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How soon do most back fusion patients return to work?

kathyykkathyy Posts: 580
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:26 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I wondered, on average, how soon most of us return to work after back fusion? I am 6 weeks postop and plan on returning to work on a parttime basis on Monday. But I am lucky because my hub and I own our business so I don't have to "report in" to anybody.

Are most fusion patients returning to work (assuming the job is not physically demanding) between 6 weeks and 2 months? Bet some of you have gone back to work even sooner! Be interesting to know???? Kathy in Atlanta


  • From reading other people's experiences vs my own, I would say it depends on how many and what levels were fused and how active, healthy etc you were preop. I am 6 months post op L5/S1 fusion and in a lot of pain still. I would also say it depends on the success of the surgery as well. I seem to be having a lot of nerve pain which is difficult to deal with. I am basically being forced to go back to work Jan 20th due to financial reasons but I got a new job where I will be working from home 1/2 the time so that will be helpful (I hope).

    I am wishing you the best of luck on returning to work.

    Take Care,
  • I plan to return to work tomorrow (upon NS approval). I'm not sure if I'll be able to work full days, but I'm going to try my best. Fortunately, I will be able to get up form my desk often and walk around our office --- that should help. I couldn't imagine returning to work if any type of manual labor was involved.

    Best of luck to you.
  • Kathy,

    I believe your estimate of between 6 weeks and 2 months for fusion patients returning to work is a little quick in most cases. Sure, everyone is different and every job is different but after reading similar threads people have started here I'd guess returning to work from 2 months to up to a year.

    Emergency surgery in March of 2006 for spinal infection of L 2 and L 3. During surgery, discovered I had Cauda Equina Syndrome. Spine became unstable after surgery and had 360 fusion with 10 pedicle screws, plates and rods in April of 2007.
  • I plan to return to work tomorrow. I control my own schedule for the most part so I plan to play it by ear. I expect I will have to get up and walk around often. I intend to try it with Tylenol alone since I need to concentrate and remain sharp. I walked the dog for an hour (a mile and a half) yesterday, and went to the tennis club and walked an hour on Friday.
  • i had my acdf 6 months ago..i hope to return to my job this week. (finger crossed I will be able to manage!). I am a special education teacher. I think the type of job you have also plays a part in when (and if) you are able to return.
  • I am at about 4 1/2 months and am not back to work yet. I have a pretty physical job that requires me to lift immobile kids, move supplies, tons of steps and drive over an hour during my shift to different schools. Right now its just not possible, I have a hard enough time walking my 1 mile per day. Our first goal was to return tomorrow but now we are thinking March. We will see what happens. I have a flexible job, but need to be ready to run at the drop of a hat, no time to really take it easy if I need to rest.

    Kathy, your advantage is that you are really your own boss, doubt the other owner is going to give you grief if you need to get up and walk around,lol. I wouldnt hesiate to have a folding cot or chaise lounge chair shoved in the back so you could even lay down if you needed to.

    Just take it easy!

  • Yes,I know I am lucky that I am my own boss. My thinking is that I'll be lucky to make it 1/2 day for 3 out of 5. I just was generally interested to know how this fusion thing is actually playing out for everybody! We are each so different. My 56 years probably doesn't help and the 6 hour surgery and anemia is also not on my side. I'm NOT going to push myself at all. I hope none of us are. If I hadn't had such a positive 6 week checkup, I'd probably not even try for a couple of more weeks.

    Keep posting. Kathy
  • With my 4 level plif I have lifting and sitting restrictions.

    I reached Maximum Medical Improvement after 12 months but there is a lot of work I will never be able to return to.

  • Like you I am my own boss. I am a freelance photographer and I can start to work when I get the okay from NS or when I feel I am ready to take it on again. As you know I am four weeks out and I would say that for my type of job, I am lucky that I can stand for most of it, the squatting causes problems though for kid portraits. I am planning on taking my time in PT for now until about week 8 which will be closer to Feburary. For me the hardest part is gaining the strength back in my legs, and also because I wasnt able to use my left leg I was pretty sedentary prior to surgery so I really have to rebuild stamina. Surgery took the last little bit I had, but I will get there. You do have the advantage of being your own boss and I agree that it would be great to have something somewhere to lie down if you needed to for about twenty minutes if started feeling weak or tired. You know to take care of yourself and what you are limited in doing so trust your doc and your body to tell you what you are capable of, dont over do! Take care hon
    Erica (sure I will talk to you soon)
  • Had several complications, which one can never fore see and after a mental turmoil, relaise that my back is Number one and the job will follow - when it is right and a job that is right.

    I am not going to be back in that OR any sooner than I need to be, just to try and prove something. To me, No.

    Most employers do not thank you for it, you are little more than a human reource, and replaceable. Your spine is not.

    I also think it depends on your pre surgery diagnosis and problems as some will resolve quicker than others.
  • sorry, forgot to add - if you are feeling physically and mentally ready, good for you and well done on a speedy recovery!
  • I am just over 5 weeks and I really don't think that I am ready to go back. My employer approved me for 12 weeks worth of short term disability but, they expect me to be back by week 6. I am a property manager for a 3 level 460 unit apartment community. I am expected to be at my desk for hours at a time, and to climb stairs and walk the property etc. Before surgery I was working around 50+ hours a week at the office and bringing paperwork home with me in the evenings. I have to admit that I am a bit nervous about what going back to work is going to look and feel like for me. Right now, it is about all I can do to get showered, go to the grocery store, put the groceries away, and prepare a meal. Even though I was in extreme and sometimes debilitating pain before my surgery, I would do all of those things in tandem with my work day!!!!

    All I can do is trust that things will unfold as they should. So, that is what I am doing. Living in this now moment. :)

    So, to get back to and answer your question, I don't know.

    (Hey Thanks for letting me get that all out!!)

    One Love,

  • don"t hurry back... If you have Your short term disability and FMLA then I suggest you take the entire 12 weeks.. My first surgery I was back to a pretty strenous job at exactly 12 weeks... Im ways past that mark on this one...They will have to prob terminate me. I am going to hit the 20 week mark in 2 weeks...... Still waiting to hear from LTD 2 months now.... Please Please dont hurry back,, you are entitled to the whole 12 weeks... Love ya
  • I had fusion L4/5 last March, I have yet to go back not because of constant pain but I am unable to do what I have trained myself to do. I know there is work I could do but I went to chef school cant stand for any period of time and Dr. wont allow. I was also a Recovery Specialist in Rehab no longer can I do that either, and I graduated with a Degree in Criminal Justice and wanted to be in Law Enforcement and can no longer pursue that career. So right know its like I have to retrain myself for a different career path.
    Also everytime I think everything is ok I have a set back whih tells me how can I start work if I cant be counted on to be there.
  • had told me minimum 3 months, but I was never able to. Finally found out I have permanent nerve damage. Had that not happened, the restrictions I have would have been lifted somewhat and I would have been able to.

    I agree - don't rush it. Good luck!

  • 15 weeks, I am a RN working 12 hour shifts in mother/baby. I had to return to work with no restrictions per my employer, otherwise could have started back sooner with reduced hours. I am being very cautious at work and yes my back aches on a daily basis. But hey, at least I no longer limp with every step. ;)
  • Since 9-23-08 when i had my 3 level fusion and I just started PT last week. I think it varies on the type of the surgery , the person , and there doctor. Im in no hurry to go back lifting and running at a dead pace, (Im a RN) so that question is very hard to answer. I may not be able to go back, so my back up plan is online school....:) Good luck to you, and remember its one day at a time!
  • Hello (my first post).

    - I had an L4-L5 Laminectomy and Discectomy in 10/2002 and was out of work 4 weeks. Returned to light duty (30'ish hours per week) for about 2 weeks, and by the 6th week I was working full time.

    - I had L5-S1 fusion and discectomy in 1/2006, and was out of work 3 weeks. Returned light duty, and worked from home about half the week, and did about 20 hours in the office.

    - I had L4-L5 microdiscectomy in 6/2006 and was out for 2 weeks. I returned too soon...period.

    - I had L4-L5 XLIF with fusion in 4/2008, fulldiscectomy, cages, pedicle screws, rods and laminectomy. I returned to work after 10 weeks and 2 days.

    - I had L3-L4 XLIF with removal of instrumentation from previous XLIF, and re-installation of full instrumentation from L3-S1. Surgery was 7 hours. I anticipate being out of work 3-4 months. Oh yeah...that surgery was 4 days ago (12/30/08).

    Good luck to all out there.

  • 4 weeks return to part time work, post laminectomy & fusion @ L5-S1, but was very tired still. Returned to full time work at 6 weeks. I deally, I should have waited 8 weeks.
    Keep positive!


    ...an old timer here and ex-moderator

  • It sounds like you've been very courageous over the years with all your back surgeries. Gosh, I'm feeling a little sorry for myself after just ONE surgery and you've had 5.

    Tell me, how are you doing now after this last surgery a few days ago? Is this procedure supposed to "take care" of your issues once and for all? So sorry to hear that you've been through so much but this is the GREATEST, most supportive group of people you'll ever find. Don't know how I got thru my lumbar fusion without the support and information I've gotten here.

    Keep us updated, please, on your recovery and once again, welcome!
  • I was told that I would be back to work around 6-8 weeks after min invasive L4-S1 TLIF. I don't have any short term disability and my leave has run out, so right now this is a financial hardship on us because I am the primary breadwinner. Thankfully, I can work at home as much as possible. I was going to try to start to work at home today, but I have been having problems with nerve pain in my right thigh. I have PT at 10am this morning and have to drvie myself there (I don't have anyone else to drive me) so I can't take my norco so I am in a lo of pain. :''( As a result, I am not yet up to working from home.
  • My "sit upon" was sat upon about as long as I could take it LOL!

    Well I made it for about 3 hours today at work and then brought home another couple of hours work. I have to sit so much that even getting up and walking around doesn't make it that much easier. I think I need a special pillow or something to keep the pressure off my spine. Any suggestions. Otherwise I'll have to keep it to a very "part time" basis for awhile.
  • I had a one level fusion on December 9th. At my first appt my doctor said that I would be off of work for 8-10 weeks. The day of my surgery before I went to OR he told me to call him and he would consider letting me go back after four weeks as it was just a one level fusion.

    I have been paid through the 23 of January. I was thinking that I would call him today and see if I could move my pre-op appt from the 22nd to this week. However, today I feel like I got hit by a bus. I felt great all last week. This is such a roller coaster. The throat pain is back and I could not sleep. Oh also my doctor states that I should not be taking the pain meds regulary, I should be weaning so I am trying to do that too.

    I think everyone is different. Good Luck to you.
  • My doc said I'd need three months. Actually, I'm at six weeks and am now allowed to work 2 hours/day from home. It's mostly computer work, lying here on the couch with my knees up and my laptop in my lap. I can do that -- cuts down on the amount of leave time I'll have to take. I CANNOT, however sit for two hours at a time, so I know it probably will be three months before I'm back at my desk.


    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • I had the same 3 level with laminectomy on 09-22-08 and I'm having a great deal of pain still. Right now, it's 2:30 am, and I can't sleep. I went to bed at 10 pm and I've been up 4 times trying to walk it off, change positions, just to get comfy. I'm looking for reassurance that this will get better. I'm still not back to work, although my company had me slated to return yesterday. They extended until Jan 19 and my Dr. will need to substantiate medical to keep me out longer. (he requested at least until Feb 15) I can't imagine that 2 weeks will make that much of a difference in the way I feel. I have so much tightness around my incision still, leg nerve pain and cannot sit for more than a few minutes at a time. My job is to sit at a desk for 8 hours a day. Right now, that's not happening. I'm still on soma 3 times a day, lyrica twice a day and vicodin as needed, although I've cut way back on that just because. I'm in my 3rd week of PT (the holidays cut into it drastically), 3 times a week. Prior to that, I did 3 weeks of aquatic therapy. Still cannot bend, twist or lift or do any of the things around the house like vacuuming, etc. I'm getting frustrated.
  • Hi all,

    I have read all your post's..Sorry everyone has gone through any back pain (not fun). I am at 8 weeks and I couldn't work if my life depended on it. I have so much pain. More than before surgery. I wish I could go back and never have the surgery. This is my third. I would have rather put up with the pain I had before. This is all the time, unreal. I have only had one post op visit. I cannot get my NS on the phone. I am only on Lyrica and about ready to scream. Is there a real probability something is wrong? I can't sit for more than a few moments. I can't walk for more than 10 minutes. The pain that radiates down, at times, from my back to my legs is squeezing labor pains. I don't get it. I don't know what to do other than wait. So that is what I keep doing. But I read that some of you are off to work and I am confused. Did any of you get worse after surgery and then improve? Thanks and keep on improving all. Take care, Lisa
  • I was told that for every 1/2 hour of surgery you are supposed to take off 2 weeks of work. So for a 6 hour surgery then you should be taking off 12 weeks.
  • that he will probably release me at my next appointment which will be at three months after a single level fusion. I guess it depends upon the fusion progress. It does make a difference owning your own business pressure-wise. You can always send yourself home after half a day on the job...good luck and be sure to ease yourself back in
  • Thanks for your info. cute pup. I love dogs. Thats what got me into this trouble in the first place with my back. I had three dogs two rescue's. One had separation issues and tripped me when I was trying to leave the house. Well, take care. You gave me hope, mine was a double fusion so I will just keep it slow. I am at 8 weeks. thanks again. Lisa
  • You've said that it takes about a year for a fusion to be complete. What kinds of things can you do during the first year that won't affect the healing of it. Can it come apart during that first year? I know so little about the way this works. What does the cage do?

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