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Surgical Recovery Time

maryelleninnjmmaryelleninnj Posts: 101
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:48 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I am seriously considering getting the surgery (lumbar fusion) to eliminate my sciatica symptoms. The ESI I got in September has aleady worn off. Worried about taking time off work for surgery. How long should I expect to be out of work if I have a desk job? Speaking with others recently, was told that it may be 6-8 weeks, maybe less. Also, they said they did not have to have any PT. I have spondylolisthesis L4 L5.


  • SpineAZSpineAZ WiscPosts: 1,084
    Investigate to see if your employer offers Short Term Disability insurance for when you are unable to work. If they do it pays a % of your income while you are out of work. Sometimes employers run this concurrently with FMLA. FMLA provides for 12 weeks of job protection if you are unable to work due to your own illness or that of a family member. It protects your job though does not include any pay. Some employers offer STD and some only offer sick pay. Also check to see if your employer offers Long Term Disability (LTD) shoudl you be out longer. Not to be pessimistic but it's just good to know what the options are if your recovery is slower than you expect.

    As to how long you will be out of work this can vary greatly based on the exact type of surgery, your age, your recovery rate, etc. It could be 6 weeks or up to a few months. Everyone's recovery rate is different and often after you are out of surgery your doctor can let you know what he/she has done and what your expected recovery schedule should be.
    2 ACDFs, 2 PCDF, 3 LIFs; Rt TKR; Rt thumb fusion ; Lt thumb arthroplasty; Ehlers Danlos 
  • The length of time does vary from person to person. I had a plif and was doing things about 6 weeks later but, and it's a big butit wasn't perfect. It would vary from day to day. It also made a difference that I could keep changing from sitting to standing and walking all day long. I never had to stay in any one position.
    good luck.
  • It also depends on the surgery! I am getting a 360 degree 2 level with one vertebrae removed and am told things will be very painful for at least a month (I don't work, so no idea about that).

    I am not sure what the factors in recovery are. I was just discussing that with kris-NY the other day. My physiatrist seems to think that messing with bone is the biggest factor in long-term recovery- the bone grafts taken, bone removed, and bone growth required from the grafts.

    I have heard from others that ALIF is an easier recovery.

    You should probably ask around before you choose a surgeon and find out which surgeons are considered the most successful. It may seem like it's the more experienced surgeons, but according to my physiatrist it is usually the more conservative, technically skilled, and educationally current.
  • As everyone else has already said, there are so many variables that it is difficult to give an answer. I just wanted to mention that having a desk job does not necessarily mean you can return to work quickly.

    Many patients are told that spending a lot of time sitting is not recommended for anyone having a lumbar spine fusion. Sitting actually puts more pressure on the lower lumbar spine than standing. As a result, many surgeons limit their patients to 15-20 minutes at a time. If you do return to work early in recovery, you may need to be able to get up and walk in between sessions of sitting.

    Also I think having to return to work within a limited time frame puts a great deal of additional stress on the patient and often results in the patient attempting to rush through recovery.

    That being said, some people are able to go back to work after 6-8 weeks and do well. It's just that you don't know ahead of time whether you'll end up being one of the lucky ones!
  • Thanks for all the feedback. I am not really concerned with NJ disability pay, because I know that will not be a problem. Just hate to be out of work again. Last January I was out of work for eight weeks with pelvic surgery.

    I am mostly concerned about timing, as we have a BIG family trip/cruise to Hawaii scheduled for September 2011. If I do decide to have surgery in 2011, I expect to schedule it for March, to give me plenty of recovery time for the trip.

    I am becoming more diligent about my PT and am taking better care of myself (eating better, walking, etc.) I'll be getting a stability ball. Also have an acupuncturist appointment (my first) next month. And I'm reading as much as I can about how to relieve my current symptoms. I already saw a surgeon at the hospital where I work (Cooper), but want to get a second opinion from another ortho group, Rothman Institute.

    It's been a long time since my first consultation with the Cooper surgeon, that I'm not sure what his recovery estimate was. I think he said 2-3 months. He may be trying to be conservative, because my spine has really degenerated. I am 54 years old, but he said my spine looks like it belongs to someone 74! Lots of arthritis.

    From all that I have read on this forum, I can try lots of things like acupuncture and PT, but eventually nothing will help anymore, and surgery is the only option. I hate having it done, but would rather have it done in my fifties than in my 60's.
  • As has been said, everybody is different. I just had a fusion, TLIF, at L5/S1 (I also have/had spondy at that level) on Nov. 9 and started going back into the office after 2 weeks. Now full disclosure, 1) I have a desk job, so there is no heavy lifting 2) My surgery was done minimally invasively, which I believe has helped greatly with post-op pain, 3) For the first week my wife would drive me because of the pain killers, I have dialed those back enough that I can drive myself now and 4) I’m one of the owners of the company, so you would almost have to keep me out of the office at gun point.

    I had a cervical fusion almost two years ago and was out for a month, but that is only because I couldn’t drive because of the neck brace I had to wear, and my wife worked at that time and couldn’t drive me. I was able to do a lot on the phone though.

    As for PT, I had PT after my cervical fusion, which helped immensely. I should be starting PT for my lower back after the 1st of the year, and can’t wait. I really believe PT helps a lot in recovery. Most importantly, follow your doctor’s orders. Good Luck!

  • Hello,

    I'm on my 5th week post PLIF and I'm still on pain meds! This is my second fusion. I had a 360 in
    August 09 which failed..I'm actually finding the PLIF a tougher recovery when it comes to discomfort.

    It's hard to say how long recovery is because honestly it take up to a year or so for a full recovery. The initial time of recovery I'm noticing from others ranges from 6-12 weeks. I find there are few who are back to work before 6 weeks! I hope whatever you decide that you have a successful surgery! Remember we spineys are always here for support and encouragement!! Good Luck!

    Maria :)

    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

  • I spoke with several of my coworkers who had relatives who got this surgery. None of them needed PT afterward. Is this the norm for lumbar fusion?
  • maryelleninnj said:
    None of them needed PT afterward. Is this the norm for lumbar fusion?
    Quite the opposite in my experience.

  • I just had a PLIF L4/L5/S1 on November 3rd. I am going to be out of work until Jan 3 but that is just because we are closed for the holidays so it is stupid for my to go back at 6/7 weeks. I am not doing PT. I asked my ortho about that right away because it costs so much (3x a week at 40). I have my six week appt on Friday and hopefully he will agree with my assessment of going back to work. I am pretty much off meds (except at night or if I really over do it..which isn't very often).

  • Physical therapy or at least directed activity are shown in research to improve recovery times. I wouldn't forgo PT if that's a concern to you.

    6 months will be tight for the cruise, I'd think. Most people I've asked said complete recovery takes longer.
  • Maryellen..I wish the very best for you in whatever you choose. I had a fusion surgery (PLIF) for spondy too. My doc actively discouraged PT after surgery, and in retrospect, I think that I may have recovered more quickly with PT. Impossible to say, of course. I walk and do little things here and there, but never in 13 months have I had real therapy. The feeling of general physical atrophy I have is awful.

    As well, I've been off work far longer than I bargained for. A year and a month. I know you have an 'office' job, but still just keep in mind you may be off for an extended period..I hope not. Part of my trouble is that my job was a very physical job at a steel mill and I don't have skills that readily transfer into less stressful work, so that works against me.

    All in all, though, I'd probably still do the surgery. Best wishes in whatever you wind up doing!


    p.s. Don't miss out on Hawaii...you'll love it!
  • B52 thanks for the info. So sorry to hear of your long recovery. This is really interesting, the disparity in answers about PT. I guess every case is unique. My primary problem is the spondy, but doctor did mention severity of arthritis, bony growth on other parts of the spine. Maybe he expects the repairs to be more involved. I am calling today. Probably won't answer without an appt. though. Nothing will stop me from going to Hawaii. I'm just worried about the surgery timing. I have Factor V Leiden too, so take additional precautions when flying. Not sure how long after a major surgery it is safe to fly. Especially on long flights. We are connecting both coming and going, though.
  • Maryellen, you'll find that doctors have vastly different opinions about almost everything. They also have different success rates. Just because multiple surgeons can do the surgery doesn't mean they are equal in terms of outcomes.

    So do your research :) As the surgeons all of the questions listed in


    and more. Good luck!
  • Thanks for the comments. I just have made my doctor appointments (original surgeon follow up and new opinion surgeon. So some answers should be coming within several weeks. In the meantime, I am researching alternative treatments. There is never a good time to take an extended leave from work, but we have an unusual situation at work right now. One of my coworkers may have to get surgery around the same time that I was considering getting it. And, I may get offered a position in another department. So I have a lot of medical and non-medical factors to consider.
  • I am having an Alif with a bone graft and plate on the 13th (If I don't chicken out because I have been feeling pretty good lately!) and my Neurosurgeon told me to plan on 3 months off. He has already scheduled me for an initial Physical Therapy appointment on the same day as my 2 week post-op appointment.

    While I have a serious case of nerves right now - I have also tried every conservative treatment there is and the leg pain continues to get worse, probably due to the arthritis. The surgery said it would be "half-assed" to do anything other than a fusion which would create plenty of space for the nerve roots and should last me a lifetime.
  • With my 1 level PLIF/TLIF. I was out of work for nearly 8 months. My restriction for the first 6 weeks was I could only sit up while wearing my TSLO brace for a couple 15 minute periods per day, the rest was laying flat. I am an Occupational Therapist and needed to be able to lift 25 pounds, drive and be on my feet all day. I started PT at 2 months and stopped at 6 months because of increased pain. Of course my problems are continuing and may be getting ready for another surgery, who knows.

    Everyone is going to heal different. I hear the anterior approach is an easier surgery to heal from, if I need to have a revision that will be the way I am going. All I can say is not to push it and give yourself tons of time to feel better.
  • Isn't that how the old Yiddish saying goes? Me on December 13th planning an ALIF with three month return to work - God on Dececeber13th laughing as he helps the Vascular Surgeon back out and reclose the incision as the anterior approach was too risky - God continuing to laugh as the NS made incision after incision into my back to insert the graft and make the space needed to unpinch my nerves and now looking at a recovery at least twice as long as initially expected - Luckily I am just gong with the flow and really using the time to bond with my family who seem to enjoy beint the caretakers instead of those being taken care of for awhile:)
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