Tomorrow is the 1st anniversary of my two level fusion. I thought it might be encouraging to others facing the same surgery to read about my progress at 12 months. It has not been a stellar recovery, but I wish I had known that things would improve.
Three years ago I had a L5-S1 diskectomy. Lots of permanent nerve damage to the right leg from too much waiting to see a doctor while my leg and foot went numb.
January last year I'd had moderate pain down my right leg (I thought it was a piriformis strain) for a couple months. Three mornings in a row I woke up with crippling pain. First two mornings the pain resolved by doing Child's Pose/Prayer Pose. Third morning I could not stand up, sit up, walk. I could crawl. My DF immediately flew 800 miles to look after me. To get to the bathroom, I crawled from bed and crouched in a computer chair that DF or my teen son would wheel to the bathroom.
I had 360 degree fusion a few days later when my neurosurgeon had sufficient time and a team put together. I was fine with waiting at home (horizontal) until he had got everything lined up (including my insurance!)
Day after surgery I could stand up - YAY. Started walking with a frame. Puked all the time, had horrendous constipation from so much anesthesia/pain drugs, had an insanely itchy rash for weeks that spread from my glued incisions all over my body so I couldn't wear the brace, had severe pain in my ankles/insoles/groin. Surgeon said "walk, walk, walk!" so I did. Ankle and foot pain increased and I developed SI inflammation that made me limp.
At 4 months out, DF and I were shopping for a wheelchair and changing our future plans for housing and lifestyle. It was very depressing. I used to walk 2-10 miles a day, every day. I ate a high protein, high fat diet, I did PT 3x week plus all the at home exercises, did not take any painkillers after 1 month due to my neurosurgeon's research on pain receptors. Muscle relaxers etc had no effect so I didn't take those either. I had SI injections. No change. Neurosurgeon did a scan and said I'd fused (YAY!)
At 6 months DF and my mother suggested I stop walking and see what happened. Definitely not what the doctor ordered, but I was desperate for a break from the pain. My PT also came to an end at this time. The pain abated and I simply kept constantly moving (gently) around the house. I had lost my job, so thankfully did not have to sit in a bad office chair 8 hours a day.
At 9 months I started attending a Gentle Yoga class. The teachers are trained in anatomy and the class is specifically for people with physical limitations. Props are used (blocks, straps, chairs). There is a lot of cueing in which muscles to engage. At this point I was still limping badly, could not walk from the car across a large parking lot to a store, had a disabled badge for the car. I had not done yoga before this except for a few poses that my DF had taught me.
At 12 months, I am no longer limping. No longer in pain unless I do something idiotic like slouch on the sofa. I am still very afraid to go walking any distance, but I plan to work on this as walking was such a huge part of my life before. I go to the gentle yoga class twice a week and do a few non-twisty, non-bendy poses at home to slowly work on my hamstrings and core. I plan to return to the gym this year for some strength training. It will not be the gung-ho iron pumping that I used to enjoy.
My doctor told me that at 6 months I would be as good as I could get. I had read on this forum that it is far more like 12 months than 6 and I totally agree. I wish doctors would not be quite so optimistic because it can make patients feel like they've somehow failed when they get to 6 months and still have significant problems.
So please, if you get to 6 months and are still in horrible pain, don't give up! I'm 46 and prior to each surgery I was in terrific shape. Results from the surgery vary per individual and all you can do is find out what works and doesn't work for YOU.
"Slow recovery" doesn't even begin to describe the frustrating lack of daily progress that some of us encounter. But, keep at it, think about what you are doing and see if changing an activity helps (it took me a month, not 2 days, to recover from the walking pain).