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Anyone a year post op fusion

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:30 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I am interested in knowing how people feel a year down the line from having an L5 S1 or one level fusion. Are things better now? are you glad you had surgery? Do you regret having it?

I know that it can take up to two years for a complete fusion and I know how difficult the recovery is from these ops having read things on this forum. however, often these issues have been written by people who are less than 1 year post op (from what I have read anyway). I wanted to know how it is longer term before I go for my one level anterior fusion for DDD at L5 S1.



  • During a visit to the ER several months ago the Dr. on staff told me about the 1/3rd rule. 1/3rd of fusions get better, 1/3rd stays the same and 1/3rd gets worse. Unfortunately so far I am in the last category. Although the nerve pain is gone the constant aching (which accounts for 90% of the pain) seems to be worse now than before the surgery. The only way I personally would recommend spinal fusion is if you are in danger of permanent nerve damage or are mostly bed ridden. I am not a Dr. but you definitely want to get several professional opinions before taking the plunge. I have heard a lot of success stories, unfortunately I have heard at least as many horror stories such as my own. It’s been a long, tough road to nowhere so far. Best of luck.
  • I am 6 months post L-2/3/4 fusion, will be 7 mo. 5/16, so I'll answer how I feel now. I know you wanted the year mark but I hope it helps you some.

    I am glad I had the fusion and don't regret having it at all. Things are better. I have tolerable pain levels (but you might have 0 pain after yours. I have some nerve problems because I had this a long time before fusion). I can stand up straighter, walk better and my family and friends see a big difference.

    Funny you asked today because just yesterday I asked at PT about the restrictions and did the dr. really mean the entire year on so many things that include bending, lifting, twisting, and she told me yes, especially in my case, and explained all the reasons why and how it takes the year to heal plus you learn to move differently with help from the dr., PT, etc. so as not to put stress on the levels above/below. But I think it will be worth it later.

    I wish I could help you more but you have to decide what is best for you and whether you are ready to have the fusion. It is different for everyone. I was scared like you but now I wish I hadn't waited so long. Yes, it does take more patience and time than any of us have and I think that is why we complain so much. We expect too much too soon and want our quality of life back ASAP like we had our appendix out or something and this is much more complicated.

    Good luck with your decision and surgery is you decide to have it.

  • I like the way stillhurts explained it. I am 10 months post op. Keep in mind that everybody responds differently to the surgery and the healing process. I think you will see a lot of negative opinions cuz those who had successful surgeries are now out living a normal, active lifestyle. It can be overwhelming to come to this site and see so many horror stories.

    If you have tried every other method with no releif and this surgery is your last option cuz you tried everthing else or like already said if there is nerve damage then surgery might be your only answer.

    I am one of the small percentages that ended up with a failed fusion and broken screws. Failed fusion is not something they can predict prior to the surgery unfortunately. I've been told that using a bone growth stimulator after surgery helps with the fusion. That may be something you want to discuss with your surgeon.

    I wish you the best of luck with your decision.
  • Thankyou both for your comments. I am in the UK and been quoted 75% success rate, 5% worsening and the remaining 20% no change.

    I have severe DDD which I have been told is likely to get worse. I have little quality of life and haven't had for 18 months now, because my back gives way for the slightest thing and when it does I can't walk for days. However, it isn't always like that, sometimes (on good days) I just get twitches to tell me I have moved wrong and aching from the waiste down which is copable. The instability means I can't do anything because I never know when it can just 'go'. It is also pressing on nerves sometimes because I get sciatica and needles and pins in feet. It is difficult decision.

    I am average size, good health (apart from this), 45 and just quit smoking so they think my chances are good based on all of that. I have been doing physio for months to strengthen the back and it has helped, but it doesn't stop the instability.
  • For 3 years I had very little quality of life. I was always compensating everything, just cleaning house, driving, sitting to eat or a movie, anything was difficult and I'd end up in bed right after with heat, etc. Just days after my fusion my friend could see me walking better and told me I had been in denial, only kidding myself the past 3 years! It's true I'm still compensating at this time but the pain levels are less and I am doing some things I couldn't do before...like I walk almost 2 miles a day on top of the regular walking I do daily.

    I'm 54 and had unrelenting, excruciating pain and there were no other options at that point so I had to have the fusion then. So yes, of course I'm better than before and I hope to be much better each month.....but until I reach the year mark I won't know for sure. I have good days and bad days right now but they seem better than before for the most part. I have fused where they put the bone/screws but not on the outer edges of the spine so who knows when that will happen. It sounds like you are much healthier and have a better chance going in for surgery before you have excruciating pain and permanent nerve damage.
  • I'm 11 months out of my TLIF and unfortunately I landed in the worst 1/3 spot. I have constant, severe back pain and bilateral nerve pain. One leg has permanent nerve damage (right S1) and chronic muscle spasms along with weakness. My cane is always by my side.

    Do I regret going in for the fusion, actually no because it did fix the retrolisthesis, recurrent herniation, and nerve compression. I know that my surgeon did his best with what he had to work with. I too have severe DDD in my lumbar spine and chronic degenerative endplate changes. On top of that I'm dealing with scar tissue that nobody wants to mess with because it'll grow back, maybe worse.

    I pray your fusion goes well and you wind up feeling better after all this is done. Take care
  • Thankyou all. this is such a supportive forum. I am so sorry to hear that some of you are still in pain.
  • I think that StillHurtin's post says it all best. I agree that fusion should be left as a LAST resort - and only when one is completely convinced that no other workable treatment options are available - and when quality of life has become so adverse that fusion surgery must be pursued.

    I am 11 months post-surgery (3-levels), and while I had no choice in the matter (I was having difficulty walking and severe pain - and had held off with conservative treatments for over 5 years), I am still not doing terribly well. Every day is different - sometimes, the back pain is worse, sometimes the leg pain, sometimes both. I don't mean to complain, because having the surgery was my choice, but I honestly cannot say that I feel better now than I did before the surgery - with the exception that I am back to work and can walk without a cane (with much discomfort, mind you, but at least I can). :)

    For these reasons - quality of life - I would never recommend fusion surgery to someone - unless the surgery was a very clear last alternative. I do not believe that anyone who has NOT tried all other conventional treatments should be allowed to have fusion surgery, in fact. A very strong opinion, but this has been my experience. Life has changed very significantly for me (not necessarily for the better) since my surgery. Because I CAN walk and because I went back to work at 2 months, people assumed that I must have done well. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth - because now I have work obligations, home obligations, life obligations, etc. etc., all of which I struggle with every day. But they are still expected of me. It's all very lonely. And frightening as well - I am turning 50 this year, and I pause each and every time I think about how I will feel at 55.

    I am sorry if the above sounds overly morbid. I don't mean it that way.

    I do wish you well.

  • Julieann,

    I just celebrated my one year anniversary on May 1. Actually, I forgot to observe it, because I no longer think about my back that much. It was my first surgery, a three-level fusion, and maybe I was luckier than a lot of people here, but I don't have any complaints. Since after 3 days, leaving the hospital, I did not even have any need for pain killers. I feel well, and with modifications can do almost everything, well, everything I want to do. I am glad I had the surgery, even gladder that I found a real capable surgeon, and have absolutely no regrets.

    I wish you an equally good outcome!

  • I really want to ask you to take a moment and think of where you are at this moment. Think, carefully, where is your mind, what state is your emotional self in right now? Are you scared, depressed, confused? The thing I'm getting at is, if your surgery is a success and you're free to pursue your life, will you look at this forum as a place you would want to visit often? Or, would you maybe feel that because you were so scared and depressed prior to a successful outcome, you won't WANT to re-visit one of your internet "haunts" which will remind you of that scary time in your life? I'm not intimating that you would never come back to the forum, but I think MANY don't because they don't want to be reminded of those depressing, uncertain times. That needs to be carefully considered when reading these posts. LOTS of those who have had success don't come back because they want to move on from that negative time in their lives. I hope this post doesn't bother anyone.
  • Hello,

    I had L5 S1 fused with rods cage and bolts PLIF 1 year ago next week.

    I had DDD and isthmic spondylolisthesis.

    I feel great. Immediate relief after the surgery and gotten better every day since.
    Its a long recovery with regard to stiffness and tiredness but I am all but cured.

  • I just past the 7 month mark from a 360 L3-4 & L4-5 fusion & I have the same exact pain I had before surgery. My ortho keeps telling me that I will turn around but I have my doubts. My pm doc told me several weeks ago that he is 90% sure that I will stay as I am. We are trying a series of injections to see if we can't get things calmed down & if that does not work we will go to a trial SCS. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

    Thanks, Norm
  • I am so glad to hear of success stories - Nancy makes a wonderful point here that there are indeed many of them. Please let me clarify that I am NOT suggesting that fusion should NEVER be done. I am only saying that one needs to be very cautious before pursuing this alternative - and that fusion should not be attempted until a person really knows that having the surgery is the proverbial "Hail Mary" pass into the end zone with 20 seconds left on the clock. To be clear, in fact, I actually believe that I'd have been worse WITHOUT the fusion (I've alluded to this), and I recognize my need to accept the fact that I will probably always have pain and discomfort - and the limitations that come hand-in-hand with them. There is now a "new" me. Part of the healing process is one's ability to accept this without ruminating on the "old" me. :) Clearly, I have not yet been able to come to agreement with myself that I am now a "new" me - for me, that will likely take some time.

    God bless you all.

  • I am 1 1/2 years post op of L5-S1 360degree fusion. I am happy I had the surgery, because it corrected my loss of bladder and bowl!
    However, my complications have to do with hardware....and possible scar tissue.
    meydey321- do you have a scar tissue issue? The PM doc, first believed I had the scar tissue pain. He told me, there is not anything that can be done. If you do surgery, the scar tissue will grow back. So, it is pain meds and life time of dealing with the pain. AND THEN... a mylogram showed the hardware isssue. I still am not out of the woods with the scar tissue...that still might be the underlying issue, but I am going to try ANYTHING to stop the pain!
  • Hi Nancy

    Although I am not depressed, I am probably more anxious than before I ever came onto the forum. My mind changes on a daily basis as to whether I have surgery or not and also dependent upon how I am feeling on that particular day. Last Thursday, I picked up a bin liner with rubbish in and didn't walk again for days with excrutiating pain that the painkillers only took the edge off. If my surgeon had called with a cancellation then I would have gone in there and then. The difficulty is that today, I am just aching from the waist down, no specific pain today and because of that I don't want surgery because of what I have read on the forum if I am honest.

    I always knew that this surgery was known as the last resort and been quoted a 5% chance of serious problems from the surgery and 75% success rate. I do think I am focussing more on the 5% rather than 75% a lot of the time. The discogram I had showed a strong positive reading and I couldn't walk for two weeks following the discogram, which my surgeon said shows just how bad my disc has deteriorated.

    I read on the forum from one person who had come back after a successful operation nine months ago that many of the people she had seen on the forum nine months previously were no longer on here and I wondered was this because it had been successful or not?

    I consider this to be one of the toughest decisions that I have ever had to make in my life and I am so scared that if I go ahead with the surgery I will regret it. The alternative to surgery is living my life as the disabled person I have become over the past 18 months. I can't drive far, I can only work from home and I can't visit relatives because the slightest things sets it off again.
    So difficult, but wanted to thankyou and everyone else for sharing your thoughts and experiences with me.
  • Hi
    As I was reading the posts I finally came accross someone who has mentioned stiffness or tightness as I call it. CAn you please tell me how long this tightness lasts. I am really tight right on both sides of my incision. I had PLIF L5S1 Jan 8th of this year. So I am almost 4 months post op. Thanks so much in advance. Waiting for your reply.

  • I too am struggling with the decision to have L5-S1 fused. Like most, I am trying every conservative method out there, but in the end I will probably end up having the surgery because nothing else is working. I have to temper myself because I tend to make decisions too quickly so am trying to learn as much as I can before going that route. I am 49 yrs young and want to get on the comeback trail to live a somewhat normal life for me. I have always been very active running, biking, volleyball and now am down to just riding a stationary bike. I wake up many nights dreaming of being out on a run with a great sweat flowing. Those of you that run or used to will understand that. Good luck with the decision process. I am right there with you..just as scared and confused as you are. Take care.
  • Gowri,

    I am now a year post op but my hamstrings are very tight and when I do physical stuff like mow the garden etc my entire back seems to tense up.

    Due to the realignment of the spine, I guess, plus if you had a cage inserted you may well be taller than before surgery.
    I was by more than half an inch so I guess this puts muscles under stress and elongation.
    The physio will prescribe excercices for this mainly on the excersice ball.

    All the best
  • Hi ironman

    I think I am probably half an inch shorter than I was before my disc got as degenerated as it is, so can I assume that by having the fusion, I will be returned to my normal height?
  • My L4-S1 360 ALIF was done January 2007. The first three months went well regarding the pain I was having pre op. But things started going south in the pain area. Since surgery, I've had pain bending over and straightening back up. Unfortunately, in the past few months, the pain has been getting gradually worse and I'm feeling it all the time. All my doctors say it isn't from a mechanical cause.

    So either it is muscle related or something else. In the back of my mind I wonder if the BMP-2 is causing my pain. I have no overgrowth, but as Angie (ERnurse) discovered, BMP2 can cause non-structure radiculopothy.

    I'm just about to the point I'm taking more pain meds now than I did before surgery. My advice is to not have surgery unless you just cant stand it anymore. I'm 42 years old and have a long time (hopefully) to deal with this stuff.

    On another note, I've read in a few other post people referring to going back to "normal" after fusion surgery. If you think you will be "normal" after fusion, please speak frankly to your doctor. After surgery, you may feel better, but your back will never be "normal" again. It will be structurally different. The human body is a complex thing. As I am living proof, it doesn't like to be changed!

    Several Epidurals, L4-S1 360 ALIF, Numerous Facet Joint Injections, RFA x2
  • Thanks Keith

    I am really sorry to hear that the surgery hasn't helped with your pain longer term. I think when people refer 'back to normal' I think they are relating to being able to do normal things again that they could not do prior to surgery. There seems to be a few people on this forum that have mentioned that.
    It seems to be Hobsons Choice with back surgery, either you live the life of a disabled person forever or risk surgery and potentially living that kind of life anyway. It isn't easy and I so wish I wasn't in the place I am today.
  • Julieann,

    I am almost 9 months post-op (in a week) from a single-level fusion at L5/S1. I needed the fusion because my disc was already partially collapsed and I would have been in a bone-on-bone situation within 5 years.

    Within a week after my surgery, I could tell the original pain was gone. Between weeks 4–7, I had an occasional hour or two that were completely pain free. Seriously. Not even a pain free feeling where you still felt something was wrong. During those short periods, I felt like a teenager again (except for typical post-op limitations).

    Around week 7 I started feeling more pain. This was apparently due to decreased swelling. Every little movement caused a bit of pain, though this gradually went away by week 12.

    I seemed to plateau around 3 months post-op, where I definitely felt better than before surgery, but still had pain.

    At approximately 5 months, I started noticing a constant dull ache in my lower back. This has gradually gotten worse, to the point that much of the time it feels very much like it did before surgery.

    I had seen my surgeon at 7 months and he was a bit concerned about this. He said occasional pain and discomfort are to be expected, but not constant pain. At that time, he wanted to wait until my next appointment in July to see if I was still having problems. If so, we would do some tests.

    It has gotten bad enough that I called last week and they are scheduling me for a combination myelogram/CT scan in the next several weeks so we can figure out what's going on in there. I haven't lost hope, though it has become a frustrating situation.
  • I just had my one year anniversary april 16th.i would like to say that i can't really answer your question like i would like because of a car accident i can't truly know the effects that the surgery had on me.All i can say is before my car accident at 6mths post op i was doing well.I was off all pain meds. that i was on prior to surgery for five years.I was gaining muscle strength and my balance was coming back great.I was having lots of muscle pain but that was just caused from all the exercising LOL.I definitely was thrilled with the way i was feeling,i actually had some energy something that i hadn't had in a long time prior.The car accident really put me back.Whiplash caused my to regress back to the start of my therapy all over again.So even though i'm a year post op my body still doesn't even feel like i was at six months post op YET!!!! because i'll get there again and more.
  • with Nancy Louise Jones. People that are still around this site are visiting for a reason - searching for more answers, searching for empathy, some searching for practical tips,and sometimes just letting off some anger & frustration. Therefore, your responses here are likely to be negatively biased. I know 3 people well that had the same/similar procedure and did absolutely great. On the other hand, I currently am in worse pain that pre-fusion (I am at 14 months post-fusion), some of it may just be the way I heal, some of it definitely involves my care afterwards. Would I have done it over? Yes, absolutely. Probably a different approach, possibly a different surgeon. Regret not listening to my body telling me what I should & shouldn't be doing. Regret not insisting on a bone stimulator. Regret not getting back to my PM sooner. But, its water under the bridge, and its time to move forward and figure out the next step. Learn from what may have gone wrong, but try not to live in it.
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