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Older patients and spinal fusion surgery

thenadetthenade Posts: 137
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:36 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I'm waiting for a tlif on L4/L5. I will be 60 next week.
Just wanting some advice and info from others that have been through fusion surgery at a later age. My condition is a degenerative one at L4/L5, other levels don't seem too bad(some arthritis at L3/L4 and L5/Sl, discs are ok at those levels). I have a lower bone density and the neurosurgeon has talked about using BMP. How have others fared with their surgerys and recoverys?


  • My MIL who was 87 at the time, and I had the very same surgery within three weeks of each other -- a L4-5 PLIF. She had one pain pill in the hospital, didn't like the way it made her feel, and never had anything further. I, on the otherhand, took ALL my pain meds for the first eight weeks! I recovered a bit faster, but not by much!

    More important than your age is your over-all health, your mental attitude and the skill and experience of your surgeon. You need to know going in that the recovery is slow and can be long. This is not something you get over as soon as your surgical site is healed! It is important to maintain a positive attitude and to follow your surgeon's orders exactly.

    You will be having a TLIF so your recovery should be a little faster. I also had BMP and it worked very well for me. I fused and was feeling quite a bit better by three months. It took awhile after that to regain my strength -- but again, that depends on how much you are able to do prior to having surgery.

    Take this time before surgery to get your house ready. Think about how you use things, and put those things near counter height so you won't be tempted to bend -- same goes for food in the frig and cupboards. Did you read through the "sticky" at the top of this page that innumerates everything you might possibly want after surgery? It is a bit excessive, but does get your mind thinking in those terms.

    Hope you can enjoy your birthday. When is your surgery??

    xx Gwennie
  • My T4-pelvis fusion surgery was just short of my 58th birthday and it concerned me too, that my age might impact adversely on my recovery.

    I got as fit as I possibly could pre-op, walking every day, faster and faster. For the fortnight before, I walked or kayaked 4-5 hours a day. I ate healthily too, to give myself the best chance.

    My surgeon is highly skilled. He does 2-3 of my type of surgery every week.

    Turns out my recovery went smoothly and by 3 months I was off all meds, driving, had no pain at all and regaining flexibility every day.

    I agree with Gwennie, especially the "More important than your age is your over-all health, your mental attitude and the skill and experience of your surgeon."
  • when I had my surgery and now am 55 at 10 months post-op. I'm amazed at Jen being able to do that all before surgery and recovering so quickly. I could barely move before surgery, never mind walk very far or kayak! The lightning jolts of pain made moving very far impossible. I am so much better now. Still have a long way to go to get to where I feel I can say I'm healthy -- I still tend to get tensed up and achy, but that may be more of a symptom of my job than my surgery. These surgeries aren't easy, but in the end I think most of us come out better on the other side.

    All the best,
    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • Hi Linda,

    I was only able to do what I did because of my low pain levels. Dr. gave me 12 months to make the decision. He said any longer and I'd start feeling real pain. I could see my curve progressing rapidly and knew what was ahead so made the decision to go for it before the pain got too bad. It was hard to make the decision at that stage, but I'm so glad I did.

    I do understand that many simply can't exercise due to pain levels. But for those who can manage it, I would recommend it. I'm sure it helps.

    I'm glad things are getting better for you all the time. I do think this surgery can take a long time to recover from. I've heard many say they're still improving 2 years after surgery.

    I recognise I've been very lucky so far, but I also know at this stage, I'm only half fused at best, so I'm still keeping my fingers crossed. ;)
  • Hi Thenade

    I'm 64 and will be having an ALIF for L4/5 next month. I can't help you with advice on surgery and recovery, but can let you know how I'm preparing. I also have low bone density - osteopenia in the spine and osteoporosis in hips and wrists. I'm on Phosamax for bone density. I'm on a high protein low fat diet and other supplements to build myself up prior to surgery; as well as stretching. My health is good, I'm just wearing out. LOL

    In regard to Gwennie's comment about getting the house ready, I'm doing that and this week starting to cook and freeze meals and get other shopping done in advance. The list from the sticky is FANTASTIC, and I went through it and highlighted the things I would need. I had a laminectomy/discectomy last year, so already have some of the things I'll need - grabber, dressing stick which is also great for turning power points on and off, long handled shower sponge, rubber mat for the shower, and toilet seat. There are other things which I still have to buy. Gwennie mentioned in another post about walking poles - my very fit sister gave me some a couple of years ago, and I think they'll get a lot of use - so thanks for that Gwennie !!

    I am so grateful to members of this forum for their advice - no doctor has told me the things that are needed to help with recovery and I haven't known all the questions to ask. So bouquets to everyone here.

    When will you be having your surgery?


    XLIF L2-4 20.8.15
    ALIF L4/5 2009
    Laminectomy/discectomy L4/5 2008
  • Hi Thenade,

    I'm 52, had my TLIF 7/6 and am doing pretty well, about 75% back to my norm. My bone density is fine, OSS used my own bone from the lamies to do the fusion, didn't need to use BMP. Went home 7/8 w/ RX's for valium, fentanyl patches, percocet, ultram flexaril and stool softener. Had some bad back spasms first 2 days, but, my OSS came up w/ a med 'cocktail' that take took care of this within a short time. I was dragging my right leg around before surgery and tried to stay as active as I could tho' it was difficult - ended up with a 20 lb weight gain on top of the issues w/ my leg/back/foot. After surgery, did my stretches & walking religiously and tried to do a little more each day, I use a pedometer still to keep track of my steps and try to do more each day. Ditched my cane @ about 2 weeks post, same thing for RX meds, used extra strength tylenol PRN. Given a very good report @ my 5 week check, I'm back at the gym doing tread mill, elliptical & light weight training (20 # max) and continue to do my walking/stretches. My leg pain/numbness resolved almost immediately w/ surgery, I still have some residual numbness/weakness in my right foot, so I'm not back to driving yet, but find I'm improving in this regard. I'm hopeful I will get back full sensation/function in my right foot in the coming weeks/months. I've lost about 10 lbs so far since I can move so much better now and am hopeful I'll be able to drop 10-15 more lbs. I did as much prep beforehand as I could w/ cleaning, cooking/freezing meals, and used the sticky list here to see what I might need in the recovery process, it did help plan. As others have said, keep as positive as you can since mental attitude can really make a difference in recovery. Also, after surgery, if you feel you're overdoing it, listen to what your body is telling you and rest since this too is critical to your healing & recovery. Hope this helps.
  • I think I was 66 when I had my 2level fusion (l4-s1). At 1 year my doctor said I was improving so much I don't have to go back next summer unless I had a problem. The only problem I have is exercise -
    I hate it. I am walking more now that school is back in (didn't miss school time for surgery)and maybe it will get a little cooler in Texas.
    My job calls for me to be sitting quite a lot (I am in charge of the In-School Suspension room for my district) and that tends to make it hurt unless I wonder the room at regular intervals.
    Surgery hurt, different from the way I hurt before, but I have been able to control it with Vicodin and Amrix(muscle relaxer). I did go on Zoloft because I couldn't do anything and was crying at commercials, as well as anything else.
    Anyway, keep a positive attitude, have some help and don't panic.
  • Hi -

    I am 58 and had ALIF/PLIF at L 4/5 in July 2008. My experience with recovery is that it was not especially painful (I was off pain meds after about 2 weeks mainly because they made me feel icky) but was long and slow. Getting my strength and stamina back took a long time. PT in the warm water therapy pool helped much with that. Being able to sit for more than about 30 minutes seemed to take forever! It wasn't until many months after surgery that sitting was comfortable. At this point - almost 14 months after surgery - my back is really good.

    The list of "Post-op Must-haves" is excellent. The grabber and the shower chair were life-savers for me. I used a walker inside for about 3 weeks and then outside - for stability - for about 2 months. Be sure to prepare your home for the "no bending" restriction - it is amazing how many things we do without thinking require bending.

    I have two friends who have had lumbar fusion surgery in their late 50's and are now (2 years post-surgery) very active - hiking. kayaking, bicycling, scuba diving. I'm not that active yet but I had another - not back-related surgery - this June that has slowed me down a bit.

    Good luck with your surgery and keep us posted on how it goes. Also, as you may have noticed, folks on this site are great about answering questions - so if you have concerns or questions just ask!

  • I was 61 when I had my back surgery and thank God I'm doing just great now. :H

    Had PLIF in 2008 and a Laminectomy. One level fusion, L4-L5.
  • Thank you all for your input.

    I don't really know when I am having surgery. I live in Canada and things are done a bit differently here. I went on the surgeon's wait list July 29/08. Yes that's "08". I have been waiting for my turn for over a year. His office only gives one 7-10 days notice. Time to have your pre-op and get ready. He is the chief of surgery at a large hospital in Vancouver but is only allowed 5 hrs surgery time per week. That is the way our medical system works here. Free but with very very long waiting times. Needless to say it has been and still is very anxiety producing. Many ups and downs. On top of things I lost my dear mother and friend one month ago to cancer. She was a spiney but was not able to have surgery. One of her wishes was that she could see me have surgery and get better.

    I try to walk everyday even if my leg doesn't always want to co-operate. My general health is good and I plan to listen to my surgeon and do everything I can to stay positive and aid my recovery. I have read the list and have bought some things. Everytime I freeze food to have after my surgery we end up eating it(lol). I think the week I get the call for surgery I will be very busy. My husband and I are both retired and he will be here to help me.

    I have alot of anxiety regarding this surgery. When will it be, will it work, how much pain, will I be able to do the things I loved to do before?? I have to say stop it and try quiet my mind.

    Hopefully I will be able to walk without pain, do some gardening, travel and enjoy time with family and friends. That would be a success to me.

  • I was just reading a book that was talking about how gardening is one of the worst things to do after having back surgery -- particularly digging -- so plan on putting that activity off for awhile.

    Thanks for telling us about the wait you are experiencing. Obviously we are having a big debate here in the US. When I tell friends and relatives stories I've read on this board, they do not believe me. What happens with the surgeon if he is involved in a surgery that he thought would take two hours and it ends up taking seven? Also, what does he do with the rest of his time? If you only operate five hours per week, I wouldn't think he'd have enough patients to take up the rest of his time....

    Anyway, I just wanted to remind you that when you say "will I be able to do all the things I loved to do before" just ask yourself "Am I able to do those things NOW??" If the answer is no, what do you have to lose??

  • Gwennie - Awww crud. I so hope that I can get back to gardening at some point. I guess I'm going to have to invent something that will make gardening a do-able activity for us spineys. I've been out a few times in the garden and have had to talk myself out of reaching down to pull a weed or move a plant. My family has been very helpful but I can't seem to up their enthusiasm level for digging, weeding, or planting. :)
  • :H

    Welcome to the forum. I will keep you in my prayers that your surgery is very soon and that your recovery is perfect. Since you have been reading some of the stories in this forum you have an idea what to expect. Everyone heals and feels differently after surgery. Since I can not give medical advice I can say good luck and God speed.

    Evelyn :H
    Had PLIF in 2008 and a Laminectomy. One level fusion, L4-L5.
  • Am 9 weeks post-op from spinal stenosis surgery.
    I would reccommend the surgery as all pre-op pain is gone. am now allowed to do whatever does not cause pain; but am apparently trying too hard as most every thing causes next day discomfort--except walking. I consider myself lucky as i had several post-op complications; but they have resolved. must now consider these the rusty years and take things slowly. but am a disabled nurse and am too used to taking care of 'everything' and now cannot. health is everthing!! best wishes to all...
  • I had to smile when I read some of the previous posts, from where I stand you who are under 60 just barely qualify as middle aged. Heck, my own "baby" just turned 40 this year. But I don't mean to trivialize your concerns, when last year. at the age of 72 I was told that I need to have three-level lumbar fusion that was my major concern. My OS reassured me that most of his patients who have my type of surgery are in their 70's and 80's and they do just fine. And I must say, that when I compare my surgical experience and recovery with many people on this forum, I have to admit that I have nothing to complain about as my surgery went very well, and my recovery, although took some time, went smoothly without any hitches. Recently three friends of mine had spinal surgery, two are my age or older, one in his 40's. The one who has the most difficulty is the youngest, who has a lot of painful muscle spasm. His surgeon (who was also mine) said that sometimes younger people have more active muscles than those of us who are older. If that is true, and that is the reason for my uneventful recovery, then God bless old age!

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