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Greetings, recovering from L4-L5 fusion

EbbismeEEbbisme Posts: 6
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:55 AM in New Member Introductions
It is good to have found a resource to give support as I recover from L4-L5 fusion with nerve root decompression. I did not have a bone graft, but received the genetically engineered protein in its place. Cage and two pedicle screws.

All happened July 12, after one year in pain. Original diagnosis was osteoarthritis, and ultimately spondylolisthesis with spinal stenosis. I took PT twice, two facet joint injections, radio frequency denervation, and one SI joint block. By the time I had surgery, I couldn't stand for more than ten minutes without pain and could not adequately care for my family.

Now, twelve days out, I am caring for myself, gaining strength, and learning how to manage activities without bending, lifting, or twisting. Tonight I prepared a simple dinner for myself, my son, and my boyfriend, which was a real achievement.

I am 53 years old, work as a university research financial administrator, and have been sedentary for over a year. I am obese, with probably a BMI of 32 or 33, so getting my weight down must be a priority.

Currently taking Lortab and Robaxin for pain, along with using cold packs.
Also Neurontin, Pristiq, Synthroid, Armour Thyroid, progesterone, and simvastatin. Use a CPAP to sleep.

I have a child entering college this year and a sophomore in high school, plus two house rabbits. Very glad to be here.



  • It sounds like your surgery has gone well and your recovery is under way. For 12 days after your fusion, you are doing well. Keep that up! Do continue to be careful not to bend, lift or twist though, or you will flare up your pain. Are you managing to walk each day? Shorter, more frequent walks are best, especially at first until you get your stamina back.

    I am 54 and had grade 2 spondylolisthesis with very severe stenosis. I had an extensive decompression and fusion of L4/L5 in March 2010 and have had my 12 month follow up visit today. It was very late (16 months) due to waiting for test results back, that were ordered by another surgeon that I was referred to for problems with my neck. I have been given the all clear today and told that I must be fused because after 16 months, if I wasn't, my screws would have become loose. They are still in place and no sign of being loose, so I am deemed fused. That was just what I wanted to hear. :D

    I did mention to this orthopeadic surgeon this morning various symptoms that I am having, but he said none of them were related to the surgery that he did on me. He said that the fusion would only fix that level and the other problems I am having were from other areas of my spine. He does know that I am now under a neurosurgeon about my neck, so perhaps that is why he didn't want to talk about other symptoms.

    He told me he was pleased with my x-rays that looked very good and to go and have a good summer and enjoy being fixed.

    I am pleased with the relief that my surgery has given me, and if I had to decide again, I would definately go ahead with fusion surgery. However, I am disappointed that my neck and thoracic spine are now giving me trouble. Hopefully I will have a while before those symptoms get to the point that I am being seriously affected by them.

    I hope that your recovery will go smoothly and you will be able to continue your busy life without further symptoms.

    Welcome to Spine Health :H

  • hi and welcome to the forum! :H we are here to offer you support and answer what questions we can. all the best for a rapid and complete recovery..please be sure and follow all the doctor's orders.i am glad to hear you are feeling good already! you may come out of this pain free!!! good luck to you! stop by the forum anytime! spineys are a very friendly bunch.. Jenny :)
  • hi, sounds like you are having a great outcome from your surgery. Please keep us posted on your results!
  • Welcome!! It is great to hear of your recovery and successful surgery. My 2nd back surgery was L4/L5 fusion. I walked a lot and was able to return to swimming after the incision healed. Swimming is great and its so nice to be weightless. Follow your doctor's instructions especially with the no bending, lifting, twisting. Its hard but very important. Good luck.

    L4/L5 laminectomy, L4/L5 360 fusion with instrumentation, L1 to L5 fusion, L5/S1 fusion w/ disc replacement, left and right SI joints fused.
  • All, thanks for your kind words of encouragement. I have done some looking around the forum for articles and comments that are of particular interest - it's a little like finding a needle in a haystack, especially during my "spare time."

    I am keeping up the walking, sometimes having to work through the pain or irritaion from my incision.
    The very best pain relief today came from a half hour drive in my friend's Lexus SUV - I felt so relaxed in my back when I returned that I was able to sleep right awsy.

    Are there any reources posted that will help me deal more effectively with the deep pain of myy incision, which is irritating rigt now.

    Many thanks,
  • Welcome to Spine-Health.

    I can say that I am pretty much your twin with regards to my L4/5 surgery, the pre-op syptoms and why I had to have it done. So I understand the pain you went through pre-op and the frustration of the recovery time. When I had my surgery, my problems were worse than they thought once they went in, thus I have a 7" scar for a 1-lvl fusion.

    I'm not sure if there's a post around that can help you with the pain you're experiencing now, but it can be a comfort to know that you're having "post-surgery" pain and not the pain from what you had pre-op. I remember when I knew that I was only having surgery pain and the other stuff was not there, no stenosis or spondylolisthesis symptoms.

    For a lumbar fusion, you're still fairly early in your recovery. It's been said, and I believe it, that you feel better at 6 months but not back to full capacity until a year post-op. That was about right for me. It's a very invasive surgery, especially knowing they cut out bone and realigned your spine, put in rods (or cage) and screws.

    Keep up the good work with regards to recovery. Walking is very important and doing what you can as far as normal activities is good to a small degree. Just don't do anything to set yourself back. And if you have pain/muscle relaxant meds that can help at certain times and allowed to take as needed, don't hesitate to do that either.

    Have you been referred to PT by your surgeon? I was in PT about 6-8 weeks out and I think those exercises helped. Some days, I couldn't do it and told the PT person, so they just did simple massages and easy exercises, but other times they really had me do some strength and other exercises. They also taught me how to swing a golf club so that I could golf 6 months post-op without hurting my fusion (and taking my cervical fusion into consideration, as well).

    Anyway, take care and it's nice to have you aboard. Keep us posted on your progress and continue to get support as needed during your recovery. We're here for ya.

  • Cathie,
    I so appreciate your comments, since this is the most serious surgery I have ever undertaken, and it's taking some time to realize that the recovery is going to take awhile.

    At the visit last week to have my sutures removed, the PA said at about 2 months post-op they would prescribe PT, so for now I am walking in the morning and evening outside and then about the house during the hot part of the day.

    Learning to live life at a slower pace is going to be so difficult! I have excellent support, and even a wonderful therapist who can help me move through those adjustments. The biggest fear will be the expectations upon my return to work, although I believe I can get my surgeon's support in laying the groundwork for what I can do and how soon. I am a research administrator and spend the entire day at my desk, so I will have to change my work routine in order to be comfortable all day long.

    With respect to post-op pain, after two days of struggling with a lot of discomfort, I decided that at this early point in recovery, I don't have to "man up" and live without narcotics if I need them. It will actually be easier to proceed with some of my daily activities if I use them.

    Indeed, it is a comfort to know that the pain I am experiencing is temporary. The pain that put me here is no longer an issue, as far as I can tell, so I think my long term prognosis is excellent.
  • Ebby, once you get to PT that will help a lot with the incision. They will work on the scar tissue to break it up and then you can continue working on it at home. I am 4 months post op on my L5/S1 fusion, which was more difficult than the others and I still have incision pain even tho I had 15 PT app'ts. Its just a long process and the sooner one realizes that the easier it is. I set small goals for myself. I bought a pedometer to see how far I walked each day and that was a big deal to see how far I was going. Made it not quite so boring (I was an athlete in my pre-surgery life so that helped me feel like I was doing something. The internet has lots of different sites you can get info from. Keep us posted.

    L4/L5 laminectomy, L4/L5 360 fusion with instrumentation, L1 to L5 fusion, L5/S1 fusion w/ disc replacement, left and right SI joints fused.
  • Hi Ebby, Im also fairly new to the forum and still figuring out how to best get support with postings. I happen to come across yours today and Im so relieved I did I cant even tell you! Im 43 and have struggled with SI joint dysfunction for about 12 yrs and tried everything both medical and non. I can so relate to you and others who say it slowly takes away your ability to just live your life and the pain becomes unbearable. I will be having my surgical consult for an SI joint fusion and possible periformis release in September. Im scared to death but have run out of viable options and want my life back. It even prevented me from being able to have a child (and the hysterectomy finalized it).

    Anyway, Im so happy and heartened to hear of any positive feedback and stories of others walking this tough journey. Not just about the fusion surgery but anyone who has found some form of effective pain relief. I truly hope your success has continued!

    : )
  • Freebird,
    I cannot imagine having pain for more than a year, although people sometime have no other option except to treat it best they can. I hope that turning to surgery works as well for you as it appears to be working for me.

    Today was my four-week check up with the surgeon, and my x-rays look super. I feel well and my stamina is good, although rest continues to be an important element in my recovery.

    I have scarcely scratched the surface of spine-health.com, but there are some very good resources here for information, as well as a good place to lay down the heavy emotional and mental burden of pain among people who understand.

    If there is one bit of advice I would hold out as most important, it would be to make no commitment to surgery without having full confidence in your surgeon. The notion of asking the nurses in the hospital about surgeons seems awkward, but when I did my pre-op, I learned that my surgeon's patients suffered minimal blood loss, and that the nurses thought his patients almost always did well after surgery. My PT had heard good things about him, as well as an RN friend who told me that he is the neurosurgeon other MDs use when they need neurosurgery.

    It goes without saying that you have to like him and his staff, particularly his PA, with whom you'll interact very frequently. If I had done one thing differently with respect to my surgery, I would have had a brief meeting with the billing and insurance person in the practice beforehand, as I have received a couple of EOBs from my insurer that were confusing. Just knowing what to expect takes the element of surprise away when you go to the mailbox.

    Members of the forum vary in their opinions about whether to use an orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon. Just use someone you can place confidence in. My pain management specialists sent me literally "down the hall" to the neurosurgeon. Before I made my final decision to have surgery, however, I did consult an orthopedic specialist for a second opinion, and he concurred that I was a candidate for surgery about four months ago. Since I was still uncertain at the time, I asked him for a scrip for PT in order to give exercise one last try before returning to the neurosurgeon. The PT was great and helpful, but in the end, it wasn't enough, making the decision to schedule the surgery a clear choice.

    Just hang on until your consultation and manage your pain. I think you've come to a very good place for support. Take care and let me know how things progress.
  • Ebby, thanks for the update. My pain doc had discussed a referal to a neurosurgeon but based on his experience he advised an ortho ortho surgeon as best for me. As far as billing Im coming from Ontario Canada and because I was not able to find any surgeon here to do the surgery Im coming to the U.S. and once the surgical consult is done (out of pocket) I will have to apply through our OHIP system to have it covered which will be a journey in red tape and patience. This also makes it harder for me to shop per se for different surgeons. The one Im seeing is highly experienced and respected but not the best bedside manner at times. But as my husband said, worry about how good is at what he does, and if you trust him to be the best cutter once your on the table...the rest deal with. He's had both shoulders done and while his ortho surgeon was a bit arrogant and blunt he was incredibly good at what he does and my husband had better results than friends who had the same surgery with different - nicer - docs. I know the one Im seeing does work with a full pain clinic as well.

    Again, I wish you only the best in your path back to a more painfree and functional life. Prior to my hysterectomy I followed my surgeons advice and tried to avoid fear mongering and be as postive as possible as every case is different. It was not an easy surgery but I had it done laprascopicaly (sp?) so it was much better than expected. And I agree a big part was making sure I felt good about the surgeon and the process.

    I will let you know how it goes. Please post anytime if you need to talk.

  • Jani, I can sort of relate as I was also very active athletically prior to the onset of my SI joint symptoms. Unfortunately like many others it took many years to diagnose properly and many kicks at the treatment can to get to where I am. I cant look back, only now and forward. Once I know Im booked for the surgery I will buy a pedometer to give me a positive focus. What a great idea! I do agree that Ive learned to be happy with small victories and take everything in little bites. I have a great therapist who is specialized in the pain management and she has been a godsend. Ive managed to avoid taking anti-depressants with her help...and god knows any of us who have walked this walk know that it's not surprising to end up needing them just to cope day to day.

    Hope you're also still doing well on your path. My hope is that as many of us as possible go from surviving to thriving...
  • Am scheduled for L4 L5 fusion surgery March 3 or before. Have been reading a lot of interesting comments and is helping me get ready. My surgeon tells me I have: spondylolisthesis. My current symptoms are: Endurance walking about 200 meters and standing 20 minutes or so. Beyond these limits the pain become intense and my legs flex: I come down and must sit regardless where I am. It could be on the sidewalk in Paris or a Costco store. Even leaning on a cane or a shopping cart does not help when my endurance is MET! I do travel a bit internationally and wonder if my surgery scheduled on March 3, would allow me to travel to Paris and Prague late May 2014? Otherwise I am in an excellent health. Thanks for whoever has such experience or comments.
  • I went on a cruise two months after my 3 level fusion. I wasn't in tip top shape and couldn't do most excursions but still had fun. Of course everyone is different.
    Artificial disc at L5S1 for 10 years. Had 3 Level lumbar fusion and Laminectomy on Sept 27, 2013. It was an OLIF (Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion) with cages, BMP, rods & screws. Norco, Plaquenil

  • I am glad that you have been reading lots of comments about a spinal fusion.
    Always there will be bad stories but many good ones too. Remember that the people who have had successful fusions won't be hear now because they are back to living their lives.

    I had a spinal fusion with laminectomy of L4/5 due to spondylolisthesis.
    Before surgery I could only stand for about 5 minutes and walk for about 10 before I was in a lot of pain and looking for somewhere to sit down. I very nearly lay on the pavement once when waiting for a bus because of the pain!

    I gained wonderful relief from the low back pain I suffered with and the awful sciatica I had in both legs was gone.
    That was nearly 4 years ago. I am still much better than before my surgery, although I do still have some problems but was warned before surgery that I would always have back pain as I have problems throughout my spine. I would definately do the surgery again if I turned the clock back.

    Now as for travelling at the end of May after surgery on March 3rd. That is very hard to say for sure as each person has a different experience of healing from spinal fusion. You may find that a long haul flight will be a challenge for you because of the long time sitting. You could get up and walk frequently during the flight. I think, if it was me, I would try to delay the journey for a few weeks if possible.

    Now if you could go on a cruise like ADRJen, then that would be great. On a ship you are able to get up and walk when necessary and there is lots to do and enjoy without going far at all. :-)

    I wish you luck with your surgery and please do come and let us know how you get on.

    Also, if you have any questions about the surgery or the recovery afterwards, do post a new thread with them in. That way you are likely to get plenty of responses from others who have gone through spinal surgery.

    Good luck :-)

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