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driving after fusion

fused78ffused78 Posts: 32
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:49 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Is there anyone out there that can give me an idea what to expect? I had a 3 level PLIF fusion done december 7 2010. Id like to know at what point other people were allowed to drive again after a surgery like this. Since I wont be doing any kind of work ( traditional ) I need to start helping out around the house again, and doing some family duties ( taking JR back and forth to school and running little errands here and there) Im curious when everyone else was told they could drive again, its not really a choice at this point, I need to help out!



  • SpineAZSpineAZ WiscPosts: 1,084
    I was in a hard brace and thus did not drive for quite a while. I did drive on occasion at around 3-4 months but only if I had no other way and it was only to get to doctors appointments. The way my doctor said it was "you can drive, but even if you end up in an accident not your fault the minute they see the brace they'll question if any of it was your fault".

    This is a time in life to find others to help out for as many driving tasks as possible. I don't have kids, but the way we did it is I did NO household duties that required any kind of exertion so no loading/unloading the dishwasher, no laundry, no making the bed, etc. All family and household duties were done by my husband and by friends on occasion.
    2 ACDFs, 2 PCDF, 3 LIFs; Rt TKR; Rt thumb fusion ; Lt thumb arthroplasty; Ehlers Danlos 
  • I was told only 2 weeks, which is already up, and then whenever I was off the heaviest of my meds!

    I am hoping to get back to driving the kids to school next week. I'm only in a soft brace.
  • I'm kind of scared to start driving again. I'm unsure of how I will do in and out of the car, and getting the door shut once i'm in my seat. I used the hook end of my cane the other day when I rode with the Mrs. to the pharmacy. I guess I don't know how it will be until I try ( after the Dr says its ok. )

  • I am not having that much trouble with mobility. My abdominal muscles are slowly but surely coming back to me.

    Are you having pain when you twist or just still trying to keep twisting to a minimum?
  • I didn't drive until about six weeks after surgery. But then came the double-edged sword: it was wonderful to have the freedom, but driving just plain hurt - it hurts your back more than you'd think. I couldn't believe the pain I'd be in after just driving a few miles, and it wasn't from twisting to get in and out. There's just something that's difficult about driving with a bad lumbar spine, although I can't quite pinpoint what that is.
  • I just started driving and I'm 8 weeks out! I agree with Cath11! It's great you have freedom but driving is still tough!!


    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
  • My Doctor told me that I could start driving as soon as I felt able and was not taking narcotic meds - so I took my first drive about 2 1/2 weeks after surgery - not far and pretty slowly, but it went fine. I am pretty much off the pain pills during the day time so it works well for me to do any driving I need to do during the morning hours.
  • Hi,
    I forgot what type of fusion you had.I had a two level min invasive, xlif on l2-l3 and l3-L4. I have a hard shell brace and my Dr will not let me drive until after he sees me on my 6 week appt. I suggest that you consult with your Dr. Also if you are on narcotics, I would be cautious. You have alot of risk driving taking narcotics and most Drs wont let you. I was a insurance agent and wont drive until I am released.
  • Oh boy lots of responses. I had a 3 level through the back traditional PLIF fusion. they also repaired a pars defect while in there. Ive got 8 screws, 2 rods and a bar across the top of the whole erector set ( for stability?) Its hard to sit in any chair other than something with a high back or a recliner, Cant twist, and Im supposed to be wearing a hard brace whenever im out of bed, or doing anything other than sleeping or showering. I get my bone growth stimulator this week, to help the donor bone plugs start growing. theres a bunch of those in there too.

    someone mentioned twisting? No. I don't think I could even twist if I tried. It hurts rolling in and out of bed, and I can barely lay on my side. Im still taking morphine and oxycodone but narcotics doo very little to e as I have built a tolerance over the years to them.

    Maybe someone will have some input? You think they'll release me to drive again?

  • Yes, I think you'll be able to drive again, just maybe not real soon. You might have to change the way you look behind you, maybe add some mirrors, but you should be able to drive eventually anyway, after you're off heavy meds. I did mention twisting, but that's the way I used to get in a car. Not anymore, I sit with my feet out the door then swing myself into position. Oh, and I did drive with my hard brace on - I had to wear it for three months.

    Funny story: My MIL, who is 80, came to take care of me after my TLIF. She drove me to my first post-op appointment, which was only 1-1/2 week post-op, and when we were leaving, I showed her the back way to go back home that meant driving through an additional parking lot. She didn't see the speed bump and went over it at full speed (well, full speed for going through a parking lot). Boy, did I shout a few expletives - and at an 80-year-old woman. I felt terrible both physically and mentally, she was so upset.

    Lesson learned: when someone is driving you somewhere, watch out for the potholes and speedbumps and warn the driver when they're approaching one. Better to be a pest than chew someone's butt out because of the pain. :-)

    Take care,

    PS I do still drive when I'm on Norco, but it doesn't make me fuzzy having been on them for so long. I couldn't have driven when I was on percs after surgery, but it's been said here that driving in pain can sometimes be worse than driving when on a small amount of pain medicine that takes the edge off the pain and doesn't make you drowsy or fuzzy. Just FYI.
  • I saw my surgeon today for follow-up and he said next week I'll be free to drive :) I am not having nearly as much pain as you are, though :( I am mostly just having moderate, achy pain now, the only sharp pain is when I irritate the area around my thoracotomy incision.

    I also got my PT prescription- yay! And my bone stimulator.
  • To revive an old thread
    Any driving updates? - I am banned by my darling wife from looking at my car keys until after my 6 week check up but please - someone out there give me an optomisitc view! - who drove after 6 weeks?
    I am off narcs and not in a brace at all but I guess it all depends on how the relaxation on the no bending twisting and lifting goes - I have no idea what to expect going forward as to how long I am goin to walk around like I have a bucket balanced on my head. Like an English butler was the comment of one of my wise-ass friends.
  • Ok the butler thing was funny. I have friends like yours...

    Yeah it is doable. My wife took my keys away too. My car sits real low with a harsh suspension and is a stick. My other vehicle is a truck. She took the truck and gave me her car. At 4 weeks I was driving when not on meds. Working part time. That was aggressive. At 6 weeks no problem. I even stole my keys back and drove my car and had no real problems shifting. I never got stuck in bad traffic having to clutch a lot so it wasn't bad.

    My only caution is balance enthusiasm and boredom that makes you want to drive, with common sense and caution. And yeah no drugs or don't drive.
  • I had C456 ACDF in 2004 and truthfully, I was ready to drive after a week or so and I am petrified of narcotics so I put those down after 7 days and took up Ultram.
    I am now facing an ALIF L5/S1 and possibly a side entry L1/2 and even L3 as well.
    Anybody have these or at least a cervical and a lumbar to compare the driving ability recovery time?
    I manage a business and drive 32 miles each way to the office. Am I crazy to think 2 weeks and I'll be back at least half days?

    Also, I do not want to take narcotics more than absolutely necessary. Any estimates on time from those who have had this?
  • My Dr wouldnt let me drive until after my 6 week check up. That being said, any lumbar fusion usually has a limit of sitting no more than 20-30 minutes, just to eat and use the restroom, for quite a while. I just got my brace off from a two level l2-3 l-3-4, that was done on Dec 13th. This is the second one and it was minamially invasive. My first was a PLIF, and that took way more time to recoup.
    I am just starting to feel good and have energy. Hate to let you down, but you need to be realistic on how long it will take. They wont tell you that, always. Any questions, please let me know
  • Not to burst your bubble - I am 5 weeks out and just sat in the car for 1.5 hours each way to go see my dr for the 6 week check up and that was enough.

    Based on my experience there is no way you will be even sitting for an hour at 2 weeks out let alone driving...

    Also - until the anaesthesia and the narcs are out of your system - for me at least my brain felt like mush so not smart business decisions coming from this boy!!
  • guessing from your handle that the harsh suspension belongs to a Vette.
    My wheels of choice is a 911 turbo - think it is a while before i will be able to get down that low to get in it!
  • So am I looking at a LOT of bed rest coupled with some walking and very little sitting? I was thinking 30 minutes sitting followed by a walk around the warehouse to make it through the days or half days.
    The ACDF had a 7 week driving limitation but I thought more for the ability to rotate my head. I drove AMA but felt comfortable doing so. The dope was definitely out of my system before I drove.
    I always said I wouldnt go back under the knife until I was crippled and now I'm in enough pain to reconsider my decision. I just dont like the news...
    I want what I want when I want it.........
  • Hate to be another bubble burster, but I'm afraid your expectation of quick mobility & rapid return to work is very unreasonablr. Sorry. Fusion surgery in the lower back is a humbling procedure. You can't gut through it. It truly is physically impossible. I'm 7 weeks out from an L5-S1 ALIF. According to many I am having a good recovery. That said I can tell you I am just feeling like I have gotten past the anesthesia after effects. My pain medications are just slightly more of the same meds I took prior to surgery. I haven't needed the additional narcotic & muscle relaxer in a month. Pretty good huh?
    Let me continue. I spend most of my day semi-reclining, sitting for only very brief periods. I walk a lot in my house, but I have just been able to walk around the block for the first time this week. If I have to go out in the car my seat has to be partially reclined. It takes me a day or two to recover. I have never rested so much in my life!
    Before you say - oh she must have been in terrible shape, older, decrepit. I'm better off to start with. Prior to the injury that started this whole thing I was an extremely active woman who practiced yoga & pilates, worked a demanding job, served on a charitable board, sang in my church choir, and was walked by 2 very large dogs on mountain trails. Eleven months following my injury I had to admit that I couldn't function at work and had to leave on disability. In spite of strict adherence to a conservative care plan I was losing my ability to walk unassisted. Pain dominated my life and restricted my activities. I diligently went to PT 2-3/wk but I continued to lose ground.
    When my surgery was approved I realized that I was being offered the only chance I would have to resume a more normal life again. My wonderful surgeon told me he expected to reduce my pain to between 50-85% of presurgical pain. I was thrilled with that prospect. He also told me it might be possible that I might have 100% improvement. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
    My surgeon continues to direct my care. I'm thrilled with that. You better believe I'm doing everything he tells me to do. He admits he's being cautious but he wants an optimal recovery too. So there you have it. Why risk your recovery by rushing things? Who are we to know best? We didn't go to medical school (well I went to nursing school...) and spend years learning the intricacies of spine surgery. I'm hardheaded and used to getting my way, but my mother didn't raise a fool. You might be amazed that work can manage without you until you heal. If you still don't think so, ponder how it would manage if you were unable to ever return. Don't chance it.
    One last thing - the biggest advantage for healing (other than not smoking. You don't do you? If you do - you'll double your recovery time. My doc won'ttouch a smoker unless it's an emergency. You have to quit 6 months before an elective procedure.) is having a positiveoutlook. Read the book "The Last Lecture" by Randy Paulsch. Be a Tigger not an Eeyore.

    I'm sorry I've lectured you so. I do so because I want you to have a successful outcome so that you will be able to do everything you want to do. This recovery experience has given me time to take stock of what is important in life. I am blessed.

    Good luck & please let us know how you do.
    I wish much success with surgery and a good recovery.

    Pat Gibson
    L5S1 ALIF 2-22-11
    Now L4 Retrolisthisis
  • Well Said. I had a two level in Dec 13,2010, and I just got my brace off yesterday. He was amazed with me starting to fuze at 6 weeks. I did everything he said, as this was my 2nd, 2 level. The first one fused and then blew two more discs. So do be careful. I was and still had another surgery. Dont risk a thing. I havnt and I am getting my life back after 5 years of pain.
    Good Luck Pat, and I am glad you are doing things right. You just stop and realize that you never want to go through it again, and do what you have to do.
  • Well, it certainly sounds like I've deluded myself enough!
    I am a non-smoker, 51, 170, down from 276 in the last four and a half years. So I am not in the worst shape to have the surgery in general.
    I'm a bit leery of the discogram. Can you offer input on this procedure and the pain associated with it as well?
    I will search the term too.
    Thanks for your input so far. It's important to hear these things from my predecessors. If I can learn from others' mistakes......
  • No lecture this time - I promise!

    Discogram - no walk in the park, but it is a diagnostic tool that many doctors feel gives the best indicator which disc is the source. My pain management doctor ordered & performed it. When I was referred to my spine surgeon I presented the results to him. Between that and an old fashioned X-ray taken while there, he felt that it was clear which disc causing the pain & nerve damage. He was positive that my only remaining option was fusion surgery.

    It is an uncomfortable procedure. Maybe some would say that is an understatement. If you understand the procedure I think it makes it easier. In a nutshell: 3 discs have dye injected into them - the suspected culprit and 2 adjacent ones which serve as controls. A successful test replicates your pain in the bad disc. You will feel pain in the other 2, but there should be a clear difference between good & bad. Aside from your verbal response to the usual 1-10 question, the doctor observes the pressure level the evokes the pain. In discs that are 'normal' that pressure is distinctly higher.
    When mine was done I couldn't eat or drink after midnight and I had to have a driver present to take me home. An iv was started and my bp & O2 levels were monitored. I was given a mild sedative and made as comfortable as possible. The test is done under a fluoroscope for precise placement. It really didn't take very long. As soon as he was finished I was given fentanyl iv to take care of the pain. I was then walked to a recovery area and I stayed there about an hour. My trip home (an hour away) wasn't too bad. I spent the rest of the day in bed and it took a couple of days of rest to recover. I had a clear-cut positive discogram. L3-L4, L4-L5-s1 - concordant pain, L5-S1 positive.
    Hope that gives you an idea what it's like. Not fun - but I knew they were making me as comfortable as possible before & after. The test itself doesn't last very long. I can tolerate anything if I know it won't last long.

    Pat Gibson
    L5S1 ALIF 2-22-11
    Now L4 Retrolisthisis
  • Well, I have the MRI's and the EMG/NCS out of the way but he wants the Disco to try and pinpoint the culprits. I have L1 nerve pinched by L1/2 disc and L5 nerve pinched by L5/S1 disc. Everything in between is serious and possibly to be fused as well except L3/4 according to the MRI.
    I am a recovering addict for 8 yrs + and I will not use any narcotics for pain mgmt and, if at all possible, not for the Disco treatment or after treatment either. In my life, Narcotics are contraindicated unless I'm IN the hopsital.
    Having said that, could you have gone through the Disco without them?

    Lecture away :)
  • I understand the addiction issue & appreciate where you are coming from. Do you have a pain management doctor to help you? How have you managed severe pain (meaning post-op not for discogram) in the past, or was the origin of your addiction related to that?
    I don't know if I could have managed post-discogram without the Fentanyl. The test most definitely replicated my acute pain. My doctor felt I needed it, I didn't ask for it. I should tell you it was my PM doc that did my discogram. He is a board certified anesthesiologist & is technically adept and gentle. It was his suggestion to nip the pain in the bud rather than allowing it to spiral out of control. I think it was a wise decision.
    If you've managed to deal with your pain over the years you probably have developed ways to handle it - ice, heat, TENS. Hope so! I'd suggest you have a frank discussion with your doc beforehand to map out your options just in case. If the discogram is going to be done at a hospital rather than an office there could be an option for an overnight stay - just in case.
    Keep me posted. I'm happy to answer your questions about my experiences.

    Pat Gibson
    L5S1 ALIF 2-22-11
    Now L4 Retrolisthisis
  • I take Ultram for pain and it isnt doing a lot for me these days. Post surgery, (ACDF, RNY gastric bypass, and Colon cancer) I have taken the Hydrocodone begrudgingly but I do not handle it. I let my wife decide when and if I need it. I have been able to toss extras down the pot after each surgery because I just dont want the extra problems they bring to the table for me.
    My Dr and surgeon both know who and what I am so they have been very guarded with me. I wont let a Dr touch me who isnt familiar with addiction. The same PM Dr in the surgeons practice did my epidurals earlier and he has never given me any pain meds. ICE TENS heat, etc have been the trcik so far. It's just extremely bothersome nowadays and I am in constant pain and ready to do something. Discogram on the 27th since I have to travel all next week.
  • You've been through a lot but it sounds like you've got a good plan & support system, not to mention great doctors. That's 99% of it! I'm sure your doc considered everything before recommending the discogram. They aren't done that often, but they are usually definitive. I hope you will get good news and that surgery will improve your pain.

    Take it easy as you travel. If you are driving make sure to stop often to give your back a rest. Now I'm nagging... jeez.

    Keep me updated!
    Pat Gibson
    L5S1 ALIF 2-22-11
    Now L4 Retrolisthisis
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