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For those with back pain - Fusion helped me - There is hope

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,670
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:37 AM in Lower Back Pain
I was a frequent reader on this board about a year ago. I was terrified of having a spinal fusion, which was the last resort for my back pain. While reading most people’s posts, I noticed that most of them were negative, which really scarred me. Most of the people who have a successful procedure don’t bother to come back on here, but that is not the case with me. I’m back to tell my story because I want to give people hope.

After 15 years of low back and (right) leg pain (I am 31 years old,) I had enough. I tried epidural injections, meds and physical therapy to no avail. Sometimes it would be bearable, but the horrible pain would always end up coming back. There were times in high school when my mom would have to help me get out of bed and tie my shoes. I had enough and finally decided to get spinal fusion surgery in November of 2008. I had high grade 1 – low grade 2 (about 30%) spondylolisthesis in my L5 / S1. This had caused severe stenosis, sciatica and completely degenerated the disk between the 2 vertebra (I had no disk left… it was bone rubbing on bone.)

Before the surgery, I went for 3 opinions and finally decided on the Dr. that could do it minimally invasively. The two other doctors were completely unfamiliar with this type of procedure. It’s funny because the only reason I went to the minimally invasive doctor is because his office was close to my house. I ran into him by chance and ended up choosing him to do the surgery. My decision came down to the supposed quicker recovery and a lower chance of needing a transfusion. In a traditional fusion, lots of blood is lost and it was suggested by the other doctors, that I would need to ration my own blood for a few weeks before my surgery.

After going through the process, having the fusion was the best decision I ever made. Had I known that it would be so successful, I would have done it 10 years ago, which may have saved my college soccer career. I must also mention that I did not need or use a brace as was suggested by the other doctors. When I asked my doc about this, he actually snickered and said it won’t be necessary, but if I wanted one, I could have one.

The first week after the surgery was not easy (actually worse than I thought it would be.) But after that, it was all downhill. I was back at work in 16 days, although I do only sit at a desk. Within 7 months (June 2009,) I was back to playing full contact soccer with no restrictions. I have 2 little scars which are barely noticeable. This is the only trace of my previous problems.

I can finally sneeze without feeling like by back will collapse, run without a limp and take a shower in the morning standing on both of my feet as opposed to one foot in the air like a flamingo.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I’m from the Chicago suburbs in Illinois.



  • Excellent news. Thanks for posting and letting everyone know what many of us on the board say frequently -- those without lingering problems are out leading their lives! There are many successes. They just aren't hanging around the board any longer.

    Fusion works well for countless people. And for many of us who still do have lingering problems, we'd still go ahead and have the surgery, as we are better than we were.

    Just one comment: if you'd done it ten years ago, you would have had an open surgery and the story might have had a different ending. So, things work out for the best, sometimes.

    You may feel posters on the board are too negative. I feel it is very important that people enter into spine surgery with their eyes wide open. For many people, fusion is a long, hard recovery. Better they know that possibility than believe it is easy and they'll return to their old life in a matter of weeks.

    Cheers for your great progress --


  • Thanks for sharing your positive story. I needed to hear it, as I am going for L3-S1 fusion in Nov. Glad you are able to be so active. Take care. ;-)
  • Good question... I'm not sure if i would have gone through with the surgery if it been the standard open back surgery. I guess it would have depended on the doctor's odds. Before my minimally invasive surgery, my doctor told me that I had a 90% chance of feeling better afterward and in the worst case, I probably wouldn't be any worse off than I already was. Surprisingly, from 1994 to 2006 none of my previous doctors even hinted that surgery was an option. They basically all told me that I would have to deal with it for the rest of my life. It wasnt until about 3 years ago that the word surgery was even mentioned.

    Also, another important side fact that I failed to mention is that that my doctor almost fully reduced my spondy. This basically translated into almost an inch and quarter in height. He told me I might gain a little bit of height, but even he was surprised when I told him how much.

    If nothing else, at least I'm a little taller. I'm a full 5'10 and I dont have to lie on my drivers license anymore. :)

  • KC,
    Glad to hear your fusion went well! I have a few questions about your recovery. I'm post-op 2-level (L4-S1) TLIF about a month now. After two failed discectomies, my surgeon finally convinced me I needed a fusion. Like you, I was nervous but more about losing my career in the military then about my own health. Recovery is coming along great with usual soreness from physical therapy. How long before you gained your range of motion back? How long was your fusion process? I recently started using a spinal bone growth stimulator I borrowed from a friend of mine cleared by my doctor. I'm using it because I'm a light smoker. Range of motion and fusion rate will determine if I'm able to be retained in the military. Any advise would be greatly appreciated...and yes I know smoking can slow down or prevent the fusion from happening, but I'm trying very hard to quit. Thank you for your time.

  • Hi KC

    It is good to hear that everything has gone so well for you.

    I am supposed to have a 3 level fusion but with only 30% chance of having improve my situation i felt the odds were against me so i live with the pain.

    It is good to hear the positve stories.

  • and if you have been following my post you will know that i may require ADR of a fusion and i am terrified ! so hearing your news has given me some hope .please be careful with your new back ..remember just how painful it was before your operation ..we don't want to see you back here again posting on just how bad things are!!
  • Hey there... my healing was natural. I did not use or have access to a stimulator.

    I'm obviously never going to play football or be a world class weightlifter, but by 6 months, my doctor gave me full clearance to go back to all my normal activities. (He took an xray, and would not have cleared me if there was no bone growth.) He said the fuse had taken, but I waited about 7 months just to be sure. I was running after 5 months and had full range of motion for all my normal daily activities after 4 months. The doc said it all comes down to the person. I'm only 31 and a lifelong soccer player, so i was in fairly decent shape before the surgery. Depending on your age and physical makeup, it could take up to a year for the fusion to take. (I'm 5'10 175 pounds.) I have not noticed noticed any loss in my range of motion. I hope this answers your question.

    You should also know that I was a light smoker as well, but my doctor told me that he wouldnt touch me unless I quit smoking. I completly quit a month before the surgery. After the surgery, I started cheating and probably smoked a pack a month starting 3 weeks after the surgery. YOu probably dont want to do anymore than that. I'm coming up to a year and I'm smoking socially (10 cigarettes a weekend.) You should try to quit if you can - its not healthy. ;)
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