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Fusion Surgery?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:36 AM in Lower Back Pain
:SS Hello...I am a newbie...I've been dealing with varying degrees of low back pain for about 5 years? Started one summer, in the sweltering Vegas heat, my then boyfriend and I were trying to cool off in the pool at our apartment complex. For some reason, our immature minds thought that doing cannonballs into the pool would be fun. It was until on my 3rd cannonball, I smacked my tailbone on the bottom of the pool (it was only 3 1/2 ft deep where I jumped. I knew right away something was wrong. I actually had severe pain in my neck for about a week before any low back pain showed up. I went to Dr after Dr after Dr before my PCP finally got sick of me whining about pain that she ordered an MRI. (Keep in mind, I didn't get an MRI ordered for almost a year and a half after my incident in the pool) Sure enough, The MRI showed a very large herniation at the L5-S1 level. I started seeing a pain management Dr since I finally had a "diagnosis" He put me on percocet and did an epidural injection which helped a bit. I was pretty stable, the pain was bearable, then one day at work, I tripped & fell. Ow...went to a workers comp Dr, got another MRI done, etc. Went to physical therapy, after my 3rd session, they were amazed at how strong I was and started to really push me harder...the day after my tough session, I could not stand up straight or walk for that matter. So, was put on Oxyconton, with Lortab for breakthrough pain, had 3 more epidural injections which resolved the sciatica so I was back to where I was befor the slip/trip & fall at work....back to "bearable pain" July 2008...car accident, I can walk & stand but the pain is no longer bearable...MRI taken 3 months after accident shows very little disc tissue. Let my Dr do an epidural/nerve block injection though through past experience knew that they only help with my sciatica and really do nothing for the back pain, and while Dr had me on flouroscopy table, took a couple still photos of my back...the disc is gone (maybe a few small fragments left) so, he ups my meds, Opana ER 20mg 2x daily & oycodone 15mg 3x daily for breakthrough. It is a step in the right direction because the percocet was not helping me anymore, but we're still a long ways from "bearable". So, I've met with a surgeon, he wants me to get another MRI because the last one is about a yr old now. He is recommending spinal fusion which scares me considerably, but I am so desperate I think I'm going to do it. Now I'm trying to figure out how much my insurance will cover, how I can afford to go on short term disability at work and survive on 60% of my income when I'm struggling to make ends meet with 100% of my salary. Also waiting to see if my insurance company is ever going to pay out anything from my "underinsured motorist" policy? The at fault driver's insurance company paid put right away, but he had a very small policy (state minimum) that was $15k and my medical bills are easily over $20k already. My insurance is dragging their feet to give $ to pay for my expenses because I had a "pre-existing condition" I am a mess & stressed & I apologize for such a long post. Can you tell I need someone to talk to? Anyway, I am hoping to hear advice and info on others' experiences with this surgery. I have heard many horror stories from people I know who "know someone" who had a bad experience...help! Thanks


  • put up a picture of me smiling...I forgot what I looked like when I do that. Trust me, I do alot more crying these days than smiling...
  • nevermind...haven't figured out how to delete yet
  • Wow, a night in Vegas can have some consequences! :)

    Welcome here. Had a thought on the insurance. In my state when you settle a work comp claim, you can get the work comp company to write some sort of letter(chime in here folks if you know what it's called) that says they are not at fault(even tho they've paid and given you a settlement.) This is specifically so that future problems will be covered by private insurance. Maybe you need a free consult with an attorney over the insurance issue?

    Yes, there are horror stories on fusion and there are success stories. I'd suggest educating yourself by reading articles here and realize that if a doctor says his fusion rate is 95%, that only means that 95% of his patients fuse-meaning bone grows between their vertebrae. It does NOT mean how many are at a comfortable pain level.

    You say your pain is unbearable and you are desperate. I'm not doubting that, just wondered if you could list specifically what your quality of life is. Like, can you do your own laundry or if you do, does that mean you are on the couch for the next two days? Stuff like that, regular ADL tasks(activities of daily living.) I ask because fusion is usually the last route unless no other options. Are you a candidate for artificial disc replacement? Has your surgeon mentioned it at all? Just food for thought, I don't know if it would work for you. Make sure you have more than one surgical opinion. Yes, I know that costs money, but I really think everyone should get an ortho spine surgeon's opinion and a neurosurgeon's opinion.

    Please update and remember there's always a few horror stories but many successes move on and don't stay here for support.

  • I do have an attorney "handling" the auto accident claim. It is slow going...my life consists of going to work everyday. I'm an operator at one of the larger casino/resort/hotels here in Vegas. That consists of me sitting all day. I have to get up and move around a little bit every 15 or so minutes, can never get comfortable, but am very thankful that I'm still able to work at this point. I take my laundry to fluff & fold, if it weren't for my boyfriend, my apartment would seriously look like an episode of "Hoarders" on A & E. I have no social life. When I don't have to be at work, all I do is sit in front of the computer or lie in bed, I have no motivation or energy, I don't even ever call anyone on the phone. I cry alot (because of pain, and yes, self-pity). Everything hurts...bending over to pick up a sock, or peice of trash off the floor instantly sends me into agony. Even driving to & from work everyday is a challenge. I took so many things for granted until they all became such major events. I don't really know what to tell you beyond that. I spend the majority of my time doing as little as possible to avoid as much pain as possible. I sleep as much as I can, when I can although the longer I sleep, the more pain I'm in when I wake up. I am pretty mobile but the pain is constant regardless. Mobility only seems to make it hurt more. I don't know what else to tell you. I've heard the word "surgery" come out the mouth of every Dr I have seen since my first MRI, it is only since this car accident and the increased amount of pain that I have honestly considered it. I do plan to see another surgeon. The one I did see was honest enough to tell me that chances of me ever being "painfree" are very slim, but he believes he can make the level of pain more bearable. I did ask about an artificial disc, he said he didn't believe it would have much more benefit for me than the fusion would, and he was quite certain my insurance company would not cover it, but I did ask him to look into it. I don't know all of the medical lingo, I can't tell you of too many specific pain-triggers other than I've already mentioned. I have had serious problems with sciatica in the poast too. The 3 outer toes on my left foot are numb, I also have a herniated disc at C3-C4 and pins & needles in my hands, but that seems fairly unimportant or irrelevant to me compared to what's going on down south. Hope that covers some of what you want to know. I remember when I used to go out and have fun and work out at the gym everyday and talk to my friends...I don't do any of that anymore. I don't know how much of that is the pain, and how much of that is the depression I've developed because of the pain. I'm going to go now, the water works are starting again.
  • http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/spinal-fusion/lumbar-fusion-surgery-a-reliable-procedure



    While trying to decide if you are ready to have surgery, it is helpful to be as well-informed as possible. The more knowledgeable you are about your particular issues, the better able you'll be to participate in decisions regarding your particular spine problems.

    This site has educational articles written by spinal specialists in addition to the forum, where you will find information from people who have similar problems and experiences.

    It is important that you do your homework and find a spinal specialist that is very experienced in the procedure he is recommending to you...one who you feel comfortable with. Look for a fellowship-trained spinal specialist. This can be either an orthopedic spinal surgeon or a neurosurgeon whose practice is devoted to issues of the spine and back.

    Selecting your surgeon is the most important part of your decision. It is also important to know that fusion will not completely restore you to the way you were prior to the injury or onset of pain. This is not like having any other surgery, such as an appendectomy where you go in, have the surgery, recover from the surgical procedure and are back to normal as soon as you heal. Back surgery involves a lengthy recovery and it may result in lessening your pain, or stabilizing your spine, if required, but it will not make you "as new." If you do not understand this concept going in, you will be disappointed with the results of your surgery.

    We all have trouble deciding when the time is right to have surgery -- it is a big decision and one only you can make.

    Good luck, and, again, welcome.


  • I appreciate the responses I've received, but was really hoping that someone would give me some insight into their experience with spinal fusion surgery...ANYONE? PLEASE??
  • im in the same boat, cant make up my mind about having surgery, im on the waiting list but can back out even on the day, doc told me i will never be pain free even if i have the op, let me know what you decide, we can get through this together

  • Hi Heather,

    There's a # of different ways to do a fusion, do you know if the doc wants to do an open procedure (long incision) or a minimally invasive surgery? There's PLIF, TLIF, etc - all fuse the spine using various methods. If I'm reading your original post correctly, they are suggesting a single level fusion l5-sl, if so, I've recently had the same using a minimally invasive TLIF and like you my disc in this area was basically 'gone' bone on bone w/ the beginnings of a natural fusion. Surgeon placed a spacer that's made of a woven poly (plastic) on the outside w/ silicone inside & titanium anchors. Seems to be doing what it's supposed to do. So far, I'm doing very well, far better than I had originally anticipated, tho I'm still recovering. My leg/back pain are pretty much resolved (I get a twinge now & then, nothing major), foot numbness/weakness much improved and find it's very slowly improving. I would suggest you look at some of the postings in the back & neck surgery forums, you'll find many stories about fusion surgeries - some have good outcomes, others not good. Like others here have suggested, do your homework, make sure your doctor is fellowship trained in spine & back to maximize the potential you'll have the best outcome possible. It's critical IMO that you learn as much as you can so that you can make the best possible decision on how you need to proceed in order to regain a quality of life that can work for you. Once you know the type of fusion being suggested, type it into the search box at the top of the page and you'll get a whole list of postings, articles, video links. You have found a good site here, there is a lot of good info and more importantly, nice people who know exactly what you are feeling and who are more than willing to answer to the best of their personal experiences what you may need to consider.

    I hope this helps, please keep us posted and I hope today isn't too bad for you pain wise.
  • I had spinal fusion on L4/5 5-6-08 and it has been very tough recovery. I am in almost as much pain now as I was before surgery.

    I went throgh work hardening which I think made it worse, I now have problems with the disc below the fusion. I take more pain meds. then I did before the operation.
  • I'm so sorry you are having to go thru this. Back pain is bad enough, but adding insurance co's and lawyers to the mix is almost to much. I will have the surgery on Sept 29 and Oct 1. I will post my results. Someone posted that the reason you don't hear about as many good outcomes is because many have recovered and moved on with their less painful life. There are no magic pills or instant results, and no one returns to the way God made us, but we just trust tomorrow will be better than today. Praying for your good health. God Bless!
  • Hello Heatherbug,

    I had recent spinal fusion, (may 09), which has reduced the level of pain I've endured over the last few years. Is it for everyone, no, not necessarily, however, this was my third procedure and if I could back in time, I would have had the fusion on my second attempt at surgery, but, my doctor was conservative and thought that the second procedure would give me relief w/o major surgery. It did not reduce the pain levels at all, hence the fusion. My pain levels have gone down to a low of 6 from a high of 10+. P/T, accupuncture, swimming, tens unit, heat and ice pads and packs and meds are all part of my regimen. I have reduced my pain meds considerably, (I was taking oxycontin, oxycodeine, vicadin, percocet, sleeping pills and xanax). I was a mess, I am now taking oxycodeine 3x's per day, xanax once in a while and haven't taken percocet or the others in a week or so, so I believe I am on the road to recovery. You will notice a difference in how far you can bend, how long you can sit, etc. I have had several epidurals. nerve block procedures as well and they provided temporary relief. I believe with the proper approach, (mental and medical), you too can find some relief. I believe its as much mental as it is medical, keeping a positive attitude and prayers will help carry you through some tough days, weeks and months.

    I have another problem which we are addressing next week, I am a candidate for a spinal cord stimulator which the fusion couldn't address, but I have read more positives than negatives about that procedure.
    I will keep the board informed and wish you the best of luck and God speed on a healthy recovery
  • What specifically is it you want to know? Some people end up almost "good as new" and others still have quite a bit of pain. There is really no way of predicting the outcome.

    Also a surgeon's definition of "success" is probably different from the patient's. I believe we think of successful as meaning mostly painfree...but no surgeon will tell you that you will end up pain-free. Generally fusion will lessen your pain...but, to what extent?? No way to tell ahead of time.

    I had fusion (my first surgery)in Jan of 2008...one level, posterior interbody fusion with a PEEK cage, BMP, rods and pedicle screws. I healed well and had nothing go wrong. I would definitely be the medical definition of success. The problem is that I still have about the same amount of sciatic pain and numbness that I had pre-surgery. I have had two surgeries that were supposed to decompress the nerve, and, in fact, there is nothing mechanical that is pressing on the nerve...but, I still have nerve pain.

    I was on pain meds for the first eight weeks...and then I stayed on Lyrica for six months. I take nothing now, because nothing really helps. Luckily I only have pain when standing or walking...so, if I sit a lot or sleep, I'm OK.

    I began driving again at about eight weeks...I was able to take a trip cross-country at 3 months and spent five days house-hunting with my soon-to-be-married son. By June I danced at his wedding...and was beginning to feel normal again.

    I do not feel the hardware at all. If you are small and thin, I think there is more probability that you may feel the instrumentation. It does not change my flexability -- I can bend over and put my palms on the floor...but I don't make a practice of doing this as I want to preserve my surgery!

    Being fused at L5-S1, you should not notice a difference. That segment doesn't move anyway as it is connected to the rest of the sacrum. I am contemplating having mine fused and have been told I will not notice a difference.

    What else do you want to know? The pain the first few days is fairly intense, but they keep you comfortable while in the hospital. You might be able to have a minimally invasive fusion which is supposed to be better. I had an open surgery and have about a six inch scar on my back. I had no problems at all with my incision and was surprised how little pain I had with it, too. Obviously this is not the case with everyone.

    After I got home I mostly stayed in bed...we'd moved a twin bed into the den because I didn't want to be stuck on the second floor mainly due to my two big dogs. Plus that was where the big TV and computer are, and near the kitchen...so I stayed in bed except when I was walking or sitting...at least at the beginning.

    I had no trouble showering or dressing myself...except that after I went upstairs to shower, by the time I finished washing and drying my hair, dressing etc. I was ready for a nap! That much activity exhausted me at the beginning.

    Bear in mind, you appear to be very young, so things should be much easier for you!

    Let me know what else you need to know!!

    Take care,
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