Welcome, Friend!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Veritas-Health LLC has recently released patient forums to our Arthritis-Health web site.

Please visit http://www.arthritis-health.com/forum

There are several patient story videos on Spine-Health that talk about Arthritis. Search on Patient stories
Protect anonymity
We strongly suggest that members do not include their email addresses. Once that is published , your email address is available to anyone on the internet , including hackers.

All discussions and comments that contain an external URL will be automatically moved to the spam queue. No external URL pointing to a medical web site is permitted. Forum rules also indicate that you need prior moderator approval. If you are going to post an external URL, contact one of the moderators to get their approval.
Attention New Members
Your initial discussion or comment automatically is sent to a moderator's approval queue before it can be published.
There are no medical professionals on this forum side of the site. Therefore, no one is capable or permitted to provide any type of medical advice.
This includes any analysis, interpretation, or advice based on any diagnostic test

Fusion stories please...

LumbarLynneLLumbarLynne Posts: 67
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:31 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I am scheduled for an L5 / S1 Minimally Invasive fusion in 3 weeks. I have no idea what to expect in terms of pain and recovery. I have severe DDD and facet disease. The nsurg is going to do two 1 inch cuts in my back, cut off part of my facet and grind it up, put it in a cage, and back between L5 / S1 in place of my disc, and remove bone spurs. They said 2 nights in the hospital.

I would love to hear some stories of what the surgery was like (please let me know if it was minimally invasive or not as I am sure that must make a difference), how was the pain right after, what was the recovery like over the next couple weeks? How successful was the surgery?

I have not had good look finding many stories, so if anyone can point me to some too, that would be great. When I had my hysterectomy, I had read so much and felt prepared for what I was heading into but for this... I have no idea!

Heading into first surgery on 6/22/09
Fusion of L5/S1, through back, minimally invasive


  • Hi. Yesterday was my first posting here for something else. I don't know what DDD is, I am sorry about that. Anyway, I have had XLIF which is minimally invasive fusion from the side, for L4-L5, and prior to that, I had fusion from the back (maximally invasive!), and before that, a lumbar laminectomy from the back.

    The difference between the Max and Min is like night and day. Much easier with minimally invasive surgery. Actually, XLIF doesn't cut muscles, it just kind of spreads them apart to get at the disk. Then they cut out the disk, put in a spacer with some bone chips and bmp protein, then put in a plate with two screws. Two scars, each about 2 inches. I could walk by the 3rd day pretty good. And I had a back brace too, actually, it was pretty significant brace, and that helped. I was on pain meds for a while.

    The worst part of course is the before, where you are now. The worrying. Of course you will get through it. In the hospital they will do everything to help you with pain. They will send you home with pain meds. You will take it slow and easy. Every day will be one day better.

  • Hi Lynne,

    I had a regular open fusion at L5/S1 last August. The only thing different about my surgery is that the surgeon used facet bolts instead of rods and screws. My surgeon did a nerve decompression and placed a cage with BMP at L5/S1.

    I was completely under anesthesia, so I don't remember anything that happened after being wheeled into the OR.

    When I woke up, they had me hooked up to a morphine pump. I did not experience too much pain until early the following morning, when the morphine seemed to stop working. I literally could not hit the button fast enough. I told the nurse and they switched me to oral Percocet later in the morning. About an hour later I was fine and dandy. Okay, not fine and dandy, but the pain was back under control.

    My surgery was on a Monday morning and I was home Wednesday afternoon.

    Like most people, my recovery was slow over the next several weeks. It was extremely difficult to sit for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. I made sure I walked every day, slowly increasing the distance until I reached 4-6 miles per day by the end of week 5 (combined distance from one morning and one afternoon walk). I went from going to the mailbox to walking up and down the street, to around the block and finally adding 1/4-1/2 mile each day.

    The real key is to be patient. It gets difficult at times, but the last thing you want to do is rush things and possibly cause yourself a setback. Make sure you keep to all the restrictions, but do as much stretching and exercise as your doctor allows.

    How successful was my surgery? Well, I had DDD with a bulging disc that was partially collapsed, so it had to come out. From that aspect, the surgery was a success as it fixed a physical problem.

    As far as pain and discomfort go, it is still too early to tell. I had been making good progress, but my pain and discomfort have gradually increased since late January. At 4-5 weeks post-op, I did experience an occasional hour or two that were completely pain free. Around week 7-8, the swelling went down and I have had some discomfort ever since.

    I last saw my surgeon and he wanted to wait until July to see if I was getting any better. Since the pain has continued to get worse, I called his office and they ordered some tests to see what's going on. I had a myelogram and CT scan done 2 weeks ago (and a blood patch several days later to deal with spinal headaches from the myelogram). I get the results tomorrow and will post a follow up in a new thread.

    If you feel up to it, take some time to scan this forum. There are a lot of stories here, both good and bad. You will probably notice more bad than good, but remember that most people who have experienced successful outcomes are out enjoying their lives and don't take time to post their stories on the internet.

    I know this situation is scary, but if this surgery is your last resort, then it is the right thing to do.

    Good luck with your surgery and recovery.
  • Hi Lynne-
    I had a 2 level fusion (L3-4-5) 7 weeks ago. I had spinal stenosis and DDD, with lots of pain pre-surg. My surgery was done minimally invasive (called a TLIF). The disks were removed and I have 2 rods and 5 screws. My scars are about and inch or so long, and I have 4 of them since I had a 2 level fusion. I spent 3 nights in the hospital. The first couple of days I had a good bit of pain, but I had a Dilaudid pump and Hydrocodone by mouth after that. I was up out of bed the day after surgery to go to the bathroom. By the next day, I could walk down the hall a little bit.

    After coming home, I had help from my dad and sister for several days. It wasn't as bad as I thought, and the pain was very tolerable. It's just hard to manage things when you can't bend over. I suggest you get a grabber! It's a great thing. I did have Hydrocodone and Robaxin, and took it when I needed it. I was off both of these before 2 weeks.
    You will be encouraged to walk, and I highly recommend it. Like Mark, I just walked to the mailbox the first day, then up the street, the around the block. I now walk about 2 or so miles a day. It is so nice to not have pain when I walk. I used to have such horrible pain in my buttocks when I walked even short distances. I still have a little bit of numbness in my shin and the bottom of my big toe, but all in all, it feels great. I started PT last week.

    I am not back to work yet, since I can't be on light duty at my job at the hospital. The doctor said he will release me at 12 wks if all is good. I have to stand all day and wear a lead apron at work. I could go back earlier if I had a desk job.

    I just wanted to share since I have had good results!
    I was very apprehensive, too, but I'm sure you'll do fine.
    Take care and best of luck!
  • This is a long post, but it ends well.

    I had two failed surgeries - first a "simple" two-level laminectomy at L4-5 / L5-S1; then a posterior bi-level fusion three months later when the symptoms that preceded the first surgery returned with a vengeance. My initial diagnosis was severe central spinal stenosis and two discs bulging, but not herniated. The first surgery technically "succeeded" but I got worse, prompting the first attempt at a fusion, by a supposed "superstar" at a nationally acclaimed teaching medical center.

    After that, I did well for six months; the original sciatic symptoms and numbness were gone. Then, I began experiencing severe back pain that was completely debilitating. MRI revealed the fusion had failed. My primary care doc said I should just use pain meds; I was stubborn and refused, knowing how many people get hooked on that stuff.

    He referred me to a neurosurgeon at another regional medical center, who recommended an anterior (through the front) fusion. I had that in July '08. He yanked out L4-L5 and L5-S1 discs, inserted prostheses with growth proteins, and anchored the two disc levels with cadaver bone and a cage. Compared to the posterior fusion, it was a tougher recovery - four nights in hospital, alot of abdominal discomfort - but virtually no back pain. He sent me home without a brace but gave me a bone stimulator to wear two hours a day for six months. I missed two months of work.

    Eleven months later, I am completely well. X-rays show the fusion totally "took." No pain - just soreness if I walk too much or too often (the only exercise I really do now). I'm taking no pain meds.

    If anyone is interested, I can share more about the surgical experience itself, tips for dealing with the discomfort...what to expect, etc. Point of this post is, you can have a good outcome if you stick with it, find a good surgeon and have faith.
  • Well, I had 2 surgeries that didn't relieve my pain- a microdiscectomy for disc herniation at L4-S1. I reherniated a month later, and I had other problems like retrolisthesis, severe DDD on both levels, and nerve compression. When I awoke from surgery I was in a lot of pain and the sciatica was still there. My surgeon previously said that I would wake up pain free and may even leave the hospital the same day. Not so, I stayed 3 days and refused an offer to stay at the rehab wing. After the MRI caught the recurrent herniation, my doctor sent me for 2 post op epidural injections which didn't help, as well as PT. After 6 months I was released from his service and ended up going to pain mgt.

    A few months later I saw another surgeon and agreed to have a regular open back TLIF with decompression. At the time I was on strong medication because the lower back pain and sciatica was nonstop and severe. I woke up in recovery in an unbelievable amount of pain. Thank goodness I had a PCA which dispensed morphine. I stayed in ICU for 4 days. I was cathed and made no bathroom trips. I stayed in bed the whole time and was never made to go walking; I believe this was because I started leaking spinal fluid from the surgery and it gave me a spinal headache where it hurt to raise my head. It was promptly taken care of. A lot of the stay is a blur to me because I slept a lot and all the meds I was on.

    Post surgically I had a hard time with the pain and getting around. I was hit with many pain flares. I was sent to have a ct/myelogram and my doctor didn't say much except I was fusing okay. I went in for PT about 4 month later but only lasted a month because it was too much for me and I wasn't improving like they wanted me to.

    At the 6th month mark I was told since I was still having all that pain that the surgery didn't work out for me. A few months later I found out that my nerve damage in my leg was permanent and irreversable. Then I had another MRI after a horrible flare and it said I had scar tissue pressing on a nerve root and the thecal sac on L4-S1. I was still going to a pain specialist to manage my pain, and I went ahead and had another epidural injection done to ease the pain and swelling but it didn't help as well.

    Well, now I'm waiting to have a morphine pump put in and I really need it to improve my quality of life. It hurts to sit, stand, and walk and I'm tired of laying around all the time. This has to work. Sorry I didn't have a successful story to share. I just want to point out that I did have complications which made the outcome not so good.

    I think the minimally invasive TLIF is a great way to go, and I wish you the very best. Take care
  • Hello Lynne,

    On April 1, 2009 I had a newer surgery done (well it was discovered and approved in 2005). It is called an Axialif. What happens is they go through your back with small 1 inch incisions and place hardware and some of your bone they cleaned out of your spine and mix it with a paste, then reinsert it back into the affected area. Mine was a bit more severe, I had to have 2 levels fused, which left 7 scars. But anyway, I spent 3 nights in the hospital with my regular meds and the morphine pump for 2 days. After coming home the first 2 weeks were rough only because you aren't supposed to do anything...Basically be a bumb. I am now 2 months post-op and I feel pretty good. I have been having nerve pain which I found out is normal after surgery, so I have done 3 rounds of injections, which help, but the nerve pain down my leg is still there. So the doctors are going to burn the nerve, because it's only a sensory nerve, you don't really need it. Other then that I find more and more days of not taking ANY pain meds. I have been in chronic pain for over 3 years, and for the first time, I actually have good days. Would I do the surgery again? Absolutly, in a heartbeat.

    After reading a lot of these posts, not many people have had this type of less invasive surgery, but i'm a firm believer in it.

    And the funny punchline is... I was a 6'0" woman prior to the surgery, now I am 6'1" because I was completely missing 2 discs, and now I stand upright more.

    It is a strange thing when I think I feel the 6inch rod that was shoved up my spine sometimes, but that I can deal with!!! And the X-Rays are even more spooky with the screws and plates. So that hurdle has been overcome, now all I need to do is fuse! Fuse baby Fuse!!!!!!
  • It didn't really go as planned because I had too much scar tissue for the surgeon to be able to remove the ruptured discs and replace them from the back, so they just placed the hardware and then four days later went in through my abdomen and replaced the discs. The recovery was a long slow crawl out of hell, but I am now glad I had the surgery. I feel so much better than I did before it. With one level, you're likely to do much better than I did. Take care. In the end, you'll probably be very glad you did it.


    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
Sign In or Register to comment.