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Has anyone returned to a physical job post TLIF surgery (I'm in the military)

martynbowdenmmartynbowden Posts: 19
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:57 AM in Recovering from Surgery
Hi everyone,
I'm about 7 weeks post TLIF surgery now but I'm still in a fair amount of pain with numbness to my right foot and nerve pain down my left buttock. I am currently signed off work and will sit a medical board in December to see how I am but I don't feel great and expect my med cat to remain as it is and prevent me from returning to work.
Is there anyone who has returned to an active job after a spinal fusion? Also how long did it take before you could return to work? And do you have any permanent restrictions?
I'm just starting to think that perhaps I need to find a new career.


  • Martyn:

    I'll give you a response, but my experience is dated. I spent 20 years in the U.S. Army as an infantryman. Loved it. Jumped out of airplanes the last 7 years. It took its toll on my spine.

    I was diagnosed with your conditions only seven years into my career. They wanted to reclassify me. I objected. I was OK and under the medical radar for a while, but then I faced a medical retention board. Serious stuff for someone who did not want to be discharged! I worked the system. I was a Major and convinced the Captain doctor that I needed to remain in the service. He changed my medical profile and I then continued to be a soldier for the next 13 years.

    Since I retired my back has given me periodic episodes of trouble. This year I finally surrrendered to surgery (two level lumbar fusion). I am 60 years old. All I can tell you is if I felt this way post surgery when I was a much younger man in the service, then I would not have been able to perform at all in any specialty.

    I appreciate your service, as most do. However, when it's all done there will be no one standing around to help you. Make your occupational decision with a long term outlook. Wearing out your body at an early age can leave you with limited choices later in life.
  • Jim,

    Many thanks for your reply.

    Unfortunately the pain I was suffering was absolutely debilitating and therefore surgery was unavoidable. I'm about 9 weeks post surgery now and I definately feel a lot better in the respect that the debilitating nerve pain I was experiencing down my left leg has gone, but I now feel extremely weak and fragile with some nerve problems (albeit considerably less painful) down my right leg. I am currently a Flying Officer in the UK RAF so I doubt I'll be able to influence the medical officers in the same way a Squadron Leader (Major) can. Furthermore I am worried that if I am allowed to return to duty I will be under a permanent medical downgrade preventing out of area deployment etc.
    When was your surgery?
    Do you think that if you had undergone surgery whilst you were still serving you would have ever been able to return to work?
    I really appreciate your reply, it's nice to speak to someone who understands what I'm going through.
  • Martyn:

    I never would have guessed that you were in the RAF. The assault rifle just doesn't fit the job description. My younger brother was a pilot in the USAF and I still tease him about his "service."

    To answer your questions...my surgery was in January 2011. I had an L4-S1 fusion. Two long rods and six screws from the rear. Entering the surgery I thought I was a 60 year old superman. Used to run marathons, etc. However, my recovery has been very slow. My energy level has plummeted and I have lost 10 of my previous 155 pounds (you can tanslate into stones). If I had experienced this when I was in the service there would not have been any specialty that I could have been medically reclassified into. Hell, I am now hard pressed to walk one mile a day at a 2 mph pace! My physical presence is depressing and hardly constitutes a stout military posture.

    Again, my advice to you is to look far into the future. Your youth is motivating you to "stay in the action." I was there and had the same feelings. But now I am here and I can barely cut my grass; I can not clean out the gutters on my house; and even though I don't have any yet I will most likely never be able to spontaneously pick up one of my grandchildren and swing them around. As I sit around looking decrepit and bent over I can always tell everyone about the number of times I jumped out of a C-130, or how fast I completed the obstacle course at Camp Darby (U.S. Army Ranger School), but that means little to them.

    Martyn, think about the future. Consider alternate occupations. You have served!
  • New guy here, Retired Navy, 48 years old. I'm 10 weeks past T7-12 fusion. Unplanned thanks to a serious bicycle wreck. I reurned to work 3 weeks ago in a very limited capacity. Still much better than sitting watching TV. I had a knee replaced last year (almost a year ago) and had been getting myself back into some semblance of shape, even though I was about 294 pounds (21 stone). I'm now under 19 stone (258 pounds) and "shrinking". I spent so much time this past year getting myself stronger only to have it dashed. But I plan to be able to cycle and even run after this. Although, I will be a lot more careful about any activities out of the home... Knowing how I feel now, and wanting to be more active still, I'm not sure active duty would be in my list of things to do/continue. And I wasn't even jumping out of airplanes. Shipboard lief is tough enough and worse with a bad back. I'm glad to have been relatively healthy before this...
  • A friend of mine in the USMC had a jump accident that folded him in half on impact going 60mph. It fractured his spine in 2 places and a large bone fragment was nearly severing his spinal cord. Docs expected him to be a quadriplegic. A very forward thinking surgeon took him immediately into surgery to stabilize his spine with two 12" titanium rods and 6 screws. A month later he had another surgery to fuse the two areas along with leaving the stabilizing rods. 6 months later he ran a remarkable fitness qualification and within the year was returned to jump status and then deployed. He has been running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC every year since then to raise funds for the Wounded Marines Foundation.

    So much depends on the individual, the type of injury, the support of doctors, family and friends. It is amazing the things we can accomplish, once we put our minds to it.

  • Hi,
    Thanks for the replies.
    I'm 3 months post surgery now but I'm still suffering a lot. Reading some of the posts on here I am beginning to worry as to why I havent recovered as well and as quickly as others. I have substantial nerve pain in my right leg with almost continual numbness in my right foot, this was not there before surgery. I also have noticed pain returning to my right side lower back as well. Sitting for long period is still painful also. I was hoping to be much further down the road to recovery than I am now, particularly as I was so fit prior to surgery. Should I be worried or are these problems to be expected as part of the healing process??
  • Hello If anyone has any answers i would greatly appreciate.4 weeks ago I had a level 3 Lamincetomy decompression was performed on L3-L4, L4-L5, L5-S1 then the nerve roots were retracted medically and copious amounts of disc material was removed from disc space at each level and at this point existing nerve roots were probed...My question is I work for people who are medically and physically disabled ( includes lifting ,pushing ,pulling restraining patients) how long should recover be and will i be able to return to work,,i cannot feel my left foot and have more pain down my left left leg and hip than before my surgery is this normal....I just want to be able to return to my 16 hour a day job I am only 45 and i never slow down,,so this is making me so depressed ,,if anyone has any kind of answers I would greatly appreciate it,,,,thank you
  • Hi Martyn,

    I must begin by thanking you for your service. My brother is a 11C currently deployed in Afghanistan. I am not a doctor so my advice is from my perspective of my own experience.

    I have had a TLIF fusion 9 months ago today! You and I have suffered very similar injuries (L5/S1 Spondylolisthesis, bilateral pars fracture) the only difference being my first surgery was 9 years ago at L4-L5. Like many others have stated, each persons recovery is very different and as you have learned nerve damage is never black and white.

    I was a fitness model and personal trainer during the time of my last surgery (March) so I was in peak physical condition. I have struggled everyday and deal with very high levels of pain from doing everyday things. I am healing and improving though, just at a very slow rate. When I was 3 months post op I had to get on a plane to see my brother off so I started getting cortisone shots. This was helpful once they kicked in but they would wear off after a couple of weeks. Also they were so painful (it felt like a donkey kicked me in the back) I would be in bed for two weeks...so I wouldn't recommend those unless you HAVE to go somewhere. The recovery period can be anywhere from 3-12 months. Hey look at Payton Manning, his surgery was in his neck and 3 months later he still isn't cleared to work out and is in pain constantly.

    I think it can sometimes be more challenging on people who are use to a high level of fitness to recover from this type of surgery because your life literally comes to a screaching hault. My friend was a marathon runner who had the same surgery same symptoms and it took her a full year to get back to normal... BUT she is better than ever now!

    That being said, I have learned along the way what works and what doesn't. First off I DO NOT take pain killers or the nerve medication the doctors are always throwing at me, which may be why I am more aware of this pain.

    My physical therapist and doctors always say that walking is helpful for fusion, but for me too much can push me into a tailspin so take it easy.

    Things that have helped:

    This should be part of every post op recovery plan. It helps when they put the needles into your incision to break up that scar tissue which can lead to increase in pain. Scar tissue massages regularly will help a lot too. In four sessions I was able to walk on my own and ditch my cane!

    It was originally created for soldiers with back injuries so all of the mat excercises are geared toward core strengthening and lower back strength. I know it won't make you feel manly but trust me it helps.

    Salon Pas Patches
    These are amazing when you need to be on your feet for a while. I use one after a hot shower before I lay down to do my pilates mat work. Make sure to buy the ones in the newer packaging with blue and red colors on the front.

    This is a synergistic combo that helps with imflammation. I eat these by the palmful when my nerves are acting up. NOW brand is great.

    This is a homeopathic compound found at Vitamin Shoppe. Its specifically formulated for tingling, painful nerve problems. I take it religiously and man does it make a difference.

    Get in the pool and run, stretch, or lift weights under water. Swimming can be tough sometimes because it can pinch. Its important to keep up your cardio for your work and running in the pool and swimming will keep you somewhat in the game. Just make sure to stay warm! Cold nerves tend to freeze up and I will trip over my foot (not a good look haha).

    Unfortunately the doctors can give unrealistic expectations of recovery. It isn't one size fits all and you may or may not have to revisit this injury again. All you can do is focus on what it will feel like when this is behind you and live in your mind as if you were healed...it WILL happen. The important thing to remember is this, you haven't started fusing yet. Until your bones have made contact and started to grow together (which takes about a year from what they tell me) your body is still going to experience pain.

    Also as your nerves come back you can experience all the same pain you did when they were being compressed. SImilar to a temper-pedic bed, once you get off of it your imprint takes time to return to its original shape. Ouch!

    Just to let you know my brother is deployed with someone who has had this same surgery. He had a bullet ricochet off of his shoulder plate and it went down and exited through the bottom of his spine. They thought he was going to be paralyzed but a year and a half later he made it back and works out like a BEAST! The body want to heal, so give in to the process and it will happen.

    Stay Strong and remember after everything you have been through, this is nothing! You will look back in a couple of years and it will seem like a distant memory.

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