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1 year, 18 days post PLIF - no fusion - ??

B52BB52 Posts: 247
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:48 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I don't really know where to start this letter. I'll just jump in, I guess. Nov 10, 09 I had an epic 12 hour PLIF with instrumentation on the L5-S1 joint. I spent the next four months in a TLSO and about every three months, I'd see my NS for a "check-up". He'd look at an x-ray, pick up on my feet and tell me that the hardware looked to be in place and tell me to come back in three more months. He always discouraged me going to PT and recommended rest. I did resume some activity over the year; I ride my riding mower, little rides on my motorcycle (bad, I know), and I walk about every day. All along, though, I could tell something wasn't right. If I pick up a bag of cat litter, I can always feel it in my back as a smashing pain. Many little moves I can make will result in a pain penalty..sometimes instantly, sometimes the next day. I'd always ask the NS if he could see any fusion and he's always say "Nope, but the hardware is in place" Finally, I read that you really can't see fusion on a conventional x-ray, so I found a different doc who ordered a dye contrast MRI and a CT. He called last week and told me that the imaging showed only grainy, partial fusion growth at the top of the operation and at the S1, nothing.

He's referred me back to my original doctor (with the new imaging results) and told me that "I have big decisions to make..live with the pain and have a 'lifestyle adjustment' or to try another surgery and maybe it will fuse."

I guess here's my question for y'all: If I don't fuse and just rely on the screws/rods to hold me together, how will that work? How long will it last? If I go for another surgery, what's the chance it'll work? That first surgery was a real doozy, and I ain't keen to repeat that experience if I don't have to.

Any input will be appreciated! I really don't know what to do next.

Big aloha,


  • Hello B52,

    Sorry to hear what you are going through I understand fully.I had a 360 on August5 2009.I to had a non union! I just underwent a PLIF about 4 weeks ago! I was in severe pain. Are you in pain?? or is the Hardware holding you together enough?

    I couldn't take the pain anymore I was actually worse than before my fusion in 09. I was in severe pain because I had issues with all my Hardware as well they shifted and became loose so I basically had no stability what so ever. This time they are using a bone stimulator!! I hope everything works out for you!!


    spondylolisthesis at L4-5; stenosis,
    Lumbar surgeries 1999 L4-L5
    Lumbar staph infection 1999-2000"
    Meningitis x5 in 1999-2001
    Brain shunt 2000"
    Brain shunt removed 20001"
    ALIF/PLIF fusion 8/5/09
    Failed fusion and Failed Hardware
    PLIF Fusion scheduled for 10/29/10
  • Hey, thanks for the holler back. Pain? Well, yes & no. In most ways, the pain is greater than before the surgery, and now it's pretty much constant. It is bearable right now though, so I hate to complain too much or rock the boat. If I thought I could just stay like this, I would be satisfied. I'm worried about what happens next. I don't know if the hardware will hold and I'm especially worried that the bone will wear where the screws go in and I'll be in worse shape further down the road. Right now, too, I have insurance. I won't after March '11 if I'm not back to work. I kinda feel pressured to get something done before insurance runs out.

    I feel kinda silly even complaining since so many folks have things way worse than I do. I wish you success with the bone growth stimulator. I imagine just being 4 weeks post op, you're feeling pretty beat up. Get well :)

  • My fusion story is almost identical to yours, with my PLIF on 11/23/09. I did have a MRI at 2 months postop because of ongoing pain, but I was never given the results. Otherwise, I have had xrays every 3 months. At 6 months postop, when my NS said there was no fusion, my physical therapist insisted that I have a bone growth stimulator. I have had 2 xrays since then, and there "appears" to be some fusion, but I still have intense pain and lower extremity numbness. I had 3 endoscopic lysis of adhesions for dense scar tissue, which only caused the pain to worsen, and it seems is still a contraversial therapy to date. I am now sending medical records/xrays to a pm/neurologist for chronic pain mgt. Hopefully this dr. will take me on as a patient, and give me a diagnosis as you have received, bad or good.

    I am required to continue wearing my bone growth stimulator until my next visit. Has that been given as an option for you? I have also improved my nutritional status/supplements for bone growth.

    I'm so sorry about the lack of fusion for you too. Hopefully you can grow bone during this second year. My NS told me that he saw a patient about 18 months out that had an improved fusion growth via xray from the 12 month visit.

    My NS was going to say "bye" to me last week, but I insisted that I see his PA in 4 months.

    Do you feel like you are on an island all by yourself, with no real solutions to your ongoing spinal issues? I'm there too.

    All I can say is that I'm thinking and praying for you!! Good luck!

  • I'm sorry to hear you are having such a difficult recovery. I couldn't get past the 12 hours for a one level fusion. Would you mind saying WHY the surgery took so long???
  • I understand how you are feeling about pressure and stuff! I would honestly be concern about your hardware loosening seeing that there is no bone! I would hate for hardware to loosen as well!! Not sure where you live and wasn't sure if you were looking for a new DR. I live on the east coast and I go to the top Orthopedic Hospital in the country. It's the Boston Celtic's home Hospital. Aaron if you are looking and what more info PM me and I can send some info.

    keep in touch we spinneys are here for encouragement!! :)

  • 12 hour surgery - all I was told was that there were a lot of bleeding issues that made the surgery tedious. Actually, I was sewn up and almost sent to recovery when someone noticed swelling and they determined it was internal bleeding. Back into surgery for repairs and a transfusion I went! Two days in ICU and 6 more in hospital. Long story short - complications.

    Lisa - is the bone growth stimulator something they have to surgically implant or does it just stick to you or how does it work? And yes, I do feel like I'm on an island by myself (only with no tropical drinks or tiki torches). I feel like I just can't get the doctor to hear what I'm trying to tell him. I hope that you do eventually get a diagnosis, good or bad. Mine was not so great, but it's much better for me to know the facts so I can make an informed decision on what to do now.

    Aloha y'all,

  • I asked in Lisa's (sleepergirl)thread how you were doing.

    Now I know!
    I am so sorry to hear that things aren't as good as they should be.

    My last appointment with my surgeon in June showed no fusion. He is obviously not too worried because he told me to make an appointment to see him again in March 2011. Although I am having some neurological symptoms, I don't have very much pain, so I am hoping that all is fusing.

    I have heard that when we don't fuse, the hardware will not hold indefinately and eventually it will either loosen or break. I wonder if wearing a spine growth stimulator would help you, even at this late stage. It is probably worth a try.
    My physiotherapist said that the most important thing I could do to help, is to walk each day. I am doing that, and like Lisa, eating very healthily to try to help.

    I do hope that they will find a way to get your body to fuse and not need to resort to further surgery.

    Please do let us know how things go.
    Are you back at work now?

    Take good care,
  • Thanks for asking after me. You sound like you're doing as well as possible! I've heard from several spineys about the possible benefits of the bone growth stimulator. I'm up for trying it..don't figure it could hurt! Not back to work; I kind of think the days of hard physical work are behind me. I too walk every day. I think it's good for our physical as well as mental health. I tell ya, keeping in touch with my family and friends and just trying to be positive and engaged in life is helping me a lot. You take good care of you too..


  • The bone stimulator that I wear goes around your waist and hips and it is worn for 4 hours a day. Please look at the site that I sent you.

    Good luck,

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