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Will it really take 18 months to fully fuse?

I'm 3 months post op TLIF L5S1 fusion, decompression, spondy, with hardware - 4 bolts and two rods and bone graph from bone bank. Saw my surgeon last week to look at current X-rays. I feel great with no meds. He's made my can and cannot do list clear. What I'm a little down about is that he said my fusion "appears to be taking" and that I'm about 10% of the way there. He said its an 18 month process to be fully fused. Is that normal or what you've experienced or been told to experience? I'm ok with restrictions as he told me once I'm fully fused I should be able to do almost anything. I guess I was hoping to be a lot more fused than I am.
Getting L5 S1 foraminotomy, and fusion with 4 bolts and 2 rods on 01/31/2013. Pars defect at L5, little to no disc between L5 S1, grade 2 stenosis at L5, pinched nerves.


  • Hey Vanzant....I remember you from the January buddies thread :-) I was told 12 months will be the real benchmark for how I'm going to be doing post-surgery, although my physical therapist is also a spiney (cervical spine, but it counts for me) and said that she was still getting progress in healing at a year and a half. I was told that I would permanently have a weight restriction (which makes me severely sad as I used to powerlift) and probably will never run again (partially the pounding and partially the nerve and spinal cord damage from waiting so long to have the surgery).

    YMMV though....my recovery seems to be a lot rougher than yours right now :-)
    1/16/2013 Minimally invasive TLIF with rods, screws, and cage on L5/S1 joint to treat grade 2 spondylolysthesis, pars defect, degenerative disc disease. Dealt with chronic pain & nerve issues since at least 2007.
  • Yeah, it can take that long to be rock solid, and frequently does. Bone takes a long time to grow, and that is what a fusion is: A new bone growing. However, you are experiencing progress. Celebrate that progress. I find that my attitude improves if I remember how bad it was before surgery, and how far I've come since.

    FYI, progress is not linear in nature--it doesn't continue at a constant rate. It occurs in spurts. Because it's your body, that you live with every day, you're not likely to notice progress from day to day. As you continue recovering and healing, you will notice milestones, though. You're at the "fusion is starting" stage. In a few months you'll be at the "fusion is going as planned stage," and they'll confirm that on xray. You'll get a new list at that point.

    I have a "can do" and "don't do" list as well. I'm five months out of surgery, and have gotten rid of the raised toilet seat, can put on shoes and socks without assistive devices, and go to physical therapy three times a week (in the pool,) in addition to my home PT exercises and walking. I recently put the pots and pans back in the cupboard because I've learned better body mechanics and have developed the strength to use them, plus I was getting sick of cluttered kitchen counters.

    Hang in there. You're just at the beginning of this marathon, and trust me, it IS a marathon!
    I'm not a spinal diagnosis. I'm a human being with a spinal diagnosis.
  • Thanks for sharing, especially for sharing, "progress is not linear in nature--it doesn't continue at a constant rate. It occurs in spurts." I am celebrating the progress and all the things I can do. I'm grateful for how well I'm doing. Was a bit in denial about the fact that it takes 18 months to fully recuperate.

    Doing great,


    Getting L5 S1 foraminotomy, and fusion with 4 bolts and 2 rods on 01/31/2013. Pars defect at L5, little to no disc between L5 S1, grade 2 stenosis at L5, pinched nerves.
  • odouglassoodouglass Posts: 264
    edited 05/13/2013 - 4:09 PM
    I am only 12 days post MIS TLIF L5/S1 and feeling great- I go see the surgeon tomorrow for the first time since the surgery.... I am anxious but nervous about what he is going to say. I wear the brace when I am up and around (not when sleeping or showering as instructed) and am trying my hardest to not do any bending, lifting or twisting. I find myself pushing the limits though,because I am feeling well. He told me 8 weeks out of work, sure hope that is all that I need and hope that I get good news tomorrow. :)
    Olivia Douglass
    MIS TLIF L5/S1 on 5/1/13
  • The key to what you are asking is the term "fully." Your bone growth may be complete in several months, but usually/often for a one level lumbar fusion, it takes about twelve months for the bone cells to set and become hard and durable. I recently had a three level fusion and it took almost a year for the bone cells to grow and fuse and then it took another year until it was really set and many of my restrictions were lifted.

    The best advice I can offer is to just take things one day at a time. Don't look too far into the future. Just follow your surgeon's instructions each day and do not get hung up on asking yourself if you are better today than you were yesterday. You'll find that progress is in baby steps...you'll go a few forward and there will be days where you fall back. If nothing else, the fusion experience is one of learning patience!
  • Yours is the first post I have read that addresses how long takes to fully recover. I am 5 weeks post lumbar fusion of l 4/5 s 1. And reading some of these posts, people walking 20-30 minutes, doing exercises, I was beginning to think something was wrong with me! I still can't stand up nice and tall, I can only walk or be on my feet about 10 minutes before my back spasms and I need to sit. My surgeon said I have restrictions of no lifting, no bending, and no twisting for 6 weeks. I also am wearing a lumbar brace. I still have pain and take pain killers every 4-6 hours and muscle relaxers. He says all that is normal. But until I read your post, I would have thought I was the only one experiencing this. I certainly can say the fusion fixed my leg pain and numbness, and I am much better 5 weeks post. However I'm a teacher in a huge high school, and there is no way I could go back to work for several more weeks. Again, thanks for your post!
  • I fully agree with Odile53 as well. It truly takes a whole lot of patience when it comes to getting over these "last humps" to doing much of the things we used to do. Having "been there and done that" before, I can truly advise all of you to continually be careful from here on in so that you won't re-injure or risk the adjacent levels of your fusion. Having multiple fusions truly stinks......just please be careful with your body.

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