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11 weeks post-op L4-5 fusion, in need encouragement and comparisons

Hi, everyone! I am 11 weeks out from L4-5 minimally invasive fusion with cage. I know it takes time, but I also have a possible job opportunity coming up. I have a quite physical job, so I am worried about that. I'm a radiologic technologist, so it involves helping people move, on my feet, etc....I am still taking Percocet, trying to back off of it, but still need it for pain. I still have nerve pain in buttocks after activity and just the right side of my back gets tight, even after stretching, etc. I am just getting frustrated, because my mind says go and my body says no! I just don't think I could handle an 8 hour day yet, even though this would be 3 days a week. But they are back to back days! Am I expecting too much? How much more time do I give myself? Just seem to be getting frustrated...trying to do everything to strengthen and stretch my muscles, but I seem to get fatigued within four hours. Just getting myself ready to go somewhere takes it out of me too! Please give me some comparison stories so I know what to expect! I have had seven other surgeries, not on my back, and this by far is the worst!! Thanks for the support!
radtechtam MIS L4-5 Fusion


  • Hello. I'm 16 days out of an alif l4-l5 fusion. I feel I'm doing pretty good. I can sit up for hours and go out for the day with my husband. At the end of the day I'm exhausted but I listen to my body and make sure to rest later. I've had several surgeries as well I know the frustration and it being your back its a huge deal.

    Now for one, you're still on Percocet. By law it's illegal for you to drive while on it and I'm sure the job would frown upon it because while you're taking it you could do more damage to yourself because you don't feel the pain then when you're on meds and you could become a liability to them especially in patient care situations.

    I've worked in an ER before and I'm an emt now. I would love at 3 months to go back to patient care but I know I can't. I'm going to wait until my fusion is healed and I can handle the weight and responsibility to my patients that I'm fully capable of their care. I feel you should look at it for your patients, your personal health and job.

    Can you really be there to move your patient who can barely roll over to be scanned? What if they fall and take you with them? Are you a liability for your workplace if you can't do your duties to full potential and expectations? If you return to work before you're ready are you prepared for setback? Possible re-injuring yourself? Needing a repeat surgery and starting over again?

    Believe I want to get back on the truck or ER but I know for awhile I can't. I'm not willing to risk my health or safety of my patients. I hope maybe I've helped somehow.
    Best wishes and speedy recovery.
  • That was very helpful...put things in perspective. Granted, I am weaning myself off of the Percocet. I am just anxious and ready, like I said, my mind says go and my body says no! I guess I just have to be patient and realize there are a lot of people out there a lot worse than myself. I just feel like I have plateaued! I was seeing big gains in the beginning, and now it just seems like there is little progress and some setbacks when I over do it! Again, mrscahill, I respect your input and will keep those things in mind!
    radtechtam MIS L4-5 Fusion
  • Hi.
    I'm 5 weeks out and have been told to do some very basic exercises and to walk for the first six weeks. No twisting, bending or lifting. Progression has been good and I do some easy chores, like making dinner, doing the laundry etc. Careful not to bend so i use a picker and my imagination to solve the tasks. Have not been driving yet, want to have my first meeting at the hospital first to discuss things. Scheduled for a meeting with a hospital PT in a week and hopefully I will be allowed to be a little more active. My pain level is ok as long as I stick to what they told me. Only real problem is an aching feeling in my right knee and leg. I doesn't feel like anything I have experienced before and I do not think it comes from my back. More like an irritation or the start of an inflammation. I live in Norway and there is still snow and ice on the roads and sidewalks. Have been using ice spikes under my shoes and for the first 3-4 weeks I walked twice a day. 1-2 miles each time. Maybe the hard surface and all the walking, combined with a stiff and awkward movement has overloaded the legs. Kind of annoying to be honest :)
    No clue when to expect returning to work, but hopefully they will give me more information next week. It guess slow progress is the golden rule, if you overdo it you probably will be facing a setback.

    Happy recovery :)


    Isthmic spondylolisthesis L4/L5 with collapsed disk and nerveroot compression. MIS TLIF lumbar fusion surgery February 2013.
  • I'm sure you ALREADY know this, but everyone's body/spine/medical history is different and so will they recovery. Keep us upddated, I hope you are able to get this amazing job and keep up with the busy schedule (after you clear it with your surgeon.... obviously)
    33yo mom of two. My surgical history...preadolescence scoliosis, kyphosis, and a hot mess.... 5 spine surgeries and lots of items added I wasn't born with (titanium, peek, surgical steel). Guess cremation is out. TSA loves me.
  • Hello,

    I'm 10 months post-op and I remember feeling the EXACT same way. The fatigue was the worst part for me and my lack of stamina was VERY frustrating. I started weaning off the Percocet after a month by taking Vicodin, which worked just fine. I started out at 10/325's and eventually only needed 5/325's. PT helped immensely with my stamina and I did aquatic therapy which I would highly recommend if they offer it in your area. 6 months post-op I was able to return to work with some restrictions. I remember thinking "How am I going to make it through 8 hours?". But it wasn't as hard as I thought and after a couple weeks I felt much more confident. DO NOT OVER DO IT! Trust me and trust your body. If it feels like too much, it is. I just found out I have a broken screw and am facing another surgery and I'm sure it's because I didn't adhere to my restrictions. Best of luck to you with your recovery.
  • Hang in there and follow your bodies signals. Go when you can, stop when u need to, rest when you want to and if you are feeling pain doing something stop right away as you may hurt urself more. Remember, you are still on pain meds and that can mask when you are hurting yourself so go slow. More importantly, be patient as that surgery takes time and can be very frustrating as it feels like a major life change, sitting at home, not working ect. It is a life change and you are in the healing process so listen to your body and in time, you will know when you are ready. I definately would not recommend running back to work w/ pt care, lifting is the most dangerous thing you could ever do right now. I had L4-5 Fusion in 2007, I STILL cannot lift more than 15 lbs w/o hurting myself and feeling it so, work on recovery and strengthening and dont beat urself up. It takes time to heal. Keep your chin up and you will be up and running in no time..
  • RadTech, I had a fusion 1 year ago, and I had a similar issue adapting to a work schedule after my surgery. I like whats been said, and I agree listen to your body, and make that the deciding factor in all of your decisions.

    If it does not feel right, don't do it. I think all to often we get pressured into coming off medical leave because disability insurance companies push the doctors so they don't need to pay. And physical therapists are graded on how fast they can get you going again. All of the people involved with your recovery want to push you back to work. Only one thing is wrong with this picture, YOUR HEALTH. Each of us recovers differently, and we must be very careful, and listen to old number one.

    I was being pressured to return to work, but actually had a 2 month extension in my leave because I felt unready.

    Well good luck, and don't be forced into anything because the only one who will suffer is you.

    Take care -
    Left foramina stenosis of L3/L4 (retrolisthesis)
    L2-ilaic revision fusion ( loose screws) with a laminectomy at L3 (cage at L3-L4)
    (PLIF) -@ L4/ L/5 - S1 (cage at L4/L5)
  • Since I last posted...I've been feeling bigger improvements and have been off of Percocet and now on Vicoden 7.5/325. The Percocet seemed to control my pain better, but the vicoden takes the edge off and I understand needing to get off of the Percocet. I'm almost 3 months out now, and I haven't had to have PT, all the stretching, elliptical, and gentle Pilates (I only do the moves I feel comfortable doing), has me doing quite well. I still get fatigued. I had an all over massage for 90 minutes the other day, and that did me wonders!! It really loosened up the right side of my back. I'm scheduled for another one next week, but that really helped and would highly recommend for other post-op people. I cleared it with my dr. first. I've been very fortunate in that my range of motion is very good. But I do credit that to my stretching and strengthening which I started almost right after surgery. I really appreciate your input. It is very true to listen to your body. Everyone is different, but it is nice to get feedback from people who have been there or have been going through it with me! Thanks, and keep me posted on your recovery. Whoever had surgery in December, mine was the 18th....I'd appreciate updates!! Hopefully people are recovering well, too!
    radtechtam MIS L4-5 Fusion
  • Glad to hear you are doing well! I hope you continue to improve each day!
    33yo mom of two. My surgical history...preadolescence scoliosis, kyphosis, and a hot mess.... 5 spine surgeries and lots of items added I wasn't born with (titanium, peek, surgical steel). Guess cremation is out. TSA loves me.
  • Take a look at my signature, not my first rodeo, listen to your body.

    If you can look yourself in the mirror and say you're doing the walking and it still hurts...you have your answer.

    Cabin fever is very tough, I had 3 spine surgeries inside of 14 months, I get it. But ask me how much fun a second and third surgery is? It's not why I had mine, but a second and third feels the same non the less.

    In regards to working if still on meds, that is personal call and one between you and your employer. The law states that if you are impaired you should not do X, Y, and Z, but there are many of us that have had to be part of longer term pain management and get by just fine with work. My Delivery guy is working but also has a pain patch on. Again most laws state impairment, not in use. With that I do just about everything in my power to limit my travels by car. Check your local laws to be certain.

    Anyhow, don't beat yourself up too much. Physically or mentally (and pain is also mentally). If you are doing the walking, you'll know when you are ready (vs. when cabin fever is ready).

    Take Care

    Jun 2011 -TLIF @L5-S1
    Mar 2012 -NonUnion @L5S1
    May 2012 -Multi Level Discography
    July 2012 -XLIF 2Cages @L3L4/L4L5
    Aug 2012 -All New Hardware @L34L45/L4L5/L5S1
    Mar 2013 -FBSS = Pain Management until they figure it out.
  • You are so right about the work thing and meds. How can we manage our pain effectively and not work because of pain meds? The system wants us to be productive members of society, as I want to be, but if the cops or my employer knew I was on a pain patch,I would be out of a job, and a License too.

    It's crazy that in my state ,if I am pulled over and they know I am on a pain patch, unfortunately I'm all done. In this state it is a DUI, Driving under the influence. The law states under the influence of anything, not just alcohol. Here the influence in this case would be my pain patch. I would lose my License for 6 mo, pay 3000 in fines, participate in weekly classes mandated to whatever your influence is, AND possible home confinement w/ an anklet on.
    Even though I am not drooling w/ it on, I would be arrested and its wrong. I want to work, and I am working full time, but really the law here would restrict me from driving a vehicle while on the patch. I am willing to risk it, because its better then sitting at home. Then I'd be taking more meds as I would end up w/ depression and more pain from being stagnant.
    I am not suggesting for ANYONE to break the law, (just to clarify). BUT, I am choosing to be comfortable daily, AND be productive in my state. I am 41 yo and have several physical issues. I do not want to be on SS or disability for everyone else to pay for it when it is not necessary for me to sit around at home all day because of a patch. There are people that are on SS/Disbility that do NEED to be, I dont NEED to be so I chose to have a fair balance in mananging my pain AND working.
    I am fortunate to be mobile and not forced to be at home due to my illness, and I respect the people that are home as it is very difficult to have the carpet ripped out from underneath someone from an illness--what a life changing event for many people. I thank the big guy every day that I get to hear my alarm clock go off every day.
    With the being said, it is the Butrans patch that I am on. Its wonderful and works great for me and I finally found something that works. Along w/ my other meds too, but what a difference w/ it on. This patch is not for short term use or as a PRN, and is used for severe pain. My quality of life is soooo much better now. What is the RX exalgo that you are on? I have never heard of it and does it work good?
    Glad you guys are recovering and doing well, be sure that if you are decreasing your medications that you follow your docs taper schedule. Dont taper too fast as the reprecussions of that could be dangerous to your health. Alcoholics need to go through Detox if they want to quit drinking because it will kill them to just stop abruptly. The same thing goes w/ most narcotics
    After my1st surgery, I requested to come off the meds and my doc set up a tapering sched over a 3 mo period. I thought he was nuts but I could see why as I was tapering. So follow his/her recommendations and be patient as it is very difficult to come off meds. It's natural for our bodies to withdraw coming off these very powerful meds, and even though we want to be off them, our body is addicted to them, and yes even though we are taking them because we need them for pain and not because we wanted them, its natural for our body to adjust---so take your time with the decrease and follow EXACTLY what doc says. You dont need the ticker acting up..
    Keep us posted on your recoveries, we like to hear happy news.
  • It's a huge problem that the laws differ so much, or better yet, the understanding of those who create them, create them in a vacumn of sorts.

    Impaired in pain management is a short term thing for many. It has everything to do with dosing. You target less than %100 percent of pain, and never ever get near the happy place. Given this, I know many people functioning in life with proper pain care. Read the forums here on this site, long term pain chair is a tough reality, but its all manynreally really have now.

    I also try to be very careful with the words dependent and addicted. I do not agree that a body is addicted. I may very well be dependent , but dependence is a physical thing vs the behavioral component of addiction. Again, review the pain forums on here. The are people with patches, pumps, 24 hours meds, er meds etc. it's a tough bit to swallow, but some, obviously not all, end up this way for the long hall. If 2-3 spine surgeries don't cut in, they won't cut you anymore, the rates of return are two low, thus they figure out what works and and you do you best to get back to living.

    But back to the original poster, again, go slow, listen to your body, let it be your guide. I know that doesn't always jive with paying for life, etc, but do your best to let your body speak for you. It's unfortunate most spine shops don't really tell the full truth about fusion surgery. Lets face it the rates are lower,and time to recover is more like 9-15+ months, than the 3-6 myth. Maybe a few people do, but show me a full grown person with a major blowout or two in the lower lumbar section, and I'll show you 9months min... and I mean back to full life no meds.

    In the end never give up, but be realistic about what you can do, keep walking, and listen to your body.

    Best of Luck

    PS: Exalgo is 24h ER Hydromorphone. It has very little side effects for me, good on pain, great on foggy, almost none at all. Given this I can work and live my life. None of the fog and blah I use to get with ER Oxy or Percocet. Very Fentanyl patch like without the wacky dreams.
    Jun 2011 -TLIF @L5-S1
    Mar 2012 -NonUnion @L5S1
    May 2012 -Multi Level Discography
    July 2012 -XLIF 2Cages @L3L4/L4L5
    Aug 2012 -All New Hardware @L34L45/L4L5/L5S1
    Mar 2013 -FBSS = Pain Management until they figure it out.
  • I was treated for fibromyalgia 15 years ago, and back then they treated you with narcotics. Now they are finding that it is not the way to go. Last year this time I got off the fentanyl patch on my own. I weaned myself off...it was hell! So I was physically addicted, not mentally. I wanted to see how I felt without it, my rheumatologist recommended I try. I'm so glad I did. Not only did many of my fibro symptoms go away, I went off many meds at that time also, but I was out of the fog I was living in for so long. But then in July, I aggravated my already troubling back....steroid injections, etc...over the years. Just the bandaids until my fusion in December. I want to stay away from the pain meds, but they are needed right now. I know I am not even close to feeling mentally addicted...I take the pain meds when needed only. Right now, I need them. I'm trying to do everything right...but I agree with you, the drs. tell you 3 months. They are way to optimistic and misleading to their patients. I work in healthcare, radiology, and have done many of post-op films and see people struggle months to years out! So I know first hand that the drs. many times give patients this false hope of feeling back to yourself way too soon! I'm hanging in there...just need to give myself more time! We've had many stressful health events within our family outside of myself, and it lands on me quite often! I don't mind, but it just makes it that much harder! Thanks for your input. It's always nice to hear from others. I hope your recovery and back issue are getting better also! Hope to hear from you again! You definitely have had a lot more done than myself! Take care doubleusn!!
    radtechtam MIS L4-5 Fusion
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