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L4-S1 Surgery in two weeks Questions, Scared

HI I'm having L4-S1 fusion with cages and rods in two weeks. I was hit from behind in a bad car accident six months ago and have been in severe pain ever since. My NS said my spine is unstable, I have two bulging discs, and nerves are crushed in between vertebrae. I worked two full time jobs for five years before this and was working very hard to get a journeymans license in plumbing. I'm a single Mom, mid 40s, with grown kids and I was within months of being able to change my job and life for the better. Now I m unable to do the work I love and stuck holding onto a min wage job I can t stand for the insurance. If all goes well with surgery, how likely will I be able to do an active outdoor job ? That s all I ve ever wanted to do was some kind of trade or construction . And, I m wondering how much I'll be able to bend and move in a year with the rods ? The NS said he s going to attach them to top of my tailbone . Will I have any movement there in lower back at all ? Does it look funny when you walk or bend ? I was just learning to salsa dance, I love to kayak, hike on long trips, ride four wheelers, and I drive a lifted jeep . Is all of that gone ??? I feel like all of my dreams and things I ve worked so hard for are slipping away. I would love to ask other women about sex after surgery but need to know if I can or if there is another thread or forum for that ? I m so glad I found this site and thank you in advance for any help or advice .


  • sandisandi Posts: 6,343
    edited 08/08/2013 - 6:40 PM
    Welcome to Spine Health
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  • I'm sorry to hear your pain and especially sorry to hear about losing so much of your life. I have not had the lower back fusion (might be though in the future) but I've done a lot of research on it. I think for at least six months you will be pretty restricted, but if you are healthy and fuse well you will have a great chance to live a pretty normal life. There seem to be a lot of discouraging stories on this board BUT the success stories ARE out there. The problem is, when people have a successful surgery, which happens often, they don't return to this board since they are *fixed*.

    If you trust your surgeon I would take his word and ask him these questions. While it's pretty hard to get the questions answered during visits (at least I have this problem), I have had good results with typing out a letter with succinct numbered questions that he was able to read during his down time and then answer.

    I'm sure you will get much better advice from women who have gone through this already, but from what you have stated, your issue is one with a very specific cause which means it's far more likely to be remedied. You cannot have spinal instability- that is a given so gather your facts and be as best prepared to handle the recovery process. My biggest piece of advice is to not rush it! You might have a good day when you do too much and it will inevitably set you back.

    Good luck and stay strong. You have been physically strong in the past, now is the time to get emotionally and mentally strong and let nature do its thing after surgery!
    3/11/13 successful ACDF
    7/13 inconclusive discogram
    Currently in PT for lumbar pain
  • jellyhalljjellyhall Posts: 4,373
    edited 08/09/2013 - 11:15 AM
    I had a laminectomy with fusion of L4/5 done over 3 years ago.
    It gave me wonderful relief of my bilateral sciatica and lower back pain that was really limiting my life.
    My spine was unstable due to a spondylolisthesis and so I had a plastic type of cage and rods and screws.
    I had been very scared and trying desperately to avoid surgery for over 2 years.

    Spinal surgery has a long and sometimes difficult recovery period. I had 5 months off work but here in the UK we can get longer on full pay. For me it wasn't as bad as I had feared and I actually think I should have done it sooner. If I had realised how much relief it would have given me, I definately would have gone for surgery earlier. My back is not perfect and I do still get pain if I over do it, but it is very much better than before surgery.

    I don't really notice much loss of range of movement and can bend down quite well now. With two levels being fused you will be more likely to notice less movement, but hopefully not too much.
    I went on to have two levels of my neck fused. That was more to do with my spine being rubbish rather than being caused by my lumbar fusion! My neurosurgeon who did the neck fusion said that he would say that a patient will lose 10% movement for each level fused. Now I don't know if all surgeons say that, but that is what I was told.

    You may find that there will be things you can't do after surgery. Be ready for that, but you should still be able to walk and possibly dance and the other things that you enjoy. Do be careful not to start too early though or you could, as Born2run says, set yourself back in your recovery.

    Everyone heals differently. Some make an amazing recovery and can get back to most things others are more limited in what they can do. Don't expect to have a perfect and painfree back afterwards. With realistic expectations, I hope that you will make a good recovery and be pleased with the result.

    I am just starting to be assessed and hopefuly cleared to start a Clinical Pilates class.
    I went dog sledging in Alaska in June. Life can still be fun! I am about 10 years older than you so you may be able to do more than I can.

    Good luck!

    Can I suggest that you join the August Surgery Buddlies thread. That way you can get to know and chat with others who are also about to have spine surgery and being able to talk during your recovery is a great support.


  • I understand your being scared but I feel terrible for you. I have been there. I had a PLIF in Sept/10. I think that everyone is different and heals differently. We all have different, specific things wrong with our spines. Try not to get too scared to understand that you may very well be able to do most everything that you have done in the past. You may just have to do things in a different way that other people. I am amazed at the way that people adapt to their shortcomings and how the body responds. Try to take it one day at a time. Face it...you have to get it fixed so do that first and take care of yourself. Be good to yourself and try to have a good attitude because the mind is part of the healing process. Negativity will bring you down. Keep asking questions on here and get ready for your surgery. Praying for you to have peace of mind.
  • I understand how you are feeling. I just had my surgery so can't really speak to what you can and can't do once you've healed.
    But, this last "episode" has lasted 3-4 years for me. I had to quit graduate school because I had to be medicated 24/7. I've also had to give up on the idea of working with children, what I was going to school for and always wanted to do.
    That's not the case for everyone, but I've had a bad back for 13 years. I had to decide what was more important and I choose not causing anymore damage to my back since this was my second back surgery. Talk to your doctors, I'm sure they will have an opinion. I know mine did.
    I don't walk funny and no one would know I had surgery if I didn't have this big brace on.
    I do feel way better than I did before the surgery! Can't bend, twist, or lift anything until 3 months post-op.
    99/00 L4/5 & L5/S1 herniation
    2001 L5/S1 microdisectomy age 25
    severe DDD at surgery level
    2011 pars
    2012 RFA L/3/4/5
    7-02-13 L4/5 l5/S1 360 fusion ALIF PLIF
    DX spondylitis , DDD, scoliosis, and slight kyphosis
  • Hi ladies, Thank you so much for your advice and support . I am so thankful to have found this site . I was feeling so lost and alone in this. It helps to know others are and have gone through the same thing . Born2Run - Yes I feel very confident w my NS . I went to several and got high recommendations on this Dr. I will make a list of questions to take w me to pre op next week . Jellyhall - I m glad you got relief w your surgery . I ll remember to take it slow for 3-6 months ? and maybe life will be much better in the long run . I m going to try and be really careful during the first year even when I feel better. I don t want to do this again .It s awesome you went dog sledding and going to pilates ! There is hope ! :) Traci - you re right there is no way around this just through it. Natann - I m glad you are passed your surgery and back home. I hope you are feeling better every day. I m sorry you had to quit grad school and some of the things you really wanted to do. I understand how you feel ! I haven t been able to do anything I wanted in a long time. I pray that your healing goes great and you can start doing things you enjoy and get your life back ! I wish the same for all of us ! Thank you all so much for just being here ! I hope I can be a support for you all and others too.
  • I had fusion of l4-s1 with disk decompression on 7/23 and have done wonderfully. Followed drs advice in and put of hospital. Did get nervous morning of surgery, but trusted my surgeons
  • RickilalasRRickilalas Posts: 559
    edited 08/16/2013 - 7:35 PM
    Hi welcome to the group. I would say you can't go on this way more damage will be done. If the fusion takes and you take your time getting over it so you don't hurt it you have a good chance of being close to normal. I am fused at L4/5 and S1 with good results. My problem is I also had a fusion at C5/6/7 with spinal cord damage which limits what I can do.
    If yours is done before major nerve damage is done you have a good chance of being normal again. I take my hat off to you for going in to be a plumber I was a general building contractor and if it was just my back issue I could do plumbing with no problem. Unless I had to dig anything. I wish more women would go into these jobs. Many times I worked in peoples houses and a woman could make money just doing repairs for other women. They feel safer sometimes.

    I would say with no bad nerve damage you could have your fusion and nobody would ever know unless you told them or showed them the scar. Anyway it sounds like you need to do it to prevent further damage that could never be fixed.
    One caution ask if anything off label will be used and if so do some major homework before agreeing to that.

    Good Luck
  • Hi all I m about a week away from going into surgery. I know so many of you have already been through this and I thank you for you encouragement and advice. Bmbutler - I m so happy you re doing so good with your recovery ! That s great news and always helps to hear others are doing well after this . Rickilalas - Wow I sure was hoping someone on here was in construction or a trade and could give me some idea of doing that type of work again. Are you able to do any of the work you were doing. before,
    now ? This is so tough ! I m glad your lower fusion went well and so sorry the other wasn t the same. Will you regain any of the nerve function in time ? Yes I absolutely love plumbing ! I love doing water mains, sewer, mains, re -piping houses etc. I love the challenge of figuring out each problem and how to fix it . I was digging trenches and going in crawl spaces and attics all the time. And yes,shoveling raw sewage lol ! I miss it so much and hope I can get back to it By the way. what is "off label" ?
  • RickilalasRRickilalas Posts: 559
    edited 08/16/2013 - 8:16 PM
    Your day is coming soon.
    Take your time and let it heal right.
    I can not go back to work and that's the worst part of it all I ended up with some bad cord damage at C6/7. I can deal with it. Just can't do much at a time or move much of anything.
    I am very lucky that I was not paralysed. Most people with my injury are, but again I am very lucky. It's not so much a loss of nerve function but pain from nerve damage. I could do what I have to but pay for everything I do in pain. It's odd but we learn to deal with it.
    I hated to give up my license but my state is so broke they wanted seven thousand dollars a year from me for income tax to keep my license active and $350 to keep it inactive. I mailed it to them with a note about what they could do with it. It may have involved sewer lines LOL
    Bid one job out one year that I didn't want. Sewer pump station went out, house in a hole got the worse of it about four feet deep. Thank God I didn't get it. I did insurance repair, fire water and wind. It was fun but hard work.
    I hope your truck doesn't say Your S*** is my bread and butter like a few around here.
    Off label is when a doctor uses a product that is not FDA approved for what your having done.
    They can do this if the patient agreed to it before surgery. Interesting enough a few people I know that had off label products used were not told about it,but in surgery notes it always says doctor advised patient that this is off label and may have bad side effects.
    They are supposed to sign a agreement before surgery but most never knew. It's been interesting doing
    research on this because it looks like it happens a lot.
    To be safe just ask your doctor up front.

    One example of this is one person had a three level cervical fusion done with a new non approved grafting material that failed so bad it's not even offered for cervical fusion now. This caused the person three years of major pain and then another real bad surgery to clean it up.
    Another example is a bone growth protein that was ok to use on the lumbar area and a few surgeons started using it on cervical fusion surgeries. This one product promotes bone growth so well the cervical bones keep growing.
    It causes so many problems several people have died. A very long list of lawsuits can be found online.

    Good Luck
    Quick recovery
  • Rambi, I'm almost 4 months post op from an L4/L5 fusion with a cage, rods and screws. I have had a great recovery and feel better than I have in years! I did a major housecleaning on Friday afternoon and afterwards went outside to do some work in my flower beds. I was standing up, bending at the waist, pulling weeds and cutting plants back. My husband was mowing the lawn, he stopped and said "do you realize what you're doing right now and how huge it is that you're able to do that"? We stood there and just had a moment! I was quite uncomfortable later and I did go find my bottle of Vicodin for a dose and I took a muscle relaxer and went to bed with my ice pack! At this point I'm glad to not have a physical job, but it's still so early and I know I still have improvement ahead. The only limitation I notice is that when I'm sitting down I can't really twist around to look at something behind me. I started physical therapy two weeks ago and that's something we'll work on. As far as sex goes, it's no problem at all; if you have more mechanical questions you can message me. :). I would say to not be afraid of the surgery and recovery, it's a long road, but you can do this and hopefully in one year you'll be working your outside job and loving it! I'll be thinking about you this week and wishing you the best!
    Lumbar laminectomy L-4/L-5, 2006
    XLIF with posterior pedicle screws L-4/L-5, 4-23-2013
  • I had ALIF L4L5S1 rods,nuts and bolts 12 screws and 2 cages.I was cut front and back.My surgery was March 13th and it was a rough time of it.Im in pt and have 4 more sessions than I just do exercises at home.I saw the dr Friday and he said im healing great.He also said I can go back to work in sept.I have a cleaning business.I guess im a success story.I did everything I was told and it worked.I stand up straight now and im feeling great.I wish you much luck .Stay strong and stay positive.Kathy
    Kathy B
  • RickilalasRRickilalas Posts: 559
    edited 08/18/2013 - 6:21 PM
    Just wanted to say it's good to see some positive post on surgeries that went well with good results. I hope those of you with positive results continue to post your story.
    I know there are many positive outcomes and yes a few bad ones.
    It's nice to read some good ones because on many forums those with good results move on and don't relay their stories. They feel great and just go on with their life.
  • Rambi,

    I had a transforaminal lumber interbody fusion or TLIF on November of 2008 at L4, L5, and S1. I won't lie, it was a difficult recovery for me. That was my second lumber surgery so I did have some scar tissue that you won't be dealing with. My advice would be have hope and faith that you will recover and feel great, but not to set any real expectations. Take your recovery one day at a time. This is major surgery and your body will heal in it's own time. Try to avoid the bending lifting and twisting for as long as you can during recovery. When you feel well, walk, as often as possible. This really speeds fusion time. Ask your doctor for a pamphlet on sex after lumbar surgery. There are certain positions that are preferable during the recovery and fusion time that help keep your spine in a neutral position and avoid unnecessary pain. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to send me a private message. I will be sending you happy thoughts of comfort and recovery!

    One Love,

    Down In My Heart
  • Hi, I m sorry I haven t been back.on here for little bit. I lost my pw and had a time resetting it . Thank you everyone for all your encouraging words ! I really appreciate all your advice and words of wisdom . You guys are great ! My big day is getting close and I ll be having surgery on Friday morning. I ll let yall know how I do as soon as I can. Hugs to all
  • dangbackddangback Posts: 30
    edited 08/21/2013 - 5:08 PM
    Everyone is different. I can tell you when I had the same area fused, after I healed I was lucky enough to go on with life as normal. If you take your time and let yourself heal, if you think before you move and do things while you're healing it will help. Please keep us posted.

    Best of luck,
    1992 L5/S1 Laminectomy
    2001 L5/S1 Second Laminectomy
    2008 L5/S1 Fusion.

    Current Condition:
    C5-C6 disc herniation
    C6-C7disc bulge
    C2-C6 Spinal Stenosis and Foramina Stenosis, facet joint degeneration and osteophyte
  • downinmyheartddowninmyheart Posts: 497
    edited 08/23/2013 - 12:31 PM

    How did your surgery go? I have been thinking about you and praying for you today. Let us know when you can.

    One love,

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