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Lumbar spinal fusion at age 19 - prospects?

Hello spine-health community,

I've been reading these boards for a while now for comfort during my first 2 microdiscectomies, but I finally decided to sign up because I'm worried about my spine's not-so-bright future.

Basically, I had a herniated disc at the L5-S1 level which only got worse as I ran track and cross country throughout high school. I'm an avid runner so I was devastated when I found out I had to have back surgery because the nerve was compressed and pain was too severe. I figured I would be able to get back to running not too long after my first microdiscectomy, but about 1 month after the surgery the pain suddenly came back along with new symptoms - numbness and partial loss of motor function in my left leg. I was limping for a few weeks before I got the surgery because my leg just wouldn't do what I told it to.

This was in October and December. The 2nd microdiscectomy lasted me until about 2 or 3 weeks ago, when the numbness and weakness started to return. It's slow and gradual this time, not sudden like before. However, I'm scared about where these symptoms might go. First year in college and I missed a lot of it due to the surgeries, and I haven't run since the summer of 2012 (about one year now). If I go in again, it won't be another microdiscectomy because there won't be any disc left, it will be a fusion. According to my MRIs, I also have a herniated disc at the L4-L5 level (on the right side instead of left) which looks worse than my L5-S1 herniation ever did, though at the moment it doesn't cause any pain (my surgeon had to confirm a couple times that my pain was on the left side because he thought it was weird that such a large herniated disc wasn't the one causing my problems).

Since a fusion puts increased stress on the rest of the discs, and I'm only 19 with apparently bad discs, what does this mean for the rest of my life? Am I doomed to constant back surgery for the rest of my life? Will I never run again?

I'm sorry for such a long post, I'm just worried and to be honest more than a little scared. Thanks for reading.


  • user123uuser123 Posts: 49
    edited 05/30/2013 - 8:04 PM
    I don't think anyone can say you're doomed. I had a fusion L5-S1 in 1984 when I was fourteen for a 1.4 cm slip. I returned to full sports, specifically snow skiing, hiking, and running. OK, so it's almost 30 years later and I'm getting ready to go in for an L4-L5 fusion in a coupe of weeks. But you know what? It's been 30 years of active sports and enjoying life! The surgery itself has changed dramatically. I didn't have hardware the first time and I was on the operating table for 13 1/2 hrs, in the hospital a week, and kept in bed on my back for a couple of months. I wasn't allowed to sit at all. The whole procedure has changed so much. It's quicker, it's easier, and it's a much faster recovery now. Who knows where spine medicine will be 20 or 30 years from now. They actually use artifical discs now! That was scifi when I had mine lol You know they're actually having some success growing spinal nerves in the research labs? There's no way anyone can predict that you're doomed.

    Although to be honest, if it were me, I would be requesting a fusion now after 2 failed discectomies. JMO
    L5-S1 fused in 1984 no hardware for a 1.4 cm grade 2 slip - fusion FAILED
    6-20-13 fused L4-L5-S1 with hardware
  • The VisitorTThe Visitor Posts: 2
    edited 05/30/2013 - 8:42 PM
    That's actually very reassuring user123. The way my surgeon was describing it, he made it seem like the worst thing in the world. He kept on talking about how he had barely ever seen someone my age herniate their disc, and when he did it was usually gymnasts or kids who lift a lot of stuff, and a fusion at my age was just unheard of. He reiterated multiple times that a fusion was the absolute last resort and it would lead to more problems down the road, which could mean 1 year or 50 years. I guess after 2 failed discectomies I've kind of lost faith in the whole back surgery route.

    I suppose it's all luck of the draw though. I am glad to hear that yours went well and that you've had a good quality of life so far :).
  • LizLiz Posts: 7,832
    edited 05/30/2013 - 10:26 PM
    I am sure that you will find your time on Spine-Health very rewarding. This site is a powerful and integrated system that is dynamic and continues to grow.
    Here are just some of the highlights:

    - Detailed medical libraries of Articles and Videos that address almost every Spinal Conditions and Treatment

    - The Wellness section contains articles, tips and videos to help patients after surgery and also to help people avoid surgery.

    - Under the Resource tab, there is a section Doctor Advice Health Center which can be invaluable.

    - As a bonus, Spine-Health provides these patient forums. Here is where you can meet thousands of other people who understand and can relate to your situation. You will soon become part of the Spiney family who provide comfort and the advantages of a Support System. You are now part of this family that is approximately 20,600 International members and growing daily.

    - It is very important to understand the Forum Rules to make sure all of your posts do not violate any of the rules.

    - As a new member, it is helpful to understand the 'makeup' of these forums, how to make posts, tips on adding images and much more. You should read Forum FAQ

    Here are some you should take a look at:
    Read before you post
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    All of this will help make your threads better and improve the times and quality of responses you will receive.

    If you have any questions or need assistance, you can use the Private Message facility to contact any one of the Moderators on my team:






    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
    Cervical stenosis, so far avoided surgery
  • I'll be honest, if my surgeon told me a fusion on a 19 yo was practically unheard of I'd CERTAINLY get a second opinion. True, it isn't the "norm", I'd even go "rare", but "unheard of from a spine specialist?" I had 2 friends growing up that had to have one level fusions from herniation during their teen age years. Now, I will say, I know lots of people with spine problems... but still. I'd suggest a second opinion regardless, but in your case I'd want someone that also has lots of experience with young adult patients.

    And I'm sorry you are facing your third (and much more complicated than the other two) surgeries. I hope you are able to prolong it as long as comfortably possible and then schedule it around your school/life. Hang in there, you have come to the right place for encouragement and support.
    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.
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