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Vertabrae Fusion L5-S1 - Worried

Hi all, this is my first post, hopefully I won´t break any rules. So this is my story.

43 year old male
Relatively fit and active (before)
Smoker (yes, I intend to quit this week)

I´ve had back pain for about 17 years due to a twisted coccyx but have managed to live with it without taking pain killers as the pain was just a dull ache most of the time. Three and a half months ago I noticed constant pins and needles in my foot but it didn´t concern me too much. I went on holiday and did loads of walking and the pins and needles progressed to pain in the front of my ankle, then pain in my hip. I was out of the country and couldn´t do too much and continued to walk. On returning home the pain became unbearable, I could barely walk at some points but the pain was instantly relieved upon sitting down. Eventually I went to hospital and after various scans, x-rays, EMGs etc the neurosurgeon told me that I had spondylolisthesis in L5-S1 (21%) and that the disc below was pretty much destroyed, hence the pressure on the sciatic nerve which, thankfully, has not been damaged yet. His options to me were that he operate now and fuse the vertabrae to the two vertabrae either side spinal fusion with rods and pins or I wait, whilst checking for insensitivity in my leg regularly, until the pain becomes unbearable and then he operates. He tells me that the hospital is in the top 3 in the country (Spain) and that he conducts the masterclasses on this particular operation. I´m lucky to have friends in the medical world in London that are showing my results to various neurosurgeons to get some quick and free second opinions but I know that realistically I need to seek a face to face second opinion as well.

The sciatic pain has subsided quite a lot recently although I have been taking things easy, just some residual low level pain in the front of my leg above the ankle but I can sleep at night no problem but the pins and needles remain and I can´t walk long distances (2 kilometers) without being in pain the next day. I also find standing still quite painful in my hip and leg after 5 minutes. My partner and I "flip" houses for a living so my work can be quite labour intensive sometimes, obviously I´ve been avoiding any hard work but feel guilty as hell for my partner who has taken on most of the heavy lifting/work and it has taken it´s toll on our relationship.

Obviously, I´m in no hurry to have the operation because in comparison to some of the incredibly brave and positive people in this forum my pain is neglible and I´m still pretty mobile but at the same time I want to fix this problem and return to work. I have read plenty of posts regarding similar operations and their recovery time so I am aware that the process is a slow one. The prospect of the operation/recuperation scares me stiff and so I try to put it out of my mind. I just wanted to see if anyone else out there has had a similar problem, I would love to hear opinions on whether it´s wise to have the fusion done now before any nerve damage or to carry on until the pain is unbearable?

Thanks for reading and I wish all of you luck with your ailments


  • BuddycampBBuddycamp Posts: 20
    edited 07/31/2014 - 6:26 AM
    Hi Madasalorry and welcome to the forum! So sorry to hear about your spine issues and the difficult decision you have to make. I'm a female and was very active and fit when my issues started at 37. I'm currently 44 and still look fit but am not that strong yet. 2 cervical fusions and one lumbar laminectomy and Discectomy later, I can say that I understand how hard of a decision it is to make. I decided on my surgeries because it was affecting my quality of life. A year ago I was having to use a cane on occasion and needing a wheelchair for long walks (airport, sight seeing, grocery shopping etc.) I didn't own a wheelchair but would take advantage of it if available. If I did have to walk, I'd get pins and needles down my right leg and what would start out as a dull ache would turn to sharp stabbing pain down my leg. I couldn't stand for very long without my lumbar screaming in pain, I could only sit for extended amounts of time with the use of a heating pad. Doing what typically would be described as simple chores became obstacles and turned into means of torture afterwards. Feeling myself get exhausted easily from the abuse my body was taking on was my turning point. I decided to do surgery because I didn't want to risk having permanent damage to the nerve that was being impinged upon and I knew it was only going to get worse in time. I didn't 'do' anything to get arthritis in my spine,(no car accident, fall etc) I just consider myself "special", ha ha ha. (Humor helps me.) I also decided that I'm too young to be down this much physically when there's a chance I can LIVE again and do the things in life that are important to me and my family. Since my surgery, I can walk unassisted again (within 1-2 wks post op), I can sit without pain for a much longer amount of time and although I am still struggling with standing for extended periods of time, it's much better. I've only been doing PT for 6 weeks on my lumbar. I don't for a minute regret my decision, and in my case, I was having to recover from both surgeries fairly close together. It's been very difficult at times but I don't regret it. Good luck to you in making this life changing decision!
  • Hi Buddycamp
    Thanks for your reply, it's nice to have a reply from someone that has had a positive result from the operation. A lot of my friends and family warned me to avoid pain forums as generally they are only frequented by people with problems and therefore negative mindsets. On the 20th of this month I am travelling to Madrid to get a second opinion from a neurosurgeon there but as a friend in the medical world so rightly pointed out to me that surgeons only tend to offer surgical alternatives. I have also made contact with a pilates instructor to try some gentle excercises. Some days the pain is worse than others and I'm trying to work out what triggers it. Yesterday I walked for less than a mile and was in agony with sciatic pain at the end of it. The scary thing for me if I choose to have the surgery is the recuperation time. Although I don't do any vigourous excercising, I am an extremely active person and I only have very few people to call on for support, my partner is currently carrying the whole load workwise and will struggle to cope with supporting me as well, he also struggles to stay indoors for more than a few hours.
    Anyway, thanks again for your positive message, it means a lot!!
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