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Lumbar Fusion story due to DDD

SaraNicoleSSaraNicole Posts: 12
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:49 AM in Good News
Hi everyone,
I don't have any particular questions, but I struggled for about three years with what was recently diagnosed as DDD. I am 22 years old, and no trauma in my past is related to my pain, which was centered around my lower back, hips, buttocks, and left leg. My exact diagnosis was a compressed, herniated, and degenerated, L5S1 disc, with a pinched nerve.
Eight days ago, I had a discectomy and lumbar fusion with cages and pedicle screws. The discectomy removed my bad disc, and the fusion, over the course of about the next year, will fuse my bottom two vertebrae into one solid bone, making a disc unnecessary.
The day after my surgery, I'd never felt such pain getting out of bed. It was worse than any preoperative pain, but was certainly not unusual due to the surgery affects your spine. But each day since, I've experienced incredible improvement.
Before my surgery, I'd looked everywhere for a lumbar fusion success story, but I just couldn't find one, and it horrified me. Only eight days after my surgery, I can walk without a walker or cane for twenty minute increments, and I'm healing faster than I ever could have imagined. I have weeks and weeks ahead of me in my recovery, and I can only hope that I continue healing at my current rate.
My hope in writing this post is that someone in the same, confused, position I was in, will find solace in the fact that they aren't alone.
Prior to surgery, I tried physical and water therapy, several epidurals, yoga, and everything recommended to me by several doctors. It became clear that surgery was a last resort, and I couldn't be more happy that I went through with it. When I was in pain before, constantly taking medicine, it felt like it was for no purpose, and I didn't want wait for my DDD to worsen with age. I'm still on medication, but at least now I know it's towards a goal, and that I won't need to be on it for years to come.
I sincerely hope that this helps at least one person who reads it, in making the decision that's right for them in leading a normal healthy life.


  • Welcome to Spine-Health and thank you for posting a good success story on a lumbar spine surgery.

    You're right, there aren't many that post their successful surgeries. People should keep in mind that most people that have successful surgeries tend to move away from the forums and go about living their normal lives, no longer needing the support that's given here. So there are many more success stories than you'll read here.

    Take care and continue healing. I'm very happy for you and glad you took the time to post.

  • Does anyone have info about this procedure? I am having implant between L5 and L4
  • Just stumbled across this site while looking for more info on DDD. I was diagnosed with DDD a year ago after struggling for nearly six years with pain to my lowere back. In the end the MRI showed that my discs at L4 and L5 are compressed and herniated as well as me having the DDD. I have done just about everything to get rid of the pain (over the past 5 years!) starting off with just normal physio-pain management,epidural, chiropractor, facet joint injections, accupuncture etc. Got another facet joint injection appointment next Friday.

    I've tried all medication and my doc has said that if facet joint injections don't work(as they didn't last time) then he can put me on morphine if i'm not ready to go through surgery. At the time of my MRI my surgeon did say that he'd accept me for surgery if the pain didn't improve or gets worse over the next year(which is where I am now!)

    What i'm trying to get at is (and I know everyone is going to have different levels of relief after surgery) but would you recommend surgery.(based on your experience?)

    It's obviously not something I want to have done but I'm completely desperate now. Just kinda want my life back.

    Thanks for your help(sorry if i've rambled on a bit, just glad i've found somewhere I can get some answers from. Thank you for your post!)

  • From the sounds of it, I was in the exact same boat as you are in now. I'd tried everything and I felt like my life at 22 years old was more like that of a 72 year old.
    I'm only three weeks out of surgery but I would absolutely recommend it if it's a last resort for you. The day after surgery, I'd never felt so much pain. The first time I stood up I couldn't stop crying. They told me it's simply just a painful surgery, but each day it got so much better. They said I'd feel normal again in about four months, which is a small price to pay in relation to how long I had been suffering. I was desperate too, and I know exactly how you feel.
    I have less pain in my back now and it's only been a few weeks.
    Please, please feel free to ask any and all questions. The beginning of recovery is not glamorous, and if you go through with it, make sure you have someone close to you for the first 2 weeks or so to take care of you. It'll be difficult to get out of and into a chair/bed, and hard to use the bathroom on your own. My fiance helped me with all that.
    I honestly believe that this surgery will, in a little more time, help me lead a normal life, which is really what I wanted all along.
  • Hi, I had a lumbar fusion done 10-20-10 of the L5 s1(tailbone). The pain I was experienceing from the bone one bone rubbing is gone, only issues I have are muscle related. I Need to get those stronger again. After surgery I was not to start phys therepy until 3 weeks after. I literally sat around,and had a lot of leg muscle lose from knee's to upper thighs... I was to basicly do nothing. No bending was stressed. It does help to have someone around to help the first few weeks. You definatley do not want to over due anything or do something and make your recovery time longer..... I had experienced back pain on and off for more that 15 years. Finally went to the dr after the pain was very bad, couldnt even get out of bed....after having an mri I was diagnosed with severe disc degeneration. Instead of waiting 15 years to do something about it I ended up nedign surgery....I am very happy with the results, my neurosurgeon explained that full recovery is 6 months to a year after surgery. im on lifting restrictions, and so until april this year. Any questions let me know. I would be happy to answer as best I can, due to my experience I have had. I am not a dr.... Thanks
  • God you don't know how nice it is to hear something positive about the surgery! I understand all the risks, increased pain etc. that'll come with the surgery but, like it was for you, it's my last hope. I understand exactly how you felt cause I too feel so old! I've actually started envying old people if they walk faster than me! I think 'you're the ones that should be slow and in pain, not me!' and that's not what I'm like at all!
    Been back to the doctors today and he's upped my pain killers again, be more like a zombie now! He's also referred me to the surgeon so I should get the referral through in two weeks and will know more about how long it'll take etc.
    Yeah my partner and my mum are going to be around to help me after. How long was it that you had to stay in hospital? What pain killers did they give you whilst you were in?

    Thank you ever so much for the info. Makes me feel less alone in it all!

    Claire x
  • I know what you mean about feeling alone- that's exactly why I posted. And I definitely shared your envy of older people!
    I was on pretty intense painkillers before the surgery, but I have a naturally high tolerance which of course gets worse the more you take.
    After surgery, I was on a morphine drip as well as oral medication and I still had pain. I was in the hospital for 3 days; the average stay is 3-5 days. It all depends on how you react to the surgery. Post-op, I was on a rapid release oxycodone called Oxy IR, Valium for muscle spasm, and also a long lasting 12 hour oxycontin, the latter of which I am now off of. The second day they took me off the morphine drip because it didn't help much.
    Every day I try to take less and less Oxy IR, but it all depends on pain, and I also use valium before bed sometimes.
  • I am in the same boat as Peppa. I had the injections, tried all the meds, therapy etc. This is the operational option for me. Thanks Sara for sharing your story it helps me feel better about doing this now.
    I was so scared I could be worse if the operation doesn't work. Relieved to see that it can work and help.
    I have recently been approved for, and have been using medical marijuana. I live in Canada and it was a long process to get approval however.

    Cannabis has helped with the spasms down my legs a great deal and has given me much better results than any other drug they tried with me. (You dont have to smoke it, there are other was of injesting it). This may not be for everyone, but hands down it has helped me the most so far to date. (7 years living with DDD)

    If an operation could fix me and I wouldn't have to take anything, that would be great. I am at the point where if I say go.... it's on. Just weighing my options here and appreciate your stories folks.

    God bless,
    be well.
  • I totally understand where you are coming from.
    I have had 5 (2 fusions)surgeries within 4 years and now pending my 6th. I am completely exhausted mentaly and physicaly...

    I do well for about 2-3 months after surgery but then another disc decides its their turn to have attention made to them...uggg

    The pain is extreme, the meds help but not all the time. The big problem is that I just dont like taking them. almost 5 years of being on 3 different meds for my back. To me that's far too long.

    I have tried cannabis and do agree that it does help wiht my leg pain. Problem is I fear having to take a drug test for my employer. Now that would cause a huge problem!

    I worry that soon I will no longer be able to work ...then what? Just the thought of it depresses me deeply.

    Each surgery requires 2-3 months off from work! That is a long time for an employer to keep a position open...so that too trouble me...

    I just don't know where to turn to...don't know how much more I can handle this. I do take one day at a time...but in this day and age...there are times when one needs to take one week and a time. I think the biggest fear for me is losing my job over my health...
  • I am so sorry to hear how much your are suffering. I was truly touched by your post. If ever you do need to do a drug test, any note from a doctor or Rx bottle should help.
    I have only had one fusion and I felt exhausted too, I can't imagine how tough this is for you. Is there any family that could help you financially if you need to get surgery again? or maybe take sabbatical? I'm so sorry I don't have much useful advice to add, but we're all here for you. Do you have a close relationship with your boss? Is he/she understanding? Are they willing to hold your position? Maybe forming a close more personal bond with them, if you don't already, it might help them understand what a strain this is on you. Perhaps you could work out some sort of work-from-home situation? I sincerely hope this works out for you.
  • If you've exhausted all other options, surgery may be the best route. I have considered medical marijuana, but I live in PA and I am not sure of the protocol. Hopefully no more medicine will be necessary if my surgery continues to be successful.
    The fusion is a good option, but you could also consider a disc replacement. I didn't research that at all and I know very little about them, but maybe it's less invasive. Also a micro-discectomy would be a great option unless your entire disc is bad. The healing time for those are much shorter.
  • Feel like I'm being overly nosey now but you did say ask any questions! Tell me to sod off if i'm annoying you!
    Do you have to wear a back brace? It's another thing i've read when looking into surgical options. Kinda glad i've been referred to surgeon now. I know it's not an ideal thing to have done but neither is it to be in so much pain at this age!

    Thanks, Claire
  • I know exactly how you feel about your employer. I'd been happily working at my job for 18months before my back pain got really bad and caused me to have a lot of time off. I had declared the back pain when I started there and they never asked any questioned.
    Eventually my team made it very awkward for me as they didn't help me with fetching and carrying(which my doctor advised me not to do and put on my fit note) when I'd ask them they'd just get all upity.
    Then my boss pulled me into his office and offered me £7500 to leave!! I did actually take it because I was at such a low eb and it seemed the easy option for me to live off that and rest my back as it would help me all round.
    One thing I will say is that if you can join a Union at your work make sure you do asap. Your employer can't legally sack you if you have time off because of medical reasons it actually comes under 'Disability discrimination act' read up on it so you've got back up incase they try anything.
    I really hope everything turns out alright for you.

  • No worries, I am not a shy girl! Any questions you have, I will be happy to answer. Whether or not you will be given a back brace depends on your particular surgeon. I was assigned a soft brace for the first week after surgery. I loved it to death, even though I thought it might be embarrassing. (that'll be the last thing on your mind, trust me.) It helps with getting in and out of the car and such. After I got my sutures out about two weeks after surgery, I couldn't wear it anymore because it irritated my incisions, but I didn't need it anyway. They also don't want you using the brace for too long because the muscles around your spine need to gain strength on their own.

    By the way, I had 3 incisions. One along my spine for obvious reasons, another about an inch away, so the surgeon could get bone graft from my pelvis to pack the cages with, and one tiny incision from which the drainage tube. The drainage tube comes out 2 or 3 days after surgery, as long as your body is draining the normal, small amount of fluid, mostly blood. You can't even feel that it's in there though, but you feel a lot better after they take it out. The worst part about it is the bulb that the drainage tube leaks into. It obviously has to stay right by your side, so mine was usually pinned on my gown.
  • Thank you for posting a positive side to fusion surgery. I am glad to hear that you are doing so well.I will hope for you to continue improving daily with increased pain relief. I am currently awaiting a fusion for my l5/s1 and possibly l4/l5, meeting with my N.S. in March, so am very interested in how others are doing with their decision to have a fusion. I too have tried many other things, am getting considerably worse and am at the point where I just want to hurry up and have it done.
    Wishing you all the best with your recovery!
    >:D< Karen
    >:D< >:-D< : Karen
    L3-S1 herniation and bulges, stenosis, mod facet,ddd,impinged nerves,coccydinia
    discectomy/lami July 2011-unsuccessful
    adr L5-S1 Feb 2012
  • I'm very happy my post could be helpful for you, and thank you so much for your well wishes. I hope you have a speedy recovery from your fusion as well. The day after is rough, but it gets better each day, I promise!
  • I'm so glad to hear you're doing so well early in your recovery. I have had DDD for 3 years and recently had a l5-s1 herniated disc which was healed but still have pain. I'm having an EMG tomorrow to see if my L4-L5 nerve is still compressed. Hard to believe I can't get surgery when I can barely walk. Thanks for your positive story and hope one day I can get relief too. Take care. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • Has anyone every experienced a pain in the butt that resignates down the leg.
    I have had spasms for years down the back of my leg but no pain in the butt really. This past year I started getting the butt pain. Like my left cheek felt like it was in a constant knot and cramp. When I sit a certain way it hits the sweet spot and man does it hurt!
    My doc recently injected me with Cortisone (steriod) in the area but it has provided very limited relief.
    I am able to get a shot in my back in the spot of my L5, L5.

    Has anyone had this pain and/or have experienced the "Pain in the butt".

    Thanks all, keep the faith is right! :)
  • Hi Mac,
    Haha yes! I experienced exactly that pain. It started in my mid-low back, went down my left side through my butt, so to speak, and radiated down my left leg. This pain hasnt returned since I had my surgery. Cortisone and other steroid injections didn't work for me.
  • Hi SaraNicole, I'm so glad to read such a positive post about fusion surgery. I'm due to get mine on March 15. Laminectomy and fusion of L3/L4, L4/L5 with instrumentation. I have severe arthritis in my spine, and spondylolisthesis. I am 55 and my doctor said I have the spine of a 70 year-old!

    Anyway, I felt somewhat relieved to read your post, after reading some of the horror stories here about failed fusions. Since I have osteopenia, I'm also worried about the fusion working out as it should. I am in so much pain every morning (and through the night), that I can't wait for March 15.

    Got my papers from the doctor's office yesterday, and will be very busy preparing for this. I have to give my own blood next month, 3 pints. Plus the preadmission testing, employment paperwork, etc. This is more prep than I've ever had to do before a surgery. Dreading the last two weeks before, since I have to stop my Aleve.

    Wishing you continued success on your recovery, and thanks for any encouragement you can offer. Are you in Philadelphia area? I am across the river in South Jersey.

    Mary Ellen
  • I wish you the best of luck with your surgery. I certainly share your experience with pain in the morning-mornings were always the worst for me. I believe only tylenol based products are allowed before surgery. Are you on a narcotic now? You should perhaps ask your doctor to prescribe you something stronger for that two week period especially since you won't be able to take your Aleve.
    I too have arthritis in my back, but nothing as severe as you're describing. Hopefully it will only minimally affect your recovery.
    I was surprised at the amount of testing I needed before my surgery, but it wasn't as bad as I thought. It was just comical that they gave a 22 year old an EKG!
    I live in the suburbs of Philly, about 30 minutes from center city.
    To be honest, when I woke up from surgery, I was in a lot of pain, and the following three days were NOT good to me. But, the pain after surgery is so worth the positive outcome I've experienced. I hope you have a fast recovery as well, and I'm happy to help in any way I can. : )
  • SaraNicole thank you for posting your successful story about your surgery. I too have been looking online and have found an abundance of horror stories. Really I am looking for some advice. I have a similar story to yours. I’m 27 and have been dealing w/ back pain for the last 6 years. I have done message, exercise, gone to the chiropractor, had cortisone shorts, and PT. I did each one over the years till it stopped working and then tried the next thing leading me to where I am now. Lately it has gotten worse. My back has gone out several times in the last few months and each time hurts worse and last longer. I have gone to specialist to find out that my l5-SI is bad and even had a disco gram showing the dye leaking out. The doctor said I am a candidate for fusion but the decision is ultimately up to me. I have good and bad days. For the most part I can do daily activities dealing w/ constant pain in my lower back and radiating down my left leg into my foot. Foot pain has been getting worse. We want to have children soon and I’m scared of being in bedridden if I get pregnant. Everyone is telling me to get the surgery but I am hard headed and last resort to me is not being able to move. Any suggestions for getting the surgery done now or holding out until I can no longer do day to day stuff.
  • Your pain sounds almost exactly like what I was dealing with before surgery. I too had a disco-gram that showed dye leaking out. The pain I had definitely interfered with my everyday life, which is why I knew I couldn't wait any longer to get surgery. I knew my condition would worsen over time, and I too plan on having children. With the constant back pain I was having, I knew a pregnancy would be agony. Some surgeons use a BMP (biomorphic protein) to pack the cages when they perform a fusion surgery, but it's not recommended for women who plan on having children, so I opted not to use the BMP, and use my own bone graft (from the pelvis) instead. BMP can speed up recovery, but I'm sure you'll agree that having children is a bit more important! I've also been nannying for about 6 years, and I was scared my back problems would keep me from playing and interacting with my own children.

    I had a difficult time deciding on surgery, but my fiance gave me great advice which I'm going to pass on to you and I hope it helps you decide.
    He took care of my constantly because my back pain kept me from everyday activities. It got to the poi t where I felt helpless and embarrassed that I was so limited because of pain. Because of my DDD, I feared my disc would only worsen with time. My fiance supported my surgery and laid out all the possible scenarios we could think of. He said, you're in incredible pain everyday, for no purpose and to no avail. If you have the surgery, you will be in severe pain initially, but it will fade until after a few months, you can live a normal life.
    I knew at that point that surgery wasn't just a choice, it was a necessity for me. I am less than a month out of surgery and my pain is already less severe than it was pre-op.

    If you feel like your pain interferes with your everyday, and you need to take meds all the time like I did, then maybe it's just time to bite the bullet and get the surgery to improve your quality of life. That's how I knew it was time for me. The 2-3 days after surgery are arduous, but worth it. Also, since we are both in our twenties, you may have a similar and successful recovery to me. I sincerely hope you do, if you decide to go through with surgery.
    Based on my experience, I would absolutely recommend it, and because our stories are so similar, I imagine our recovery may be as well. Any questions you have about anything regarding my surgery, please let me know and I'll be happy to answer.
  • Thank you for the advice, it is much appreciated and a relief to know that others are out there with the same problems and learn from others experiences. It is also very comforting hear that you are recovering very well.
  • I'm glad to read that your pain is less severe than before. I'd love to have that feeling!! When you had your surgery was it under a general or local anaesthetic? Another thing is, did you have severe leg pain with the back pain? All the health proffessionals keep asking me if I have when talking about surgery. I do struggle with sciatica from time to time but in comparison with my back the leg pain is rarely as bad. Because I've gotten to the point where surgery is the only option as far as I'm concerned, I'm worried that if I'm not having leg pain the doctors will decide that, as my discs aren't being pinched enough, they won't want to do the surgery as I'll get very little help from it. If that makes any sense?!
  • The surgery is definitely, definitely done under general anesthesia. Yes, I had very sever left leg pain that was not related to sciatica. Some days it was even worse than back pain. I think it was due to the pinched nerve caused by the bulging disc.
    Leg pain isn't a requirement for having surgery, though. The herniated disc can still cause an incredible amount of pain even if there is no nerve being pinched. My doctor seemed certain that the fusion would benefit me the most regardless of my pinched nerve. I think you'd benefit just as much even though you don't have a pinched nerve, because your disc is the problem. The fusion removes the disc, thus removing the problem itself. Does that help?
  • Hi, yeah this does help a lot thank you. I'm currently waiting for an appointment with my surgeon to see what he decides to do. The doctor has given me some more pain killers so these will hopefully help untill surgery. It puts my mind at rest knowing that I'd be under general anaesthetic!
  • I just wanted to notice that it would be a nice idea to collect all the stories of people who had successful surgeries, put them in one topic and make it a sticky, because successful stories are very rare...
  • I've just added my story to the Good News Forum. I didn't notice it was there before.
  • Sara

    This thread complete with all replies has been moved to the "Good News" forum.


    Spine Health Moderator
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