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80-Year-Old Back to Biking After Spine Surgery

Monday, April 10, 2023

Johnie Watkins had dealt with leg pain for several years but had remained very active even through the pain. As an avid biker, the 80-year-old Stony Point resident used to average 250 miles a week.

Watkins was a truck driver for over 50 years, which required him to stay seated 13 hours a day. He loved to bike, run, and kayak when he could, but driving a truck and sitting in the same position for hours on end inevitably takes a toll on your body.

“I worked until I was 75. Even before I retired, I was having pain. A lot of times, I’d climb into the truck, and it would take me a while to get adjusted, and when I would climb out of the truck, it would take some time just to stand up straight. I’ve had this pain for quite a long while, and I don’t know why I wasted all that time waiting,” said Watkins.

Watkins believed his leg pain would go away, but it never did.

“I tried to run it out and walk it out. While I was biking, it didn’t hurt, but then the pain would be horrible the next couple of days. I’d go back to biking, and it would feel better for a little while, but then the pain would come back,” said Watkins.

Eventually, the pain in his legs became severe and unrelenting. He could barely move, much less continue biking.

“The pain was excruciating. There was no medication that would help,” said Watkins.

Since the pain radiated throughout his legs, Watkins assumed it was due to previous blockages in his legs. However, his vascular surgeon found no issue in his legs or arteries.

That’s when Watkins’ wife recommended he visit Dr. Peter Miller at Iredell NeuroSpine Center. Inundated with pain and with no end in sight, Watkins’ made an appointment as soon as possible.

After an exam, MRI, and thorough review of imaging results, Miller confirmed that Watkins’ leg pain was actually due to an undiagnosed condition in his spine. Watkins had degenerative spondylolisthesis and lumbar stenosis. Lumbar stenosis occurs when the space inside of the backbone is too small, which compresses the nerves traveling through the lower back into the legs. In patients like Watkins, this caused spinal instability, allowing one bone to slip out of place onto the bone below, a condition called degenerative spondylolisthesis.

As a conservative, minimally invasive spine surgeon, Miller pursues all feasible alternatives before he considers surgery. He first recommended steroid injections, which worked for a little while, but after six months, Watkins’ leg pain returned. Miller decided it was time for surgery and recommended oblique lateral interbody fusion (OLIF), a spine surgery that minimizes cutting of muscles by performing the surgery through a small tube.

On December 8, Watkins had his surgery, stayed at Iredell Memorial Hospital overnight, and was discharged home the next day. Watkins says his road to recovery has been smooth, and after only a few months, he is happily back to biking.

“I started walking shortly after the surgery and gradually began to increase the distance. I went for a checkup and started riding my bike again in February. I’ve been riding most everyday that I have the opportunity to. Sometimes, I still catch myself taking a step and anticipating pain, but then you realize there is no pain. I can actually do what I did before,” said Watkins.

Watkins is thankful to Miller and his team for helping him get back to his love of biking.

“Dr. Miller and his staff are the greatest. It’s as simple as that. He is excellent, and I don’t have any complaints whatsoever. Even with the surgery, I was hoping to be back to 50 or 60 percent, and I would have been happy with that. But, I came out feeling 100 percent better,” he said.

Learn More
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Peter Miller at Iredell NeuroSpine Center, please call 704-954-8277. Miller has offices in Statesville, Mooresville, and Hickory. Learn more at iredellneurospine.come.