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Zoa Linsey IFBB Professional Bodybuilder - 4+ weeks post-ACDF C6/C7

Zoa LinseyZZoa Linsey Posts: 5
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:48 AM in New Member Introductions
Hi everyone!

My name is Zoa Linsey and I am a professional athlete, personal trainer and lifestyle consultant. I wanted to introduce myself here as I have a unique story and a very different path to what I consider 'full recovery' after a huge herniated disk and ACDF surgery. This is due to the nature of my sport and goals as an athlete. I learned a lot on this board and was hoping that by sharing a little I could encourage some of you and perhaps, as a health and wellness expert, possibly help some of you understand the importance of nutrition and activity to healing well. :)

When deciding how to deal with a mammoth painful herniated disk diagnosed almost 7 weeks ago, which occurred 2 days before competing in the Ms. Olympia in Las Vegas (the super-bowl of bodybuilding for those who are not familiar with bodybuilding), I had read very little positive stories on-line, in fact most were enough to scare the *crap* out of me! I still made it up on stage, but was heavily medicated and in such pain, I barely made it through. I had prepared my whole life for this event, and being on this stage means that you are on of the top 10-15 bodybuilders in the entire world! So I struggled to make it up there, despite excruciating pain!

I also had a guest-posing engagement back in Japan (where I live) so had to wait an additional 1 1/2 weeks before getting home to Okinawa and seeing another surgeon. While in Vegas I had muscle injections, an epidural, 6 prescriptions, none of which eased any of the pain.

Due to the intense nature of the pain and the rapid decline of the muscle, I had a strong recommendation from my neuro-surgeons here in Okinawa (where I live) that I would need to have surgery immediately if I were to halt the extensive nerve damage and atrophy that was occurring already on the R. side of my body. The concern was more aesthetic and pain reduction, as b/c of the large amt of muscle I have already, my body was still completely functional (full movement). My other muscles were just taking over. And of course being unable to do anything due to the intense pain. Wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy!

I won't post my whole story here (too long) but just wanted to make a note that more than 4 weeks after my surgery I am doing cardio 30 min/day, light (at home) rehab type weights and am driving, sleeping in my own bed (on my side!) and feeling 100% relief from my initial pain. What I'm left with is a very atrophied R. tricep (long head) and a slightly numb R. Lat muscle. Because of my sport complete muscle development is very important (we are judged on aesthetics) so my concerns have been 3-fold after surgery:

1. recovery from surgery itself (reduction of pain and healing from incision, tissue damage etc)
2. healing of the bone graft 100% so I can return to heavy weight lifting
3. restoring the damaged muscle (growing the nerve back if possible!)

I usually make 'update' videos for my FB fan page (I'm not soliciting anything here, I have nothing to sell!) but wanted to share it with everyone here to bring you some hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So please chk it out if you're interested and throw me any questions you may have!

Of course listening to your doctor and not going beyond your level of recovery is important, but I wanted everyone here to know that there is hope! I gained a lot of information of this site so appreciate everyone on here already and wanted to give something back.

Thanks and hope I can continue to update if you are interested...just let me know...and I will keep posting!

Zoa Linsey
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Youtube vid (post surgery update):

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Faceback page (tracking my recovery):

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Post Edited by Administrator Dave


  • Zoa,

    First off, Welcome to Spine Health!! I so hope you are able to get all your function back. Hopefully there was no permanent damage, and your triceps head will recover. When that level went on me, the disk slapped into the nerve root causing permanent (75% reduction in nerve function along that root) damage. I am glad that you are recovering well. With your job (not too demanding right! Hehehe..sorry couldn't resist), you really don't want to chance fubaring additional levels.

    Please keep us posted on how you recover. Thanks too for posting the links. Not too bad, not too bad at all. I can tell (rightfully) you are very proud of your very hard work. I know I would be. Again, welcome aboard!!! :)

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Thanks Brenda. I'm really happy the 'initial' pain is gone (so horrible!) and whatever happens in the future, I'm thankful for being healthy. Of course ideally I want to compete and continue my passion in life...but ultimately I'm thankful for the fact it was not worse and it seems, so far, that the surgery was a success in removing that pain and pressure on the right side. Of course I have all the regular twinges and muscle aches and burning I think that seems pretty regular for most folks post-surgery.
    I read so much on this board and others and it really helped me get an understanding of the procedure and also the strength of so many people here. It's one thing to lift a heavy weight but true strength is in our minds and spirits, esp. in difficult times.
    Brenda, if you don't mind me asking, how did you know that the disk 'slapped' onto the nerve root and caused permanent damage? Did you do testing? Did they see it while doing the surgery?
    I'm yet to go to my post-op (this week) so will have plenty of questions like that for my surgeon..I'm curious how you knew for certain, or was it just a matter of time?
    Thanks again for the welcome!
  • hi and welcome to the forum! :H we are here to offer you support and answer what questions we can. so glad you stopped by.. you have a very interesting story!! thank you for sharing it!i do hope your recovery goes well. good luck to you and drop in anytime. Jenny :)
  • Welcome Zoa , I just looked at your facebook page and "WOW" you have an amazing body!! I'ts really interesting to me your recovery. When I broke my back in 08 I was in great shape. The NS in France where I had my accident said, I was very lucky that I was in great shape Or, my recovery time would be much worse.
    So, I hope that happend for you.. I hope your taken it easy and not over doing it. But at the same your back is your income...

  • welcome to spine health :)

    thats great you were able to get information from here, its a wonderfull site for support and info

    all the best to you in your spiney recovery journey
    what rotten timing for that disc to blow, 2 days before your major contest
    yes, keep posting with updates/questions

    sending you positve healing energy
  • I did a double take when I saw your name show up this morning. Sorry to hear that you herniated a disc and had to have surgery. Gary and I know how hard that you and Joe work to build and sculpt the best body possible. Amazing how small the Internet makes this world at times. Although Gary doesn't miss the brutal summer hours at the scuba locker, until we finished building our gym here, he definitely missed the gym at Torii. I rehabbed from all but the last couple surgeries at Joe's fitness center as well.

    Even without the issue presented by being a professional athlete, the issue of muscle atrophy is something that is important to address and address quickly. I too found that my body was compensating and it wound up causing other problems as the wrong muscles began taking up the slack for the ones that atrophied. I am just now starting to get a bit of symmetry back in the areas that compensated, but it has taken a lot of work over the last year.

    Congrats on making it to Vegas. Sorry the experience wasn't what you had been hoping for and working towards. Life tends to throw us a few curve balls when we least expect it.

    Best wishes for a continually successful rehab.

  • Your descriptions for your recovery are much like my first fusion (C5/6). When I awoke from the surgery, and I realized *all* the pain was gone, I was squealing, and wiggling around, and gushing 'happy tears' to the point the recovery nurse wanted to know if I wanted medication for my "pain!" :)

    As to your question. A little over a year later I was sitting at the kitchen table at home, and enjoying a really good stretching yawn. In the midst of it my hubby asked me a question. While still yawning I turned my head left and felt like someone snapped a rubber band on my neck, and heard a pop like sound. In like 15 minutes, I lost most of my triceps, forearm and finger strength in my index and part of my middle finger. It was almost instantly numb along those lines, and too the bottom of the shoulder blade was on fire.

    I got in with my Surgeon the next day. He sent me for an MRI, and then a week after that an NCV/EMG study. A little over 6 months post op, he sent me for another NCV/EMG to compare. Sadly virtually NO difference in the readings. Most of my right arm for the Ulnar, Medial 50-75% loss, and the sensory nerves for the Ulnar "No response." He deemed my damage permanent at that point - and as such I had to retire from my job as a pilot (jets and helicopters), and law enforcement officer. My next level is going now which makes my day - NOT.

    I see my doctor on Wednesday to see what steps we start on now to address this, and too get an update for my back. My right hand is now such that all fingers (and felt all the way up) cramps so hard it at times is useless. I still haven't figured out what triggers the cramping, the only thing that does help is if I lean my head forward, I can lesson or stop it - so I pretty well know it's the neck...again!

    I guess that's why I am hoping you are careful for your other levels. I just yawned...YOU are a professional "heavy weight" body builder, so I worry. Your dedication to your body is sooooo evident. I wish that your recovery continues as my first level did. I felt that first surgery was 100% in what the surgeon did, and how my body responded. That hernia by the way was a slow degeneration, so when he got the disk off the cord and exit nerve, problem was solved! I would do both surgeries again believe it or not 'tomorrow.' Please keep us posted!!! *HUGZ*

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Hello, and welcome to our little family here.
    There are people here young and old.Male and female.
    And from all walks of life. And we all have the same agenda, and thats getting back to as close as possible to our lives that we had before.
    Unfortunally for some thats not realistic, so then we make due with what we have within our limitations.

    Please feel free to join in on any forum, to voice your concerns, express your opinions, and if your having a bad day, to just whine and complain.
    There is always someone here to listen, and converse with if you just feel like chatting.

    Best wishes toward your rehab.
  • RangerRRanger on da rangePosts: 805
    I can't imagine the stress you must be under trying to maintain what you have worked so hard for. Hopefully this minor setback doesn't keep you out of competition long. But I must disagree with tony (aka straker) and his comment "maybe because you are so fit?, unlike most of us!"
    I tried to ignore that statement but I must reply. I have many genetic issues,
    a lot spinal problems. I have had many surgeries and have many more to look forward to. I admire people like Zoa, the dedication to your lifestyle is unsurpassed. Every time I have a fusion or surgical procedure I pick myself back up, work hard at my PT, get back in the gym, and push myself as hard as I can to try and be better than before. And I'm sure I can speak for a lot others that frequent this site.
    Sorry Zoa if I have hijacked your posting and sorry Tony (straker) I don't mean to offend you but some of us work really hard to be our best and feel good about ourselves.
    Best of luck to you Zoa, we do want to hear how quick you get back to being the best you can.
    take care. Ranger
  • Hi Everyone...small world is right, hey?

    Firstly, my apologies if I violated a rule with posting links...just wanted to share my story and I'm doing an online blog of sorts on my FB and youtube. So I apologize if that was a 'no-no' :) (I'm not selling any services, just like to keep my friends and fans updated on these sites) :)

    Thank you for the warm welome! I admire SO MANY of you who struggle through health issues and FIGHT to get back on your feet. It's true that being 'healthy' and 'fit' helps recovery but you don't have to have big muscles to have those two things. :) I work with all kinds of people in my business and my clients DAILY inspire me with their strength and courage. That's why I can't 'give up' or lose focus or I end up being a hypocrite! I have to practice what I preach.

    @Aviatrix -- WOW! What a story...I have read many times that once you have one level fused, you may end up having the one (above typically) done in the future. So yes, caution needs to be exercised. Thank you for sharing your story, I'll be interested to hear why you are still experiencing those symptoms. I'm very sorry you have had to adapt your life due to your injury, it just shows you are a CHAMPION at heart. I admire your strength.

    Apparently, the herniated disc I had already was like your 1st (and many others) a long term issue that due to my being accustomed to pain, I likely just didn't 'notice'. While prepping for the Ms. O I kept having neck pains and noticed my R. side couldn't 'get a pump' and seemed deflated, but of course not being familiar with nerve injuries (up to this point) I thought nothing of it.

    Plus, if you can understand when you are 6 or so weeks out from a BB show it's auto-pilot for your brain! You're hungry all day, prepping food all day, eating 7 tiny meals a day, training 3x/day, totally exhausted all the time! LOL So pain-management is usually the issue (lots of chiro, massage, etc)....but definitely we are used to PAIN. So I believe looking back I was seeing slow deterioration of the muscle on that side for maybe 3-4 weeks before at minimum. Then after the surgery, once the focus was off the pain, I started really looking at my muscle. Before then I was just thinking I HAVE TO GET RID OF THIS PAIN! LOL

    Well I just double-chked and I go to my 1st post-op tomorrow at the hospital so I'll keep you all posted. This morning I feel good (4 weeks and 4 days). I have some muscle cramping in my traps from sleeping on my side, but walking around I virtually forget I had surgery except for stiffness or burning in my mid back. As far as nutrition, since the surgery I have been eating 6 small meals each day with a balance of protein (v. imp. for healing tissue), complex carbs and healthy fats. Lots of sweet potatoes, rice, oats, wraps, chicken, steak, whey protein powder, soy milk, nuts, avocado, fruits and veggies supplemented with vitamins morning and night as well as BCAA's and an anti-oxidant powder once a day.

    I had thyroid cancer in 2006 and the surgeon then was amazed with my healing and attributed in great part to my nutrition so making sure I do the same thing this time. :)

    I'm going to ask the surgeon about that EMT testing, thanks for the info...and if anyone else has had a similar situation I'd love to hear about it. I am learning so much about the body even through this challenge. Thank you for sharing your stories, it means a great deal to me and has encouraged me greatly.

    Keep you posted... :)
  • Please hijack anytime, this type of strength through adversity motivates me when I'm having moments of 'doubt. Thanks for sharing and for your fabulous attitude.
  • Nodding.. my spine was weakened mainly (I feel) from the crash, but 2 drunk jerks over the years surely didn't help! (G) My levels in my neck are so far failing below the fusions. I will eventually have a revision plus the next level, and eventually I will have to address C2/3..shudder.

    Thanks very much for your kind and caring words. :) From what you posted of what you're doing post op - exercise, cardio, proper food balances etc. You are probably more "in tune" with inner body mechanics for balanced life than most of us. Great blood flow, balance of fuel (food) and I would bet high O2 levels. Sounds like you are coming along great!!!

    Just be careful (as you stated in one of your videos), it can take up to a year for a full and solid fusion. A lot of us get to where we feel "normal" (sort of), and start pushing, and man-o-man-o do we pay for it! Baby steps, okay? I'll be looking forward to see how you do. Cheering support!! *HUGZ*

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • RangerRRanger on da rangePosts: 805
    Just want to thank you for sharing your thoughts, your lifestyle, and experiences with us all here. You have to feel good about yourself how many people you have touched in a positive way. Your lifetime achievements will
    never be forgotten by so many. Not only when we try to be our best physically it has such a positive effect on our mental attitude. We all have our downtimes but coming back home from the gym after a good workout has such a long lasting almost euphoric effect for me. These physical challenges my body faces only motivates me more to overcome these setbacks, to laugh
    at my pain, and feel good about myself.
    Keep up the good work Zoa, helping others is what it's about!
    Take care & the best to you!
  • Hi Everyone,
    Thank you for your kind and encouraging comments. I truly do hope that no matter what my future trophies may say :) I want to win in life, that means with life, friendships, motivating people around me. And as many of you have shown here, attitude is so important. So hope I can stay the course and continue being thankful with whatever comes my way.
    Ranger, you are so right about the workouts! I have been training for over 17 years and trained through all kinds of career changes, education, relationships, stress, tragedy, you name it! Even when I've been injured or sore, I've always found a way to do SOMETHING in the gym! I look back at all those challenges and when this happened with my neck just thought -- I have to take all my coping mechanisms, all the lessons I've learned, put 'em all together and RALLY! My hubby was a great support, he keeps reminding me WARRIORS DON'T CRY, THEY FIGHT...so being surrounded by positive and encouraging people has paved my way as well.
    Went and saw the surgeons today for my first post-op -- yahoo!
    1. I have official permission to weight train, of course moderately progressing as I have no pain, and gradually getting stronger. I have muscle imbalance with the nerve atrophy so need to be careful to not cause further damage (i.e. shoulder compensating for lack of strength in tricep/chest)
    2. Nerve damage and muscle atrophy -- verdict is out and time will only tell, but they feel optimistic, due to the fact I still have not lost feeling and have a little muscle tissue left. I will not quit before trying :)!
    3. Also got x-rays for my hip/lower-back pain/muscle spasms I've had for 10 years. (that's a whole other story...something I've dealt with for a long time). So she ordered an MRI and we'll see what those say. I've dealt with some severe and non-stop pain for years here so thought it's a good time to get this looked at! (I think it's a sacro-illiac issue...my guess)
    A little arthritis in my neck (it curves forward, the wrong way due to all my activity), and in my lower back but nothing so much that it exceeds what they would expect with my level of activity. I asked point-blank if I should stop or not...they said NO. Good news! Of course caution needs to be exercised for esp the next 6 mos to year.

    So.......slowly back to the gym this week. No free weights, only a small # of sets and weight...but I'm coming back :) Even baby steps count!

    Thank again to everyone here. Truly you motivate me all and hope all of you have had a good day. Stay safe...
  • tony {aka STRAKER}
  • This is my first post. I stumbled upon this website after researching tips on bodybuilding after cervical fusions which led me to Zoa's story. I am so grateful that I found it! I had my own cervical fusion 3 years ago(c5-c7). Bodybuilding has been a passion of mine for nearly 15 years, although not competitively, and it was real tough losing over 30 lbs of muscle in a matter of a few months following my surgery. My doctor released me to lift again 6 weeks following surgery. I obviously took it slow and was using very light weights/high reps. Then about three months after my surgery, I overdid it during a workout and began to feel pain that resembled pre-surgery pain. Doctor prescribed a couple medrol dose packs which helped some and recommended I possibly give up the weights altogether. So I did for a little over a year and just took up walking as I wanted to keep exercise a part of my life. I stayed real lean but still continued to deal with moderate pain in my neck and shoulder. I was really missing bodybuilding and decided to started lifting again and six months later I'm very happy that I have. I have put on 5-10 lbs of lean muscle mass and the constant moderate pain I was experiencing has really gone away.I think the weight and strength gains have helped to support my spine and neck. I make it a priority to take it slow using high reps/low weight with lots of super-sets to keep the intensity high. Anyway, Zoa, you are a true inspiration! Do you have any advice on specific exercises that are easier on the neck or some I should stay away from. I'm really trying to put back more lean muscle mass but have only found about a dozen exercises that don't seem to put much pressure on my neck. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
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