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Lumbar fusion? How long before going back to work?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,900
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:26 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I know that every patient is different, and recovery will vary. But I would like to get an idea on how long it took before you went back to work.

And if you can indicate if you had 1 level, 2 level, fusion, or ADR.



  • I hope to find out too. I have a job in which I sit a lot and bend/reach/twist quite a bit so I think it will be 3 months before I can do that. I may not be able to go back to that job full time but it's ok. I will look into other jobs but I will wait and see.
  • I had a level three lumbar fusion, and just met my 3 month mark. My NS doesnt start PT till now....... so I have no clue when or if I will be able to go back to do what I was doing. I would like to do something, even if it means I have to go back to school. (Was a nurse and EMT)
  • I had a 2-level ALIF on October 10 and started back at work part-time on December 8- I am easing my way up to full-time hopefully at the end of January. My job is a lot of sitting, and my co-workers are extremely helpful so I'm lucky. My max at this point (almost 10 weeks post-op) is about 4-5 hours at a time.

    Good luck!
  • Thanks. That is very helpful. I am going to be having two levels done, just don't know yet if one level will be disc replacement, or if I will have both fused. Decisions, decisions.

    Anyway, how long is your drive to work?
  • I was considering the same thing- my insurance would only cover the fusion. After speaking with a few doctors though, there's a good chance that's what I would have decided on anyway.

    Regarding work, I am lucky because I live about 10-15 minutes away from work- more in the snow, since apparently salting Chicago streets isn't a priority anymore :) Anyway, I'm sure if I lived farther that would have lessened the amount of time I could spend in the office... At work though, I'd say the most important thing is to find a comfortable chair (if you sit a lot)- the better it is, the longer you can sit and it really does make a huge difference!

    I know you're in the planning stages now, so feel free to pm me if you have any double fusion questions :)
  • My boss bought me a very good chair for work, since I was having such a hard time sitting in the cheap chairs they had for everyone in the lab. In fact when I am out, other people use my chair.

    My insurance won't pay for disc replacement either, so if I had it, I would have to pay for that portion myself (~$8000). But if I think my health and well being are better off with the disc replacement, then that money will be well worth it. But I haven't decided if it is worth it or not (not the money - but is the ADR going to be better for me).

    What made you decide on fusion instead of disc replacement?
  • 15 weeks. I had a one level posterior fusion. I am a RN with a very physical job, working 12 hour shifts. My employer would not allow me to come back with any restrictions. My NS would have preferred I work shorter days to start, but it was not an option, so I took a few extra weeks off from my initial plan. Good-luck to you. Sue
  • Well, before I go into this, there was no clear-cut decision in this so I had to go by what I discussed with the doctors I saw.... and my decision was based on the weight I put on certain factors, so others might have easily decided to go with ADR. Anyway...

    I have heard some wonderful things about ADR, and I think it has a lot of potential to be a better surgery than a straight fusion- for a while I was planning to petition my insurance. Then... I met with a few different doctors (3). One was all for ADR. The other two told me that ADR is the future, but it is too new and they won't even do them.

    Basically, they said that the hardware out now is not yet up to their standards, and while most of the surgeries they've seen have been successful in the short-term, there were two major concerns for me- 1) there was not enough long-term knowledge of what happens to the discs, and as I am in my 20s I hopefully have many years ahead of me, and I would rather take my chances on known risks (with a fusion) than the unknown (with ADR)- but that is just me.... and 2) though both doctors said they have witnessed mostly success with ADR, the few unsuccessful surgeries led to life-threatening emergency surgeries to fix the problems... something with when the artificial disc malfunctions or mis-aligns it can get lodged in your organs, which really freaked me out.

    That being said, it seems like a lot of people have had great experiences with ADR so I can't speak from any personal experiences... all I know is that my recovery has gone smoothly, and I'm happy with the decision I made :)
  • It sounds like you made the right decision for you.

    I am 46, not as young as you, but still young when thinking about the long term consequences of this type of surgery. I am leaning toward ADR, but not completely decided yet. I have a little while in which to decide.

    Thanks for sharing your decision process.
  • I had a one level fusion L4-L5 Nov 10th. I also sit at a computer all day long, just wondering how long it took to get back to full days and full strength
  • I had a PLIF of L5-S1 with donor bone and hardware on left side, and I had my surgery on Sept. 15. I work in a factory on a shipping dock so my job is very physical so I have not returned back to work yet. My ns said I could go back to work mid December if my employer could abide by my restrictions, and of course that was a no go. My next appt is on Jan. 7, and I am assuming that I will be going back to work then. Even though I had surgery in Sept., I have actually been out of work since the end of July, so for me I will be out a total of five months. :''( I wish you the best of luck in your journey.
  • I was out 14 wks. after my two level fusion. Insurance wouldn't pay for ADR so I went with the fusion. No regrets and I haven't lost hardly any mobility which I was scared about. I work in production so it took me some time before my Dr. would release me.

  • I had a 2 level PLIF done in February and I went back to work mid-March for 20 hours/week. I have an office job, but sitting was a challenge.
  • Went back to work part time (4 hours a day) to a desk job at exactly 4 weeks after my L5-S1 laminectomy and fusion. Resumed full time at 6 weeks.
    Keep positive!


    ...an old timer here and ex-moderator

  • I've been out of work since June of 07. That was because of the back pain and sciatica... I am feeling pretty good now. I still take pain meds every day, but I get to start physical therapy as soon as I get that all set, so hoping it won't be much longer until I can go back to work. I did some cleaning today for a few hours and man was I hurting. I don't think I'm ready to go back just yet... I'll see how I feel after P.T. I also have cervical issues; stenosis, irregular curve, and bone spurs.... And a herniated Thoracic disc which really does cause a lot of issues regarding physical activity. SOOO it could be partly my other issues combined with the fusion that is all bundled up into one yucky mess that requires the pain meds. Who knows.
  • When I first talked to my surgeon before surgery, he said I might be able to go back to work with light duty, part time restrictions. That changed when I talked to him a few days before the surgery...."maybe back to work, light duty, at 8 to 10 weeks. I still need to have my first post op appointment with him maybe next week, so those dates and restrictions could all change again. At only 10 days post op I'm feeling a lot better that expected so maybe it will go back to 6 weeks. @)
  • I had L4-S1 done, and I went back to a nursing job (in a Dr's office) 1/2 days at 7 weeks and full-time at 8 weeks. Best of luck!
  • I had 3-level in mid-June 2008, and went back to work PT by August 1st and FT by September 1st. I now believe that I went back too soon perhaps, although being at home drove me completely nuts.

    The downside: I am still having some complications - leg weakness/restlessness at times...and now have related SI joint problem (when will it all end? Or do the problems simply keep migrating north and south of the surgical site???)...my NS seems to be somewhat apathetic about all of the ongoing stuff (I know he's not a psychiatrist, but he still has limited EQ).

    Funny thing about post-surgical experiences: I've likened the journey to traveling across the United States at 15 mph...it tests your patience to the "Nth" degree, and the scenery about you changes so slowly that you don't recognize the changes at all - but eventually, you realize everything has indeed changed.

    Happy Holidays to all!
  • I know what you mean by complications - i had hardware complications (had to take hardware out), SIJ problems, knee problems, foot, ankle problems, thoracic pain problems...all during the first year. But, by the end of year 1 post-op I was on top of most problems, and now at end of year 2, all related problems have disappeared and I am living a back-pain free life again.

    The secrets to my successful recovery (I believe) were (1) a strongly positive attitude to get well again, (2) a year of PT with a very good physical therapist, (3) not overdoing the exercises at home.

    It really seems to take much longer to recover than we are led to believe by the medical profession.
    Keep positive!


    ...an old timer here and ex-moderator

  • 25 weeks as of Christmas day. But I have a very physical strenuous job that requires heavy lifting a lot of bending pulling and repetitive twisting. I am a rural mail carrier. I am *supposed* to go back the first week in Jan but my Dr. has these restrictions that I don't know if my new boss will ok. I think I can still do the job, I'm willing to give it a try before resigning anyway.

    I have had 10 weeks of PT and feel pretty darn good. I'm ready to give it a try.

    Everyone has their own timeline.

    Good luck!
  • Thanks for all the replies. I do think it probably depends, and everyone is different.

    I asked my surgeon, and he said it would be up to me, when I felt ready. He said that some people are ready to go back in 4 weeks, but some take much longer, and there is no way to know. It doesn't make planning for it very easy. He did say that he would want to make sure that I was on light duty when I went back. I don't have a physically demanding job, and I think the challenge for me would be driving (35-45 min drive) and the sitting (I just have to remember to get up frequently).

    I think surgeons like to be optimistic, giving patients hope, and the desire to get better as soon as possible. But I also think that they may be a little unrealistic. And it seems from what a lot of people here have said, that the longer you can be off, the better (possibly). I mean I do think that walking, and being more active versus sitting/laying at home all day is better for recovery, but at the same time you don't want to overdo it. I think it is a fine line.

    But it has helped me tremendously, hearing what your experiences have been. And I think that I should prepare myself for being out for as long as possible, if I can arrange it.
  • I had an L4/L5 PLIF on 5/19/11 and started working from home again on 5/30/11. I'm an Executive Assistant. I have my f/u with my surgeon on 07/05 and I will probably go back into the office soon after. Up until a couple weeks ago I would not have recommended a fusion. Now I do 100%! Like many others, post-op day two was the worst pain of all. I literally laid in the hospital bed for about 18 hours and pushed the pain pump button every 7 minutes on the dot. I could have asked for something stronger than the dosage of dilaudid I was on but didn't want nausea. I was in the hospital for 3 nights. After 10 days or so post-op I started feeling stronger everyday. At 20 days post op I was off all pain meds. Today I have zero pain, none.
  • I am new to this sight hoping some one can help me.
    I had my surgery on Feb 21,11. I am still in a lot of pain. My drs and said that I can return to work on June 27. I am in pt now and it is for 3 weeks I will be done on July 6th. The dr never gave me any restrictions. My boss has told me I am expected to be able 100% of my job. I work as a Operations manager I work in the office part of the day then go out to accounts. Now I am not sure what to do. The most I have walked is 30 min. Can someone help me with what I should do. Thanks
  • If you don't have work restrictions from your doctor and your boss expects 100%. Then you better be able to do 100%. If you can't then get a letter with restrictions from one of your docs asap.
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