the pain stopped. I stayed there all night.

      • Gordon Robertson says:

        Kelvin…”I was asleep in bed one night and all of a sudden I woke up with what felt like a knife sticking in my spine. I couldnt breathe in or speak because the pain was so bad”.

        Four guesses, since you survived the night:

        1)panic attack, which can produce a similar reaction.

        2)gall stones

        3)pancreatitis…related to gallstones.

        4)Blood clot passing from the legs into the lungs.

        Never felt such pain than from 2) or 3).

        You should have called an ambulance.

        Current advice over her in Canada, should you suspect a heart attack, is to chew 2 aspirin. Don’t swallow them, chew them and get the powdered Aspirin into you quickly. The Aspirin thins the blood and helps to dissolve clots.

        BTW…you chew the Aspirin while awaiting the ambulance which you called.

        • Kelvin Vaughan says:


          It was a slipped disc in my case.
          I can’t take Aspirin as I am allergic to it.
          Thanks for the advice anyway.

  17. Chloe Kennedy says:

    So glad to read that you are on the mend. Stay with us Roy, yours is a much needed voice for sanity and balance in the Climate ‘Crisis’ debate.

  18. Klaus Wilde says:

    Life is a flow of forms and self-expression within identity. All the best! We need you still some time! Greetings from Germany, Klaus Wilde .

  19. Ossqss says:

    Speedy continued recovery Doc!

    My professional treatment schedule for this weekend would be to find some football, comfortable Lazyboy laid back, and some cold beverages of choice. And of course a ready, willing and able facilitator to assist with refills 😉

    One would wonder if your body reacting to the surgery was concentrating blood flow to the area of trauma initially and enhancing said symptoms along with the lurking/growing background infection, or flu combo. Hospitals are like malls for sickness shopping.

    All the best and make it a great weekend regardless! Cheers!

  20. Nate says:

    Hope this surgery helps. Sounds like misery. Did anyone suggest the laser spine surgery? Ive heard that might be a gimmick.

  21. joan says:

    Glad to hear that you are doing better.

    Stay with us Roy, yours is a much needed voice for balance in the Climate ‘Crisis’ debate.

    Your voice is important to a lot of us.

    Your website is an important reading for me and regularly look to it for honest information.

    Get well !

    Joan, from Spain

  22. David Appell says:

    Roy, sorry to hear this but glad you’re on the mend.

    I’ve had surgery on both ends of my spine, including fusions from C2 to C7, with metal rod along both sides and plates over the middle, as a result of spinal stenosis from bone spurs (and, before that, a ruptured disk.) I still sometimes have a fair amount of pain, but find that stretching and neck exercises are crucial to keeping it in check. And resting when you need to. Some days I lay down for an hour or two in the middle of the day to take the stress off. It’s a good time to read. It took me a good while to accept that I could no longer sit at a computer all day the way I used to.

    Be well.

    • Ossqss says:

      Gravity is inevitable as we age and grow brittle. Glad you are doing well too with the work around David.

      I would say, exercise helps along with proper weight targets in the house. That is not peer reviewed, but has worked for many. In today’s world a sedimentary lifestyle doesn’t help as you age. Basic math on caloric intake is all you need to look at. Input/output.

      Live and learn as they say.

      • David Appell says:

        Ossqss, it’s a constant battle between getting enough exercise and staying out of the pain that exercise causes.

      • Gordon Robertson says:

        ossqss…”Gravity is inevitable as we age and grow brittle”.

        The myth that we must grow brittle as we age is something you need to challenge. We humans develop all sorts of beliefs, especially the belief that we will likely die by such and such an age. If you believe anything like that it likely will come true.

        We become brittle because we begin losing lean muscle mass by age 30. If it is not replaced with an activity like weight-lifting, the loss of muscle compromises the body’s structure.

        Furthermore, muscle growth involves vitamin C twice. Without adequate C, the process is compromised. I am not talking an orange a day, I mean at least 40 oranges a day, or 6 x 500 mg chewable C tablets, or 3000 mg of ascorbic acid power.

        Look at the alternative. No C and we waste away with scurvy, a disease in which muscles and tissue wastes away. The government has conned us into believing 75 mg of C a day is all we need. A 154 pound billie goat makes 12,000 mg a day for itself.

        As Linus Pauling once commented, “Seems the billie goat knows more than the government”.

        • The Real Plastic says:

          You said: “We humans develop all sorts of beliefs, especially the belief that we will likely die by such and such an age. If you believe anything like that it likely will come true.”

          OK. That’s it. We’ve all just been doing mortality wrong since time out of mind. We are intended to be perpetual motion machines, but now I know better thanks to a person with little education, logic, or experience…medical and otherwise, it is painfully clear.

          Maybe get off the Internet sometimes instead of spamming sites with hundreds of half-arsed comments that only showcase the small corral where your obsessions trot. The sunlight and fresh air might do wonders.

          • Gordon Robertson says:

            plastic…”Weve all just been doing mortality wrong since time out of mind. We are intended to be perpetual motion machines, ”

            Maybe if you were not such a jackass you might read what was said rather than responding with a knee jerk reaction.

            Did I mention immortality? Did I suggest we could live longer than the expected range for humans?

            Most people sit on their arses after a certain age waiting for death. A jackass like you would likely do that rather than checking out means of staying healthier, longer. Why? Because you’re too stupid to think out of the box.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      DA…”Ive had surgery on both ends of my spine, including fusions from C2 to C7, with metal rod along both sides and plates over the middle, as a result of spinal stenosis from bone spurs (and, before that, a ruptured disk.)”

      Sorry to hear that, man.

    • gallopingcamel says:


      You have my sympathy. I wish I could say “Get Well” but we both know that won’t happen.

      More realistically I hope things don’t get any worse.

  23. JDHuffman says:

    Dr. Spencer, you may need to find a good Physical Therapist.

    The speciality of Physical Therapy has emerged from sports training. A “PT” is trained on muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. An experienced PT can usually diagnose your problems just from a quick interview and putting you through some basic movements. Years ago, a professional athlete might be out for the season, due to an injury. Nowadays, with physical therapy, he can return to the game in only a few weeks, stronger than before.

    About 30 years ago, I injured my back. It was not bad enough for surgery, but I often suffered pain. Then 5 years ago, a friend recommended weight training. I had never done any weight training, but due my friend’s advice, I could almost train myself. After only a few months, my back was cured.

    As we get older, our muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones weaken, especially if we are inactive. A PT will be able to prescribe a regimin to restore all. I can tell you weight training is the “fountain of youth”.

    Often back surgeons do not know the exercises needed to restore. You need someone that specializes in restoral.

    And, you’re right, running/jogging is not what you want to be doing. You can rebulid muscle, ligaments, tendons, and bones, but not joints. Protect your joints.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      JD…”And, youre right, running/jogging is not what you want to be doing. You can rebulid muscle, ligaments, tendons, and bones, but not joints. Protect your joints”.

      You were right in an earlier comment, that as we age, the muscles, tendon, and ligaments weaken. The key to running/jogging is to keep the tendons/ligaments/muscles strong so we are not pounding the joints.

      If anyone is going to run/jog, he/she had better ensure the muscles, tendons, and ligaments are strong enough to support the joints. Muscles will build quickly but tendons and ligaments can take a year or more to develop adequately, especially if one has been sedentary for a lengthy period.

      I have played soccer most of my life, trained at Tae Kwon Do for years, lifted weights for years, and run long distance regularly. I have no joint injuries whatsoever related to running/jogging.

      My back has given me gip at times when I have indulged in contact sports. However, the back is in a precarious position. A slight lean forward puts strain on the muscles of the back. The back is a hinge in a critical position.

      When I was running regularly, my quads were massive and all muscles related to the knee, thigh, and ankle joints were strong. That means the tendons and ligaments were strong too.

      Remember, JD, the heart is a muscle, and the best way to keep it fit, as well as the arteries, is to raise the heart rate to at least 60% of max for at least 20 minutes at least 3 times/week on a regular basis. Walking will do it fine, but running/jogging does it more efficiently FOR ME. That does not mean it will be more efficient for everyone.

      I like walking, but when I try to walk fast enough to raise my heart rate beyond 110 BPM, my stride and comfort level becomes awkward. I actually feel like breaking into a jog.

      Granted, you can attain good cardio health by walking, which I tend to do these days, but I am trying to get back to slow jogs. I really enjoy the action of jogging as opposed to fast walking.

      Having not run/jogged for years, I began walking while gradually building speed and endurance. After a year or so I began a slow jog. My knees were not the issue, it was my cardio. It’s amazing how much of a load a slow jog can put on the cardio system compared to walking.

      I persisted, using intervals. I would count each time my right foot hit the ground, counting to 25 followed by at least a 25 count walking interval. I would repeat the intervals up to six, or less, if I did not feel the impetus. Then I increased it to 50. I am now jogging intervals to a count of 200 and feeling comfortable. No joint pain.

      I would jog very slowly, so slow that I could walk faster. Eventually, I noticed my stride strength increasing till I felt the old spring in my step again. It’s hard to describe, you have to experience it, like the second wind experience.

      It’s likely true that people trying to run/jog without adequate strength in the supporting muscles, tendons, and ligaments might face joint issues. However, I would like to dispel that notion as a rule of thumb. Joints get damaged when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments cannot support the force on them. I am convinced that can be reversed by doing the obvious.

      Tendons and ligaments serve as shock absorbers, as do muscles. If you learn to use them efficiently you can avoid injury and you don’t engage in violent contact sports. Then again, where’s the fun in that?

    • Roy W. Spencer says:

      Yes, the surgeon made it clear that PT will be necessary so I can learn how to use my body without causing the same problem all over again.

  24. Stephen P Anderson says:

    Good luck with that Dr. Spencer. I used to have a lot of problems with lower back pain and then I met a chiropractor who was a collegiate gymnast. He believed the number one cause of lower back pain was pressure from the hamstrings and out of shape abdominal muscles. He started me on a regimen of stretching and abdominal exercizes. He believed in stretching your hamstrings to the point of tears welling in your eyes and then for 30 seconds beyond that. In a few weeks my lower back pains went away and haven’t bothered me in decades.

  25. Joey says:

    Dear Doctor Spencer – I hope you get well soon and that your back heals well.

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your sane, factually based articles on the climate. I have read your books, and enjoyed them very much. They do help providing facts to refute climate nonsense when one encounters it in the world at large.

    I have curvature of the spine (in two spots my vertebrae don’t line up straight). When I was about 19 (seems an awfully long time ago! – I am 65) a chiropractor told me that as long as I kept my back muscles strong, I should not have back problems. I have done that all my life, I do exercises regularly to ensure my core muscles stay strong. Just a thought for the future.

    Please look after yourself. Every time I go to your website and see something new, I know there is a treat in store for me.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      Joey…”When I was about 19 (seems an awfully long time ago! I am 65) a chiropractor told me that as long as I kept my back muscles strong, I should not have back problems”.

      Sound advice. Another reason to exercise as one gets older is to maintain lean muscle mass. If you don’t, after age 30, the muscle mass will begin to decrease.

  26. Jan Benes says:

    Dear Dr.Spencer,

    Glad to hear that you are doing better. I too have had back issues. My experience is that back pain if not caused by structural damage – now hopefully removed by your surgery – can be avoided when one keeps to excercise regularly. However once the pain is gone, one has a tendency to stop excercising. At least i do. I found a trick how to keep my back in shape without excercises. Instead of using a chair at my desk, I sit on an inflated ball. I do so for over 25 years now, 10 hours a day. Balancing on a ball makes you wobble and move your back continuously. This little movements are all what my back needs to stay ok.

    Get well soon.

    Jan, from Belgium

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      jan..”My experience is that back pain if not caused by structural damage now hopefully removed by your surgery can be avoided when one keeps to excercise regularly”.

      I have read that after the structural pain is gone, the body can anticipate impending pain, even though there is none, and produce painful spasms in an attempt to head of the muscle movement once employed to produce the pain.

      I have experienced this and the spasms can be almost as bad as the original injury.

  27. Mike Flynn says:

    Dr Spencer,

    Sincere best wishes.

    You have my sympathy if you had the feeling of impending doom which is characteristic of a vasovagal reaction. Its often bad enough that the only thing that keeps you alive is the hope that youll die! (Thats an attempt at humour, by the way.)

    A small anecdote. At the gym, my weightlifting technique was not, shall we say, anatomically approved by the consensus. Anyway, a newly anointed coach, replete with shiny qualifications, politely enquired as to whether she might show me the right way to lift, so as to minimise the risk of injury.

    I relinquished the bar, and the coach (younger, bigger, and no doubt stronger than me), demonstrated all the things I was doing wrong. Back not straight enough, incorrect hand and foot placement, wrong grip, and so on. She then got half way into the dead lift, dropped the bar and hobbled away howling in pain! Accidents happened, and a ligament in her knee decided to give up.

    And yes, I have sustained the odd injury from attempting to lift too much – and learnt from the experience. So far, so good.

    The moral of the story is that life is often unfair, and from time to time, sh*t happens.

    Get well. Stay well.


    • Gordon Robertson says:

      Mike…”The moral of the story is that life is often unfair, and from time to time, sh*t happens”.

      D.o.u.g H.e.p.b.u.r.n, won a gold medal at the Olympics as a heavyweight weight-lifter, and set world records at other times. He was just a naturally strong beast of a man.

      He was visited by a kinesiologist from a local university who pr.o.c.e.e.d.ed to examine D.o.u.g’s techniques, claiming them incorrect. D.o.u.g looked at him quizzically and asked, “Say…how many gold medals have you won”?

  28. Don Andersen says:

    Best wishes for continued improvement, Roy.

    PS: I’ve had a crushed sciatic nerve and associated ‘drop foot’ for about forty years. I have often thought about surgery but the crushing of the nerve removed the sciatic pain (leg is numb but I can live with that).

    PPSS: I think your story may help with my decision *NOT* to have surgery. BTW, I have a nitroglycerine story very similar to yours too.

  29. Mac says:

    Best wishes for a complete recovery…and thanks for this information which may save some of us from considerable pain or worse!

  30. Strop says:

    Hi SMS,
    I can highly recommend a book by Dr John Sarno called “Healing Back Pain”.

    “A book! Do you read it or use it for lumber support?” I hear you say.

    It’s a bit of a tough read, but if you have a good reason to read it then it’s well worth it. For the cost of less than 1 chiropractic visit it’s a bargain.
    I was existing on anti inflammatory pills and two chiropractic visits a week for months. Read the book and haven’t seen a chiropractor or taken a painkiller for nearly 20 years.

    Howard Stern was on Larry King Live and recommended Dr Sarno’s help. He was right.

    Dr. Sarno saved me from a life of pain, Stern told King. I had such tremendous back pain for years that even during my radio show I would lay down on the floor when commercials were playing trying to somehow alleviate the pain in my back, and it was just near impossible. Life was becoming so painful.

    The Dr has written subsequent books.

  31. Strop says:

    Be well Doc.

  32. donald penman says:

    Hope you have a speedy recovery and best wishes.

  33. nurse ratchet says:

    Sorry to hear so many suffering with back issues. Best wishes to all.

  34. gallopingcamel says:

    Dr. Roy,
    Your narrative really impressed me. Somehow you managed to keep track of what was going on right through to the poor performance of pain meds.

    I had L3:L4 surgery in 1995 with the good fortune to have a tag-team consisting of William Richardson (hands like hams orthopedic surgeon) and Dennis Turner (bird like neurosurgeon) at the Duke University Medical Center.

    It was so painful that it was several weeks before I could walk or sit for more than a few minutes.

    A year later I was sitting around like a vegetable and might have stayed that way but for Ed Bilpuch bullying me to play golf.

    I hope you have a friend like Ed who won’t let you turn into a vegetable.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      cam…”I hope you have a friend like Ed who wont let you turn into a vegetable”.

      Good point. Roy…as soon as you can handle moving about, go for it. The morning after my appendix surgery (my appendix had ruptured and I was glad to be in the land of the living), I could barely stand to get to the washroom. Thankfully the surgeon did not insert a catheter, my worst fear.

      The nurse encouraged me to begin walking right away, as much as I could handle. She lured me to the nursing station, about 50 feet away, where they had a fridge stocked with fresh fruit. Each day I would go for my fresh orange, a banana, and an apple, then walk a few feet further. The nurse was delighted.

      With a couple of days I was walking the entire ward, then lapping it, hauling along the stand with my antibiotics and the vacuum draining inflammation from my appendix.

      It is amazing how quickly the body will respond. Don’t let the mind run the show, just stand and walk as far as you can walk comfortably. If you can’t, you can’t. However, you don’t know what you can do till you try.

      Like Cam, I learned to deal with pain in sports. If you can move and the pain does not get worse, you’re likely OK. If things begin to tighten, or get more painful, that’s a warning sign to back off. If the pain lessens with movement, you’re laughing.

  35. Gordon Robertson says:

    Roy…sorry to hear of your issues with pain and feeling terrible. Glad you are on the mend.

    Re pain killers. I think the best non-opioid prescription pain killer is Aspirin 292 with codeine. The night before having my appendix removed I was camping. I had been discharged from the ER with a non-conclusive diagnosis of appendicitis.

    By the time I got back to the campground, the pain was so bad I could not stand straight. The ER had given me muscle relaxants, which did nothing. Placebo??? I called in about the pain and told them I had 292’s. They told me to take two, and that did the trick. Slept like a baby.

    Forget the Tylenol crap, even with codeine.

    BTW…don’t listen to anything a surgeon tells you outside of surgery. They tend to be colossal, egotistical windbags. They can be very opinionated about other medical disciplines they know nothing about.

    I have suffered back issues at various times in my life due to sports stresses. I played soccer most of my life and ran long distance. The worst effect on my back, however, came from doing high kicks in Tae Kwon Do. At times, I got so bad after sparring that my back would spasm getting into or out of my car. Horrible feeling, not being able to get into the car or back out with a back spasm.

    I had to retire from Tae Kwon Do just as I got to my black belt level. The back. However, I continued to run long distance for years and had little or no problem.

    There is a secret to running/jogging with regard to the back. I call it ‘delivering your weight’. You need to jog with a deliberate action till it becomes automatic. You roll off your standing foot toes and roll onto the planted foot at the heel. This action is subtle. My feet barely clear the ground while jogging, so the roll is slight, no more than a 1/4″.

    I watch so many joggers thumping their feet down onto the ground and that has to jar the back. The action suggests to me their leg muscles and tendon are inadequately developed to handle the stress of jogging. That means further, based on their strained breathing, that their cardiovascular capacity is poor.

    In other words, if you begin a walking/jogging program, do it slowly and give your body a chance to adapt.

  36. Milton Hathaway says:

    Dr. Spencer – you had me on the edge of my seat reading your story – I was afraid you were going to say that you didn’t pull through! What a relief to know that we still have your voice of sanity in these trying times.

  37. Philip says:


    If your pain persists and your pain killers are not doing anything, you can look into medical cannabis. There has been many reports of the effectiveness of medical cannabis on pain relief and how it reduces addiction to opioids.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery. I have a lot of respect for what you are doing in climate science.

  38. Daniel says:

    Holly smokes…
    get well and stay in the middle!

  39. Fred Yeganeh says:

    Wishing you a speedy recovery! Just wanted to let you know that your work has touched many people and I am one of the thousands if not millions(?)!

    Sorry to get back to the task at hand: On the climate change front, I have a question. It is accepted that the temperature readings are routinely adjusted. If so what is the magnitude of this adjustment compared to the magnitude of the certainty bar/range that is claimed for the temperature reading of the planet.

    I would think the error range has to be wider than the adjustment as the adjustment is an acknowledgment of an error and the true value could lie anywhere in between and beyond. To me, there should be no adjustments, just wider uncertainty bars if you are not sure of your measured data. Isnt that the way science is supposed to work?

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      fred…”It is accepted that the temperature readings are routinely adjusted”.

      You mean ‘surface’ temperature readings. It is politically related.

  40. beng135 says:

    Sympathize. Had the L3/L4 fusion 2.5 yrs ago correcting a ruptured disc from decades before — after some pain recovering, a complete success.

    • beng135 says:

      And Roy, I too struggled w/low blood pressure (down to 80/40) & resultant listlessness & headaches after the surgery. Someone later stated that one of the anesthetic drugs can cause this post-surgery.

  41. Richard Greene says:

    Like a true scientist:
    You learned a lot about back pain.

    You were skeptical of “consensus: medical treatments.

    You shared your knowledge with those of us who have permanent or occasional back pain.

    You also wrote:
    “Ive been following the other blogs and news and see that the field of climate change lunacy and hypocrisy continues to be a target-rich environment.”

    Could that be the source of your post-surgical pain?

  42. RW says:


    Get and stay well. Back pain can be the worst I know.

  43. Aaron Rachlin says:

    Get well soon Dr. Spencer!

  44. Rick Strain says:

    You should read the work of Stanley Bigos,MD he has the best evidence based work on disc pressures. Also he and Eugene Carragee,MD have made huge real science contributions to the knowledge of the lumbar spine. Love your blog the more you are up and around the better you will be.

  45. Dear Roy,

    Best Wishes for a speedy recovery! My wife has experienced some of the problems you describe. So I know what you are going through.

    For myself, I just keep going at age 73 with work on my tree farm. Cutting down dead trees and turning them into firewood is great exercise. Although I have help from a diesel tractor, I still have to handle about 15,000 pounds of wood each year to heat our house. Some of the rounds are much too heavy for me to lift. So I just roll them toward my log splitter, where they can be reduced to something that I can pick up.

    There are always workarounds for those things that we cannot accomplish with brute force.

    Again, Best Wishes.


  46. Darwin Wyatt says:

    Sorry to hear about your pain doc. Alas, I also suffer occasionally after lifting something wrong. I’ve found the best pain med, even better than opiates is combining tylenol/ibuprofen and sativa. The worst pain I’ve ever had is testicular torsion, broken ankle and threw out my shoulder. The latter hurt like a mofo! Can’t take opiates cause of addiction risk. Couldn’t sleep or move from agonizing pain until aforementioned combo.

    Not looking to argue w anyone but marvel at our grocery model and wonder why we can’t have something similar in healthcare. 10 different kinds of cheese with companies all competing for efficiency.

    On aging: Aging is just an accumulation of senescent cells. Everyone should read this article.

  47. Michael J Breedlove says:

    I was having problems in the lower spinal area. Painful ones. My physical therapist turned me on to this wonderful little device called the “sacrowedgy”. Cheap, simple, invented by a sports orthopedist. You just lay on it and it decompresses the sacral area. May not work for issues further up the column. But it has eliminated my pain. Consult your therapist or just go to their official website I have NO association with the company but I love their device.

  48. Alick says:

    Dr. S, glad you’re back.

  49. Alan Reed says:

    You’re a good bloke, Roy, and not a bit stuck up.

  50. Bruce says:

    First time commenter. I am 45 this year, about 165 lbs and have deadlifted 500 lbs with a rounded back(bad form) with absolutely zero back pain. I have a friend the same age who ruptured a disc shoveling snow. The point? I think a lot of back health is genetic. This is very interesting information.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      bruce…”I am 45 this year, about 165 lbs and have deadlifted 500 lbs with a rounded back(bad form) with absolutely zero back pain”.

      Were you using a weight belt and lifting from your legs? I was taught to regard the arms as strings hanging from the shoulders and to have them hanging straight down to the weight in a deadlift while the legs did the work.

      I’d say you have been lucky. I was dead-lifting 165 lbs with no weight belt and I felt a slight pop in my lower back. Within minutes I could not stand up straight.

      I under-estimated the weight, thinking it an easy lift. Bad mistake.

      • Bruce says:

        I did wear a belt a four inch wide powerlifting belt. One website said to look at the ceiling to stop rounding. That didnt seem to work either for me when Im tired I dont think I can concentrate on form. I quit deadlifting and now just do bodyweight exercises like pistol squats -maybe harder to hurt yourself with your own bodyweight.

  51. Ray Cronise says:


    When we were at SSL in the late 80s/early 90s I had severe sciatica. Mine was pinned to L5/S1 bulging disk. I was an asst MSCI on IMl 1 and we had a payload called backpain with Peter Wing from Vancouver serving as the P.I. We spent lots of the down time on console/SOPGs discussing many of the reasons, but his number one advice to me was to never bend over. You may even recall me squatting, not sitting, during seminars in the front conference room.

    Ultimately I decided to avoid surgery, and did the exercises in the out of print Treat Your Own Back (McKenzie) that Peter recommended. He pointed out at the time (seem to recall September 1988 issue of journal Spine but didnt see it on quick search) that surgery/self treatment had similar outcomes – some worsen some improve. Its dated now anyway.

    After about 18 month of very strict exercise, no bending over, etc… the pain slowly retracted up the leg until finally it was gone. I occasionally get a little awareness from time to time if Im working in the yard or sit in a lousy seat for a long time (like flights to China/Thailand), but it subsides in a day.

    I know how miserable this all can and wish you a speedy recovery. I wanted to at least give some, perhaps anecdotal, evidence that bending over seems to exacerbate the issue and it seems to have helped me remain free of pain for all this time.


  52. JohnD says:

    Good luck Roy. I take 10 grams a day Collagen (great lakes brand) to encourage disc maintenance. Conventional medical wisdom will tell you Glycine and Proline are non essential amino acids because they can be made by the body. But if you actually read those studies from the 1950s that wisdom is based on, you will see those are small sample sizes on almost exclusively collage age men.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      john…”I take 10 grams a day Collagen (great lakes brand) to encourage disc maintenance”.

      John…collagen is made from vitamin C. Why not take megadoses of C and make your own collagen?

  53. Scott R says:

    Dr Spencer,

    Wishing you a speedy recovery! Thank you for all that you do here. Finding your information 10 months ago has been life changing for me… and I enjoy the scientific debate. It’s much more enjoyable than the typical blogs where people quote the 97% agree thing and it’s settled science and call it a day.

    Be sure to rest up and don’t try to overdo it while you are recovering. For workaholics that can be a real challenge.

    Thanks again.

  54. Ted Gilles says:

    Good grief! I didn’t know you had been ailing. Hang in there because we sure need you. I am in full scale war with Dallas Morning News threatening to cancel my $780 a year subscription if they don’t abandon their bias and publish my 0.01% carbon dioxide increase in 60 years letter.

  55. pochas94 says:

    Glad you’re feeling better. You’re one of the good guys. We need you.

    I recommend sparging the ocean ahead of a hurricane to bring cold water to the surface.

  56. JohnD says:

    No. Collagen is made from amino acids. Vit C is a completely different cyclical ring structure. Vit C may act as a catalyst/signaling molecule in collagen formation, not sure.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      johnd…”Collagen is made from amino acids. Vit C is a completely different cyclical ring structure. Vit C may act as a catalyst/signaling molecule in collagen formation, not sure”.

      John…I got it from Linus Pauling that vitamin C is involved twice in collagen synthesis.

      Bit of free advice, John, don’t stop taking vitamin C altogether or your collagen will break down. In fact, if you are relying on the RDA you could be in a condition of sub-clinical scurvy.

      “Scurvy as a clinical manifestation of severe vitamin C deficiency is caused by ascorbic acids role in collagen synthesis. Collagen type IV is a main constituent of blood vessel walls, skin, and specifically, the basement membrane zone separating the epidermis from the dermis. Vitamin C allows hydroxylation and crosslinking of pro-collagen catalyzed by lysyl hydroxylase. Lack of vitamin C decreases transcription of pro-collagen”.

      “Vitamin C functions as a cofactor in many enzymatic reactions in animals (and humans) that mediate a variety of essential biological functions, including wound healing and collagen synthesis”.

  57. Gordon Robertson says:

    I thought this deserved to be moved down here.

    real plastic…”Weve all just been doing mortality wrong since time out of mind. We are intended to be perpetual motion machines, ”

    Maybe if you were not such a jackass you might read what was said rather than responding with a knee jerk reaction.

    Did I mention immortality? Did I suggest we could live longer than the expected range for humans?

    Most people sit on their arses after a certain age waiting for death. A jackass like you would likely do that rather than checking out means of staying healthier, longer.

    Why? Because you’re too stupid to think out of the box. You are likely a climate alarmist to boot.

    • JDHuffman says:

      Gordon, you must be having a “bad-hair” day! Usually, you can handle uninformed commenters with much more patience than here. Maybe you’ve had too much vitamin C?

      But on a serious note, I once read that “studies” have shown the body doesn’t need megadoses of vitamin C. As I recall, they monitored intake versus outgo. Since the body ellimates excess vitamin C, it is easy to test and monitor both intake and outgo. The recommended daily amount is then just enough so that the body uses it all, without eliminating the excess as waste.

      Again, I’m working on memory, but I believe 500 mg is plenty sufficient for a daily supplement. This amount should be increased in cold and flu season. I once had a doctor, who was continually exposed to cold germs during winter, tell me that he took 8000 daily. Although the excess still gets eliminated, the intent is to hold the concentration in the blood high enough to handle cold germs. I know, some “studies” have shown vitamin C is not that effective against colds/flus, but my personal experiences indicate differently.

      Your thoughts…

      • Gordon Robertson says:

        JD…”I once read that studies have shown the body doesnt need megadoses of vitamin C. As I recall, they monitored intake versus outgo. Since the body ellimates excess vitamin C, it is easy to test and monitor both intake and outgo”.

        Got all my vitamin C stuff from Linus Pauling. He gets a bad rap from jealous types in the medical profession who don’t know a fraction of what he knew about chemistry.

        Pauling tested mega doses on himself and did his own analysis. He claimed that a dose of 10,000 mg has 50% excreted through the bowels and urinary tract but he claims it acts as a potent antioxident in those tracts.

        The other 5000 mg is retained. It’s a myth that it’s all excreted. Although Pauling took about 18 grams a day (18,000 mg) he recommended 3 grams (3000 mg) for the average person. In fact, the Pauling formula aimed at the reversal of heart disease recommends 3 grams C and 3 grams Lysine.

        He discovered along with Mathias Rath that the body produces lipoproteins that are used to repair leaking arteries. If you don’t get enough C, the arteries will harden and leak due to oxidation. C reverses that process since it is a potent antioxidant. So the 3 grams in the formula is aimed at repairing arteries.

        Pauling theorized that leaking arteries produce scabs inside the artery to which lysil deposits in the blood stick. The lysil deposits build up, especially near the heart, and can eventually cut off blood supply.

        When Pauling heard the evidence about lysil deposits he knew immediately as an authority in chemistry, that Lysine would undo the lysil deposits.

        Here’s something on Pauling. He was a giant in chemistry.

      • Gordon Robertson says:

        JD…”Gordon, you must be having a bad-hair day! Usually, you can handle uninformed commenters with much more patience than here”.

        Yeah…you’re right, of course. I guess I reached a limit with jackasses changing their nyms and attacking from left field.

        • the Real Plastic says:

          I’ve followed this blog for some time, just never posted. Don’t act all butthurt because occassionally someone might challenge an opinion you express. This is not a “left field attack.” You’ve been smugly incorrect about many things for quite some time but act like a challenge is some great crime.

          • Gordon Robertson says:

            plastic…”Youve been smugly incorrect about many things for quite some time but act like a challenge is some great crime”.

            I don’t see any rebuttals from you. I don’t think you could provide any. You are just po’d because I present science that throws your pseudo-science out the window.

      • Gordon Robertson says:

        JD…I replied to your post twice…don’t see either post listed. Let me know if you got them.

  58. barry says:

    Aaargh. That’s a horror story. I’ve had spondylolisthesis since I was a teenager. It’s been getting tougher to manage with age. Hope the PT helps.

  59. Danica Gnjatovic says:

    What you described looks like you had spinal anesthesia and had complications from that procedure. If the spinal needle ruptured the dura it can cause cerebrospinal fluid leakage causing low blood pressure, terrible fatigue and headaches.

    Dr. Gnjatovic
    Ret. Anesthesiologist, Croatia

  60. Bindidon says:

    Roy Spencer

    I am sorry that you had to suffer so much! I wish you a full recovery.

    Best regards from Germany
    J.-P. D.

  61. Jorge Fernndez says:

    Cuidate Roy, y gracias por lo que haces!

  62. Ansgar John Brenninkmeijer says:

    Keep up the good work!

  63. Estrellita says:

    are neurosurgeon and neurologist the same

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  65. Moneezy says:

    Hope you are well

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