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MRI results, is my life over!!

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:35 AM in New Member Introductions
This is my first post, thank you all for sharing your words of wisdom.
I am 55 and I have had back problems(spondy included) for 15 years. And now after 4 months of back pain I got the bad news:
L5-S1 Spondylisth.(grade one/two), 4 bulging disks with canal stenosis(L3-4,L4-5,L5-S1), DDD, arthritis, bone spurs,bilateral pars defects, severe narrowing of the L5 neural formina bilaterally. The pain has me on my back, unable to sit in a chair, and barely hanging on at work.
Pain specialist told me to expect to have 3 discs fused(L5,L4,L3). This really worries me. Not just the surgery, but what are you left with after you get 3 discs fused? When I asked what would happen to the disc at the top and bottom of this new back "stick" and was told they could go in a little as 6 months.
Is there anything that can be done to keep this train wreck(continued progression of spinal fusion) up the spine from happening?
What questions should I be asking the doctors?
I have many questions but I will stop here.
Thank you


  • Sorry about your prognosis. No one can guarantee what will happen to the adjacent discs after your fusion. What I can tell you, from personal experience, is once you are fused, you are not "cured".
    Once I felt better and was fused I went back to my old ways doing heavy yardwork, gardening, lifting heavy objects, etc. So it is no wonder that I need a 2 level lumbar fusion beneath my existing 2 level lumbar fusion. Was I stupid? Absolutely!! It hadn't really occured to me what damage I could do, And BTW I had a second child which did not help my back at all.
    If, and when, you do get a fusion don't rush anything, give yourself time to heal and always watch how you treat your body.
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  • welcome to spine health
    you do have multiple spine problems and yes fusion is not a perminent fix. there is the problem of additional problems down the road with increased stress an neighboring levels. the Germans seem to be way ahead of us with regard to artifitial disc replacement. you could get an opinion and estimate from a german surgeon.
    i understand there are some trials in the US. you might search them out. i also understand there is a HINGING surgery to the lamina that can open space around the nerves. aparently this surgery can give you some time until adr is more available in the us. the trouble is you have the spondylithis and pars defect problems and i dont know how that would be handled with without fusion. maybe the fusion is the only option.
    i would research this carefully and look at options. another consideration is what surgery insurance will cover.
    there was an interesting post last winter about multilevel adr on the cervical spine. search adr multilevel and check out previous posts. anything you learn would be good if shared here as this is of interest to many.....pete

  • I would suggest you take some time to choose your back doctor. Look for a fellowship-trained spinal specialist. This can be an orthopedic spinal surgeon or a neurosurgeon who has completed a fellowship in the spine and who devotes his practice to issues of the spine and back. Also you may want to get several opinions as there may be differences in how a specialist suggests he will treat you. Even among this specialty, there is further sub-specialization. You might want to look into someone who specializes in DDD and spinal reconstruction.

    Do you have leg pain or is it mostly in your back? This will be important information in determining how you move forward with treatment.

    Your life is far from over!! When you throw out the problems in your back in a list such as you did, it does sound pretty daunting. But I went back and carefully read through them, and realized your situation sounds very much like mine. What you will need to find out is which of these things is the most significant, whether some things are noted on the MRI, but in reality aren't that big a deal, etc.

    Also, you may find, as I did, that there will be quite a variety of opinions. I consulted with eight different specialists with a variety of backgrounds. There was no disagreement that I needed fusion. (due to my spondylolisthesis at L4-5). However, the recommendations were everywhere from fusing one level to five!! That is quite a range in recommendations!!

    If every 59-year-old were given an MRI, they would all show some degree of DDD and probably some degree of disc bulge here and there. Discs begin losing moisture in our twenties and there is little way to replenish moisture as there is in other parts of our anatomy...so, discs show wear and tear early in life.

    The spondy may be causing some instability and it may be causing the S1 nerve to be compressed. It may be that you can have a fusion where most needed and that the other discs are OK for now.

    My MRI report was similar to yours. I ended up having a one level fusion. The surgeon also cleaned out the foramina, and the gunk that had built up in the central canal was removed to make room for the nerves. So he did a bunch of clean-up work...like a "roto-rooter" for the lower lumbar spine! The one level fusion created sufficient stability that I was able to get along without further fusion.

    I then had an excellent ortho physical therapist who taught me how to rebalance my body so that I can hopefully avoid having adjacent spinal segments need fusion. I had been compensating for years and was favoring one side of my body. I have had to retrain myself in basic body mechanics and posture. Simple things like learning to sit "squarely" in a seat with both feet on the floor -- no legs crossed one over the other. Believe it or not, this is one of the hardest things for me. I just automatically stand with my weight on one foot; when I sit, I cross my left leg over my right...etc. This puts stress on one side of the spinal musculature and causes imbalances. There are tons of tricks such as this that you can learn to help your back in the long run. Each alone doesn't seem like it would matter, but cumulatively, it can make a HUGE difference.

    I could go on and on...but I hope you get the idea. There are many things you can do to minimize the stress and strain on your spine. But first, you need to get some diagnoses from the experts.

    I would suggest you learn everything you can about the spine and your problems, in particular. Start on this website, reading through various physician-written articles. If you are to avoid having surgeries in the future, it will be important to understand your issues so you can discuss them with your doctor, and be an active part of the decision-making.

    Please post often with your comments, questions and concerns. This is a great place to find support among people who understand the fears you are facing and the pain you go through.

    xx Gwennie

    I have found that spinal specialists usually do not tell you what to do, but put out a series of possibilities and leave it up to you to make a decision. Unlike some other issues with the organs of the body, spine surgery is usually considered elective. Rarely are spine issues life-threatening.
  • Gwennie,
    I am feeling much less pain, just by laying around on my back, working less hours and icing my back after pain increases. In addition to Lyrica(which I love)I go for chiro weekly also. Your suggestion of being more proactive about posture, PT, and learning everything I can has been right on. I just put off steroidal epidural due to decrease of pain and leg numbness. Thanks for the post.
  • hi and welcome to the forum! :H we are here to offer you support and answer what questions we can. you have gotton some good advice. =D> all i can add is have a cheerful heart and let the love in!! :X good luck! :D Jenny :)
  • I find the following two "exercises" very helpful.

    #1 --

    Lie flat on your back on the floor, with knees bent, feet flat on the floor (feet pointing straight ahead...if your legs flop out to the side automatically, roll up a towel and place it along the outer side of each leg, kind of bracing them to keep them pointing straight and not turned out....) You may place a SMALL pillow under your head if you cannot lay flat without it. Position the head so that the chin is very slightly tucked (rather than looking up toward ceiling). Arms should be as close to your sides as comfortable, palms up. Now relax and breathe slowly and deeply from the belly for no more than five minutes at a time.

    This is a natural form of traction that unloads the discs and lets the soft tissue relax.

    Do this several times each day, if possible.

    #2 --

    This one is for just pure relaxation -- lie on your back on the floor with your hips up next to a couch or chair -- bend at hips with legs up on the couch or chair, with calves and feet resting on the seat . Allow your self to relax and just melt into the floor. Again, this allows the discs to unload and any soft tissues that are "guarding" the spine to relax.

    Whenever I have done an activity that I know will result in pain, or when I start feeling a little achy, I immediately do exercise # 1...and I will do it for 5 minutes each hour, if possible...or as many times as I can fit in. I have been known to find an out-of-the-way place at an airport, department store, and all sorts of other weird places....Then I can get up and continue on further until I can't stand it any longer and then I drop down onto the floor again.

    I'm glad you get some relief from Lyrica. Some people do. I don't happen to be among them, but I'm really happy it is working for you.

    You can also try a heating pad. Sometimes heat will feel better than ice.

    Sounds like you'll be able to get your situation under control. When you do, it will be up to you to monitor ALL your activities and not do things that you know have the possibility of bring on the pain again!

    xx Gwennie
  • yes you have problems and i am surprised that you can hold down a job so that's a plus!.i wont lie to you you are not in for an easy ride regarding surgery but your life is for from over ..i know that this may seem like hell to you at the moment but just take thing as they came .make sure that you have a good supply of pain medication and if you can take sometime for work .you must look after you now .have you got a recliner ? because you should find that comfy to sit in .have you tried a TENS ? that can help to .i myself am looking at yet another operation so i share your worries and concerns but here at spine health we are a good team many of us have had operations and between us we have hundreds of years experience with pain .
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