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L5-S1 fusion surgery experiences

lynchpinllynchpin Posts: 6
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:47 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi all.

Looking for a place to both look for information and share my experiences so far.

I was born with congenital spinal fusion which was treated with additional fusion when I was 7 years old (multiple levels). The operation left me one good lumbar disc, the L5-S1 disc, which putting up with all the abuse of the fused segments above it, started to fail in around 2004.

It started with pain and mild sciatica. Eventually I had a bad episode with a disc bulge where I was pretty much housebound for 2-3 months due to the pain and sciatica. I saw a surgeon, but as my symptoms were improving they didn't want to operate.

Over the next 6 years I had intermittent bouts of pain and other symptoms, which I addressed with painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication as needed. Eventually I had a bulge which made my left leg a little numb, which I started to get over, but when things were looking good it suddenly got worse, and my left leg developed "drop foot" and walking was very difficult.

Anyways, I saw a surgeon who wanted to perform another fusion on me - to be specific - "ALIF with anterior plate fixation L5-S1 and posteriolateral fusion L5-S1 with pedicle screw fixation and disc fragment excision". The degenerated disc also caused stenosis, which was also to be addressed by the fusion, as the carbon-fibre cage would increase the clearances in my back (one edge of the worn disc was only around 1mm thick).

Because of my prior operation/odd anatomy, the operation took 8 hours. I felt quite ill afterwards, a reaction to the anaesthesia, which took me around 3 days to get over.

They got me up to walk the day after the operation, just a staggered walk around the room, which increased over the 2 weeks I spent in hospital. Pain wasn't too bad, but it was definitely uncomfortable. I was on "digesic" in hospital after the initial morphine button, which I didn't use much. My drop foot was a little improved immediately due to the operation, but since then there's been little improvement and I still walk with a cane.

I experienced some level of pain almost constantly for 2 months after the operation. It changed in degrees; for example after waking up in the morning, I'd be almost pain free, but it'd build up over the course of the day to a dull ache at the fusion site.

(Sorry, this is getting long!)

I found that if I did something silly, like twist a little when my walking stick was falling, I'd pay for it with 3 or so days of significantly worse pain.

I turned a corner 3 days ago, around two months after the operation, and I'm almost off the pain pills (down to 2 in the morning, instead of 6 per day). It's been long coming, and a huge morale boost. To anyone else having a long road, hang in there.

I still have a ways to go yet; I'd love for my leg to be 100%, but I've been told it could take 2 years due to the degree of nerve compression. Fingers crossed I get the result I'm after. I have xrays coming up to see how the implants are sitting, but I won't know how the bone growth itself is going until around the 5-6 month mark, when I'll have an MRI. If I have a nonunion I'll be gutted, so here's hoping.

Thanks for the time! I hope this information helps someone. To those considering it, I'd say search for a doctor who has a good reputation. I did, and I never had a lapse in confidence in him, even though I still have a long road ahead of me.

I've searched a variety of fusion forums all over the web and it's shocking how many people have surgeries with doctors, have complications, and then have immense difficulty in getting follow up appraisal/treatment.

Best of luck.


  • So good that you've turned the corner now and down to only two pain pills.

    I hope the rest of your recovery goes well and that L5-S1 fuses by the time you get your next MRI done.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It's encouraging to read about surgeries which go well. Recovery is certainly a difficult time and I'm so thankful to our forum for all the good information on how to cope.


    XLIF L2-4 20.8.15
    ALIF L4/5 2009
    Laminectomy/discectomy L4/5 2008
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