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fusion problems

terror8396tterror8396 Posts: 1,832
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:43 AM in Chronic Pain
for those who are thinking about having a fusion or having another one-


I had my first fusion almost 10 years ago on on L4-5. Three years later the L3 blew out from the stress of the first one. They did a laminectomy which of course did not work so they did another fusion. Guess what i had an x-ray on my spine and the disc above the l-3 is now unstable and they are thinking about doing another fusion. watch out because it becomes an unending saga with a fusion. there is a good possibility that the discs above the fusion will become unstable and blow out so you might have to have another. now i have to think what will i do. i will not have another fusion unless i drool, stoop, can't walk and the pain is so severe that i can't function at all. unless all of the above happens i will not have more fusions
so watch out if you need a fusion
I have 4 fusions from L5-3, the latest last May '12 where they fixed my disc that broke.They went through my side this time. I take 40 mg of oxycontin 4x a day and 4 fenatyl lollipops 300 micro gms 4x a day.


  • That is the same road that I have taken, fusion stinks. I'll shoot myself in the head before I ever have another one and that's a fact! My surgeon was mad that I wouldn't do it again, and when I told him the pain was horrendous, he told me to "buck up". What a jerk.
  • Gosh, that's so terrible :( Every time someone asks if there isn't a surgery to "fix" my broken back, I say "the hardware comes with it's own problems, I'll live with it as long as I can."

    I am just so sorry you guys are having to deal with these complications :(
  • Jon,

    Sorry to hear you are going through all that! I had the level below my C5/6 go just past a year - caused nerve damage (the disk did, not the surgery), and now 8 months out, guess what? Yep, C7/T1 is going!

    Lumbar road starting. I should know next month is fusion of the L2/3/4 is in the future! Those levels are changing fast for me, so not sure if I am going to be where I can say "no thanks" for surgery. I'll be optimistic till then. :-)

    Supportive *hug*

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • I just had an L4/5 fusion Jan. 6. I've asked everybody in the spine clinic I go to, the surgeon, the pt, the pa, and they all say that the degeneration is very slow and I shouldn't have any problems for many years to come.

    Well, anyone who knows me knows that I love my spine clinic and the whole team, but I don't believe them when it comes to this stuff. I also believe that when you have problems in one part of your spine it's probable that you'll have problems in other parts of your spine.

    I just had to jump on the "being a spiney stinks" boat here and agree that more problems are to be expected, although it won't happen to everyone, whether it's hardware, pressure on levels above and below fusions, and overall degeneration.

  • Thats why ADR seems so appealing for the future. Seen some 4-5 level ADR in germany, pretty crazy. They are continuing to improve and get more like actual disc. There are problems but it seems better than fusion. I guess thats one thing about thorasic, huge surgury but the adjacent problems not bad due to ribs support.
    Herniated T6-7, multiple herniations in cervical, tears in T5-T8. Stenois at levels and smorls nodes from thoracic thru lumbar
  • I know what you mean. I don't know of any spine surgeons that have had a fusion themselves. Its easy to for them to say "it shouldn't be hurting anymore" but I would like to hear from one that has walked a mile in my shoes.
  • this is a warning or not !! i am still struggling with my mind about having a multi level fusion .i agree about once you have had back surgery you will almost certainly need more in years to come ..the length of time between operations seems to be max 10 years .i had my first op in 1997 and my second in 2007 {both not fusions and the second op should have been done early ..about 7 years after the first} i feel very sorry for jon and everyone else with recurrent back problems and facing more surgery .i am now at that point and i am sxxxing my self !! i am in pain all the time BUT i can do some normal stuff ..like wash the car /ironing /swimming.please note that this is on a good day and full of pain killers .i can still wash myself and go to the toilet without assistance .if anything happened to me and i needed to be washed and toileted etc i would rather not survive the operation .and that's another worry ..the operation ..i am fit enough to stand 7 hours under the knife? and have years of smoking knackered my chances of fusing?? all big questions ..like jon i now need more surgery ....so one surgeon says. three say no because they dont think that any operation will help me ..i wish you well jon with what every you do .and i know how you feel .its a hidden health problem and only the people with back problems will understand the full implications on our day to day life .............................../
  • I'm in the same sort of situation. I have one neurosurgeon telling me I should have a multi-level fusion, one recommending a fusion plus laminectomy (again), and another doctor saying I should leave well enough alone and stay with pain management as long as I can still walk and do basic things. It's hard to be optimistic about fusion-type surgery when you hear about so many negative results and the doctors you consult aren't even sure what the best option is. My head spins when I try to think what the best decision would be.

    Sorry to hear about these post-fusion problems, Jon.
  • My surgeon is a 2 level cervical fusion.
  • And guess what his recommendation was...a fusion! I was going to post a new topic except this was the first post I saw when I logged on and thought to myself how appropriate to comment here instead.

    I went today to get the results of my new MRI and his recommendations for what the next steps might be. This particular doctor does not do disc replacement as he says that it is usually just trading one set of problems for another. ( I was thinking to myself the same thing about the fusion.) So he offers the fusion as a possibility and he did a good job of answering my questions (this would only be a single level fusion) and when I asked about positive recovery his answer was that the rate was about 80% which doesn't sound like bad odds since my other choice is living in pain.

    My other concern was what might happen if I did nothing and just lived with it and he said that because I am basically bone on bone no disc left that it won't ever get better and will probably eventually lead to the other discs having issues anyway. So it sounds like a losing proposition either way, and that it's just a matter of time before the discs above start having their own problems. So what's a girl to do?
  • It is a valid point that when the option of living with pain or the prospect of a successful fusion then those odds are shortened, and we are left with a difficult choice. Even though my fusion failed it should not be used as a measure against those with a similar decision to make and be given an opportunity for themselves.

    I do not regret having my fusion and as jon said when it is you turn then what other option do you have and one only hopes that it all goes well and we are part of the 20% success rate.

    It is never easy making that choice between two bad proposals and which will benefit us the most and the leap of faith needed when the outcome is unknown. We have to live with the results whatever they turn out to be and subsequent surgery is in proportionate to those accumulative surgeries.

    Take care and good luck.

  • is that the statistics for a successful fusion??
  • i don't know if some of you know the difference between a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic one who specializes in backs. the neurosurgeon will put off surgery and the ortho will want to do it. my pain dr told me this and this is why i was referred to a neurosurgeon. but this guy says i will need surgery in the future also and the fusion on this disc with fusions underneath will be more extensive. my pain ddr wants to do injections not as thearpy but as a diagnostic tool. he wants to see where pain orginiates, in the blown disc or where pain is, the lower back. so i will do injections and go from there. good thing i have great insurance. 1 pay 20% but after a certain amount of money per year, everything is free. i have had 2 major surgeries this year and not one cent paid out of my pocket
    I have 4 fusions from L5-3, the latest last May '12 where they fixed my disc that broke.They went through my side this time. I take 40 mg of oxycontin 4x a day and 4 fenatyl lollipops 300 micro gms 4x a day.
  • No that is incorrect. The failure rate is around 20% and in that group you have to define what is failure.

  • That's pretty high, though, out of 10 people getting fusions, 2 will have failed fusions.

    What is the mortality rate?
  • Unsuccessful fusion may occur in 5–20% of patients. Neurological injury occurs in less than 1–5% of patients. Infection occurs in 1–8%. Death occurs in less than 1% of patients.

  • But, he didn't seem to be in any hurry to necessarily push me to have surgery. He simply said that I should go home and think about it, and that's what I plan to do! I am in no rush to have surgery by any stretch of the imagination. I have managed this pain for the last five years sometimes better than other times and of course I would love to not be in pain, but I have read too many times on this forum how devastating it is when the fusion does not work. I thank you Terror for posting this when you did and John for your insight. It certainly is food for thought.
  • Annewrig-something in your last post caught my attention. You said "I have managed this pain for the last five years sometimes better than other times and of course I would love to not be in pain, but I have read too many times on this forum how devastating it is when the fusion does not work". I just want to point out something (in case nobody else has, which probably isn't the case, but I'd rather err on the side of caution with something so serious as a fusion). When speaking with my Ortho Surg last week and again 2 days ago, he repeatedly told my 'rents & I that I will NEVER be free from pain, even with the fusion. He specifically said "too many people go into the OR with the expectation that they are going to come out of it & be rid of their pain-this is absolutely NOT the case, even with what we Surgeons call 'a successful fusion'". This is something that grabbed my dad by surprise, but not me, because I had heard it before-but he was absolutely convinced that after my fusion, I will be pain free & back to "normal" with just a somewhat limited mobility due to the fused area of the spine. Since I knew the odds of success vs. failure, as well as the fact that I'll still have pain, that is one of the reasons I've waited all these years & exhausted all 'conservative treatments' before deciding to go ahead with the fusion (even though I admit I'm scared to death about having it done!).

    He also said that my level of success will largely depend on ME-my mindset/determination, my willingness to do the therapy/exercises and push through the pain to rebuild those core muscles that are, in his words "really bad".

    I hope to know Monday when my consult is with the Neuro Surg the Ortho Surg referred me to to discuss the chances of the surgery restoring my "jello leg" back to normal, as well as whether or not I can expect to be rid at least of the 'lightening bolt pain'. Like I told my Ortho Surg-"if you can get me to where I just have the 'achy pain' in my back but w/o the lightening bolt nerve pain, I will never complain about hurting again!". I truly believe I can function with the ache's & stiffness in my back, but the nerve pain is just unbearable, as is the numbness/weakness of my left leg which has ruined my balance completely (hence the falls I take all the time). He couldn't even give me an estimated percentage of what the chances are that the fusion will eliminate that (due to conflicting MRI & post-disco CT & EMG/NCV), which is why he wants me to see the Neuro Surg pre-op. The last NS I saw back when I lived in Michigan was in 2007 and I was told then that the nerve damage was permanent, and that was prior to my leg "falling asleep", so we'll see what this new NS has to say about everything.

    Good luck to you-& to everyone else who is having or has had a fusion done! I'm watching all of the posts here on fusions very closely but am determined that, for me, it is time. It's just a matter of how many levels to be done off the bat that is my concern. (OS wants to start with just L4/L5, but with 3 confirmed tears, I can't help but question that & think he should do at least 2 levels, if not all 3 where the tears are at. I'll keep everyone posted after I see the NS).

    Jon-excellent topic...I appreciate that you brought this up. I have been following it from your OP. =)

    Take care of you....All the best!
  • Pain is something that I know that I will never be totally free from, and I am well aware that the fusion is not the answer to that. I like you realize that it is the quality of life issues and the diminishing of nerve pain that we seek with this sort of procedure. No pain to me is kind of like you described and my greatest hope is to perhaps regain some strength and stability in my leg as well.

    It is just that when I look at almost all of the people who post on here about having had a fusion and the increase in pain and other issues that come from having it done, it really makes me wonder whether or not it is truly worth the risk. Am I only going to trade one set of issues for another? Or will it improve my quality of life even for a little? I do truly believe that this is a huge personal decision that we will have to make and I do hope nothing but the best to you EMT. The amount of issues that you are dealing with are mind boggling to me. Good luck to you!
  • the stats that i have heard are that 1/3 get better, 1/3 stay the same and 1/3 get worse
    I have 4 fusions from L5-3, the latest last May '12 where they fixed my disc that broke.They went through my side this time. I take 40 mg of oxycontin 4x a day and 4 fenatyl lollipops 300 micro gms 4x a day.
  • annewrig-Yup, I know exactly how you're feeling & am questioning myself for the same reasons. It is rather disheartening when you read the numerous posts here by people that had a less than favorable outcome after having back surgery...a big reason to think long & hard before opting for the OR, indeed! (I hope you didn't think I was being condescending or anything-I just wanted to make sure you were aware what the risks & stats are-just wanted to help is all...some people just don't understand that there will still be pain post-fusion & I didn't want you to be 'blind-sided', that's all.) =) I don't consider my issues to be any worse than anyone else's here-yea, I have a lot of stuff going on, but I TRY to live by the saying "everyone you meet is going through something". I appreciate your thoughts & wish you all the best as well! Maybe some day we'll live to see a way for spiney's to be able to live a pain free life-boy wouldn't that be worth a celebration! ;)

    Jon-I've heard similar stats too...sure makes it difficult to be optimistic about back surgery, huh? EEK!

    I had to organize & clean my lower kitchen cupboards on Friday....I've been 'paying for it' ever since. I hope today I'll be "paid up" so I can stop suffering so much! There are just some things that my 17yr old doesn't do, or doesn't do properly, and I'm the only other one here so hence, I have to do these things when the time comes! I can't let things get out of hand so I try to keep up as much as I can-but as we always do, I end up suffering for days afterward!

    Today I'm going to make a few phone calls and spend my day lounging in & by the pool! Sure hope the spasms calm down some-it's been a rough 4 days, that's for sure. *sigh*

    Have a great day everyone! I hope you all have wonderful weather like I do today! (Weather guy says the heat/humidity come on full force after today & won't let up until Autumn, so I'm enjoying what is likely to be my last day with open windows for awhile!) Course I like the heat...it's the cold that gets to me. The humidity isn't fun if you're exherting yourself, but at least there's a/c pretty much everywhere down here to get out of the heat for awhile. As I always say, I can cool down so much easier than I can warm up-I'll never complain that it's "too hot"! (that's why I moved to FL, right? lol) Too humid, perhaps, but never too hot ;)

    Take good care...

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