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How soon should I return to work after TLIF?

KarlaCKKarlaC Posts: 6
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:40 AM in Maintenance
Hello! :-)

I had a TLIF on 12/14/09 and am wondering when I should return to work. Because I have a laptop and can work from home, my manager and company have generously offered to allow me to work from home as long as needed. They say they will support whatever decision I make on when to return and how long I want to work from home before coming back to working in the office. I know how extremely fortunate I am and am so grateful in this economy to have a job like I do, with all the support!! O:)

My surgeon says that because I work a sedentary job and do not perform manual labor of any kind, he is fine with my returning to work when I feel that I am ready. While I feel that I am recovering well and doing pretty good for 3 weeks post-surgery; I don’t know if this is too soon to begin working again – even from home. I have a very stressful job and I do not want that to interfere in any way with my continued recovery. Can anyone relate? :/

How soon have some of you gone back to work after surgery? If you had to do it all over again, what would you do? Any advice is greatly appreciated!


  • Can you work without sitting up? Some surgeons do not want their patients sitting up for more than 15-20 minutes at a time for the first 2-3 months.

    How are you feeling? I guess that is the most important part of the equation. I know one fellow on the board went back to nursing full-time fairly quickly, but I think 3 months is probably more average.

    I found that after six weeks, I would have good days and bad days and I could not put a string of good days together for many months. If I had a busy, active day, it would take me two days to recover, and that lasted quite awhile.

    The main problem with resuming work too quickly is the public perception of how you are feeling. Once you resume work, it is interpreted as being "back to normal," which, of course, you are not. One of the worst parts of recovery is that the patient looks perfectly normal and may even move and walk normally...so people assume you are healed and ready to take on whatever life throws at you. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most people, no matter how good you look.

    I'm sure you will receive many different answers from others!! I'm glad you feel well enough to even be contemplating the question this early in recovery.


  • I had a single level PLIF (I believe that is similar to a TLIF) on 11/4/09. I also have a sedentary job, and am returning to work tomorrow (1/5/10).

    I have the ability to work from home with my laptop, but took a full eight weeks to recover at home. I was ready mentally to return to work before physically.

    Since you have a stressful job, I would allow a good couple of months for recovery at home. If you're anything like me, it is hard to limit the stress while at work. I'm sure you wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize your fusion, and it is vital to adhere to your surgeons restrictions. In addition, I was in therapy three times per week for four weeks. If your surgeon recommended therapy, it can be very time consuming and take up a lot of your time while completing it. By the way, I highly recommend physical therapy after this type of surgery. I discovered that I will need to forever change the way I lift, bend, twist and walk, and the exercises they have prescribed will keep my spine strong and in the proper alignment.

    Take the opportunity to rest and take care of yourself. Also talk to your surgeon to see what his or her opinion is. You are blessed to have such a supportive supervisor, and I would take as much time as you need to fully recover. Good luck and keep us posted.
  • You're very lucky to have a job with such an understanding boss. Use that to your advantage and listen to your body. If you still feel weak, or are still struggling with pain, take as much time as you need. You're still recovering from a major surgery and while your surgeon can clear you to return to work based on how you're healing, give you guidelines and recommendations etc., YOU are the only one who will know when you are truly ready.

    My surgeon was happy to release me at 2 weeks into my recovery after my open 2-level TLIF, with the only restriction being that I not sit for more than 30 min at a time. But I was still feeling very tired and weak at that time. I had no pain and was already mostly off all meds, but I felt so puny and got tired extremely easy. And that's totally natural because my body was using all my energy to heal. So I told my doc I needed another 2 weeks, and at 4 weeks I was back at work, feeling great.

    Bottom line, only you know how you're feeling and what you can or cannot handle. So I say take in your Dr's recommendations etc., and listen to your body when you get ready to make your decision.
  • Thank you all so very much for your responses! :)))
    This is one of those situations where the best advice can only come from those who have "been there and done that"!
  • I was reading these post and was really glad to see that one of you felt ready to go back to work in 4 weeks. My doc said it would be about 4 weeks.

    I think the doc I have found is great, but how does one really know that. I believe he has done 7,000 reg. spondy..

    However, he has indicated that only 5% have the traumatic form. L5 S1 with broken process. Naturally, I have questions about this surgery.

    Any thoughts?
  • btw, what is the time frame for TLIF patients to get back to excercise or normal life?
  • i had the surgery in May and was back on the job in august. i have a medium stress job, but was on limited physical involvement. i found it to be the best medicine. took a couple of advils during the day and possibly a pain med to sleep, but it got my mind sharp and was like having pt all day long. if he cleared ya, the doc that is, i would say go for it!
  • I haven't had the surgery, but doc wants to do it right away because of the severity of the issue.

    I was totally mentally ready yesterday, then I started to read the internet information. Too much information is not always good either. I want real life information now.

    What level what your diag.? did you have
    a broken spine process?

    L5 S1, Grade 2 with broken bone.

  • Hi MJ,

    Welcome to the board! Assessing a doctor's expertise IMHO is difficult, but, this is how I went about it:

    - google your doc's name, very likely you'll be able to get his CV (curriculum vitae). It's an MD's 'resume' and will show where he's worked, what papers he may have, where he trained, fellowship(s).

    - be sure that your doc is fellowship trained (either NS or OSS) and that their practices are exclusively dedicated to treatment of spinal issues, this maximizes the potential for a good outcome.

    - ask the doc if he has any patients that might be willing to talk w/ you & share their experience w/ surgery/recovery/etc.

    - check the AMA's website to see if he's accredited in the area of specialization.

    - some states have websites where your can access the history of licensed professionals and see their history on education, years in practice, any lawsuits, etc.

    Will your procedure be an 'open' (long incision) or MI (minimally invasive) procedure? The same work is done, but MI spares the muscle cutting/stripping so recovery can be a little easier tho' recovery is individual to each person. Same thing goes for the return to exercise, critical you wait til your doc gives you the OK to start again and be 'religious' about following his instructions regarding wgt. limitations, etc. Spinal surgery is a very big deal and you want to do it 'right' the lst time, recovery can be long/difficult and patience is something we've all had to learn in the recovery. Also, if you need to go into the office, how do you get there and how long is the commute? I had neurological issues (drop foot/weakness right leg) and only felt comfortable starting to drive again at 6 month mark where I had enough resolution w/ these issues where I felt I could properly control gas/brake.

    I'm not familiar w/ traumatic spondy, but, someone else here may be and I'm sure you'll hear from them. Have you tried the search feature on the site (blue box) above the tabs? I've found it to be very helpful w/ the terminology, procedures, conditions.

    Hope this helps, please keep us posted

  • Karla,
    When you feel ready and that is always difficult to quantify and it is a case of trial and error, this will be the first time you have expectation of yourself to work and cope with your current symptoms simultaneously and until you try it is hard to equate just how impacted that return will be, it will differ for every individual and what some can do others cannot.

    The rigour of any day is never easy and committing too early is a plan for expecting a lot from yourself and perhaps ease back into the new you, those initial days of commitment and successive effort once experienced are always remembered and it is a good thing you are trying to do.

    Take care and pace well.


  • Karla,

    I had a TLIF at L4/L5 on 1/29/10 and had a very similar situation as you. I'm curious to know what you ended up doing and how well it went. I had some challenges returning to the office fulltime. I attempted to do so at 8 weeks post-op, but I had to back off and work 6 hours a day for another month. I then returned fulltime (~9-10 hrs/day) on 5/3/10. I still have some unresolved pain, but at least I am getting through the day "okay".

    Again, I would love to hear how things worked out.


  • I had TLIF ON L5 s1 with discetemy, which appears to be somewhat common these days.

    I am on day 12 of recovery. Beside successfully getting to frigerator often, I find that I can do more than I thought. I am finding intersting ways to get things done at home. My feet have now earned their keep. I have already taken trip to the grocery store (as long as I keep it within 30-45 min)before I get tired or irritated with my brace.

    I am suppose to get my staples out Monday? Does this hurt or tell me how this worked for you?

    I am also struggling with the question, when to get back to work? I am a single person with financial responsibilities. I have about 30 days total that I can use for medical leave, after that I start loosing
    $$$ as well as used up my sick leave and vacation time. Has anyone had this dilemna?

    I can do remote work if necessary, so that is an options. Just wondering how things turned out for those of you who remoted into work and what your experience has been like? When did you start to remote in from home?


  • Hey gang. I'm 1 month post surgery and doing worse than I had hoped. Pain level is very high. Any movement is painful. I probably am not taking strong enough meds.but I don't want to increase, I only take 10 mg . my roommate in hospital was taking 2x the meds and we were needing meds round the clock and still suffering. I underestimated this surgery. Reason is I've had many other surgeries, I,e,. Hip replacement and a previous microdiscectomy,and. Knee surgeries. This is the most pain I have ever felt and I have a high threshold for pain until now. So, I was wondering what kind of meds people are taking.I just don't want to be a fool, well too late lol by being brave. Thx everyone.
    James rinaldi
  • Regular TLIF 12/7, back to work (office desk) 12/21. I cannot wait to get back to work as I am BORED out of my mind.
    46, Good health, active.
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