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spinal fusion surgery

merrlinnmmerrlinn Posts: 1
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:59 AM in New Member Introductions

I am a 65 year old female trying to decide whether or not to have single level lumbar fusion of L5 S1 after years of back pain and 15 months of nerve pain and severe low back pain due to bulging disc and spondylolisthesis. Have done the entire range of conservative treatments RE: PT, Chiropratic, massage, epidural injections, pain meds, anti inflammatory drugs, facet injections etc. My surgeon says I will have 80 to 85% pain relief from the low back pain and the nerve pain should be eliminated entirely after surgery. Using the tecnique of artificial bone with rods/screws etc. Says results should be good for me with 6 to 8 weeks of healing time. I would appreciate any comments from those who have had this type of surgery. I am pretty sure I am going to have it as my pain level is a 10 most of the time and I have no life anymore. I can only sit or lie down and even that hurts some days. Thank you, merrlinn


  • Hi and Welcome to Spine Health. I had L5/S1 fused the end of last march. It was my 3rd fusion. I am now fused L1 to S1. Each fusion was very successful. I have the problems you had and all the other treatments before each surgery.

    I have had artificial bone and a bone graft from my hip. That was worse than the surgery as far as recovery. The total recovery is a long time. Sometimes up to a year or more.

    I was in the hospital 3 days for the L5/S1, the others were 5 days. I was able to walk on my own before I left the hospital. Follow your doctors orders of no bending, twisting or lifting. Get everything organized in your house so you don't have to bend.

    I had a safety bar put on my tub/shower. A long handled shoe horn and a grabber are also handy. I wear clogs most of the time so that made it easy. Elastic waist pants.

    I slept with a pillow under my knees which takes the stress off my back.

    I swim a lot (I am a Masters swimmer) and I was able to get back in the pool after the incision was healed. About 3 weeks. Being weightless in the pool is great.

    I am 62 years old, female also and very active. I know that has helped my recoveries. I have worked on my core strength for many years and continue to do so.

    Let me know if you have any more questions. You can always PM me.

    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.
  • Hello Merrlinn,

    I was older (73) than you when I had my 3-level fusion (L3-S1), with two rods, eight screws, and cadaver bone mixed with my own that the OS removed from the surgery site so there was no separate incision. I am really glad I did have my fusion. My OS also gave me about the same odds as your, but I think he was very conservative. My problem was severe pain pain after a few minutes (later seconds) of standing followed by numbness than went down my leg all the way to my toes. My surgery was almost painless, with an easy recovery, of course the official recovery (when I had to obey restriction was longer, about 5-6 months. My leg pain and numbness disappeared right after surgery. My biggest issue during recovery was that I got tired very fast. Of course, since all of us we are different, you may have a different experience, but I think your surgeon who knows your own situation may be quite accurate in predicting your success. After almost four years, I can tell you that my lumbar area is the only part of me that does not hurt. Good luck with your surgery!
  • Hello,
    With pain that you feel as 10 then any alternative has to be better than that, when I had my fusion I could not stand tall or walk, so in some respects the decision based on my quality of life was taken for me.

    My residual outcome will not be yours and we all differ going into surgery, our history, age and previous treatments, so the results will be yours alone. At 65 you could have another thirty years and if you are fit and eligible now this may well not be the case in the future. As a fusionist at 37 I understand and feel those underlying apprehensions, we all have them.

    Is that figure of 85% realistic, who knows! what level would you be satisfied with could you live with a constant 5/6, what are the options if you do nothing.

    I can hear that tentative voice of acceptance and much of this is always a leap of faith into the unknown, a desire for positive results and reduced pain. Your journey has been long and arduous as have many here, of all ages. You have given the alternatives good usage and time, without success, even at 50/50 the constant pain may be reduced and give you some rest bite.

    Take care my thoughts and prayers are with anyone enduring chronic pain, a day, a week or lifetime.

  • Hi Merrlinn,

    I had that exact surgery in 2010. From the moment I woke up after surgery I had less pain than I did before. Even with the incision it hurt less than before surgery. I will never regret my fusion. It probably saved my life as I had gotten to the point where I just could not take any more of the pain/spasms. I still have some pain but not anything like before surgery. I was up and walking the same day of my surgery. And my back has gotten better every day since.
    God Bless and Keep you,
  • i have just had that very operation and i am 45 and believe me its no picnic ! its a massive operation and if i were you i would think very long and very hard about going through with it .are you in good health ? because if not it will be extremely hard on your body do you take large amounts of strong pain killers ? because if you do the posy op pain will be unbearable .i am not trying to put you off ,,,just give you my point of view i am 5 weeks post op .and at the moment regretting it big time as i am unable to do all but the most basic of things ..another thing you may want to think about should you have the operation have you got some one to look after you to the point of showering you as you will be so tired you wont know whats hit you .this is stuff they don't tell you befor you have the operation !.i may have come across a bit aggressive ..please forgive me it was not supposed to be that way .,but i just wanted you to see it from all angles .good luck
    tony {UK}
    1997 laminectomy
    2007 repeat laminectomy and discectomy L4/L5
    2011 ALIF {L4/L5/S1}
    2012 ? bowel problems .still under investigation
    2014 bladder operation may 19th 2014
  • Merrlinn:

    I have been where you are and it becomes a very difficult decision, perhaps one of the most difficult in life.

    Here's my advice. 1) Absolutely get a second opinion. 2) If possible, ask your surgeon to put you in touch with one of his former spinal fusion patients. Then ask that individual to explain his/her story (before/during/after surgery). 3) Monitor the opinion of close friends/family members not about the surgery but rather their opinion of you and the changes they have observed in your life based upon the health of your spine. Chronic pain has a way of "clouding" our memories and "influencing" our otherwise rational thoughts. Those close to us are not experiencing the pain, but they are truly affected by our pain. Seek their opinion.

    Know that everyone will have an opinion about the surgery, but only you can/will make the decision. I am 60 and had my two level fusion one year ago. Initially my outcome was great, but after about 2 months a new, different and persistent pain returned. Now I am 13 months post surgery and looking right at having to have a revision surgery. My surgeon said I was the ideal candidate for a 95% improvement because I was physically fit, not overweight, not diabetic, non smoker, and I took absolutely no medications for anything. So what happened? We don't know, but I do know that for about 2 months I felt relief.

    I am back to that decision point and I don't like it. Once was enough for me. I can readily identify with your confusion.

    An informed decision is all that you can do. If you opt for the surgery, then you must trust the surgeon and God and be prepared for a long recovery that will not be pain free. Many have had wonderful outcomes. Backache99 and me represent a small percentage of those who met with some challenges in the process.
  • Hi Merrlinn. I had L5 S1 fusion surgery in July 2011. Although I didn't have any nerve pain before the op, my problem was the lack of disc caused the vertebrae to slip so the spine muscles spasmed and I couldn't lie flat or sleep in a bed for over 5 years. The op has been very successful for me. I have no pain at all unless I overdo things. I was off the painkillers after a couple of weeks from the op and walking several miles on the treadmill within days.

    I would say that I believe the fact I did a lot of work to strengthen my legs before the op helped in my recovery. I was told to bend and twist the day after the op and I saw a physio and was given stretching exercises within a week. I do core strengthening and stretching exercises every day and walk on the treadmill. The surgeon signed me off after my 4 month check up and said although it might take up to 18 months for the muscles to repair, I should be able to carry on as usual. I was able to lie flat and sleep in a bed the day I came out of hospital.

    Hope this gives you a positive point of view!

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