Hey everyone -
First post here. Not sure if this is the best place to put it, but would appreciate any help and answers, please. Thanks!
I'm posting the full details of my back issues, but you can just jump to the end for my questions if that is easier.
I recently went through a multi-level spinal fusion, fusing the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. I had it done by a neurosurgeon and he went in posteriorly. Used a piece of bone from my hip, only one scar, no complications and a better recovery than I expected. I spent a week in the hospital, and I am now 5 weeks and 2 days out of surgery.
-I am 30 years old, was always active, and have been dealing with back issues since the first week of July, 2006. I tore my ankle and within several weeks, had developed herniated disks at the l4-l5 level. They think I was overcompensating for one side of my body - working out on an apparent injury - and put so much pressure on one side that I developed the herniated disks. I specifically remember going up to school and needing the car pulled over five weeks after the ankle injury because the pain up and down my left leg was so unbearable. I had no clue what was going on. Didn't realize it was a back injury. Anyway, I developed degenerative arthritis not too long after that.
In the end, before my fusion (May 19), I had severely herniated disks at l4-l5 and l5-s1, some disk bulging at the same levels, obvious sciatica, degenerative arthritis in my lower lumbar and what the doctor said was degenerative disk disease. I know it's a broad diagnosis, but after my most recent surgery, a new MRI revealed that the side they worked on actually had the herniations return and increase in size.
This was my fifth surgery. The first four were lumbar dissectomies, two on L4-L5 and two on L5-S1. The first one was in Nov 07 and it helped. But I got reinjured and had another in Sept. 08. Again, helped, but two years later, needed another, and had one in Sept. 2010. Never really got much better, but life was livable. I then had my fourth surgery last August, when I couldn't deal with the pain anymore, and I got worse after the fourth surgery.
Anyway, to this surgery - The surgery itself went well. Considering the pain I went through after my fourth (all those years of scar tissue combined with the fact that I didn't use a single painkiller), I was terrified of this one. I woke up not feeling too awful compared to what I'm used to. I did use meds for the first six days of recovery, but they said I had to - and no way I could've gotten through this with just mmj edibles, which I did with my last one. Anyway, the first 4-5 days were a nightmare. Constant pain rush/panic attack a few times a day. Going to the bathroom was tough, getting up was so hard. Just a hell of a week, but I expected.
I went home after a week and have been taking care of myself since, getting a little bit better each and every day. Such a slow process. My surgeon has me wearing a big stabilizing brace for 12 weeks (I can take the big part off after 6-8). No driving or dog walking for eight weeks. No bending, lifting or twisting for 8 weeks. No outpatient PT for 12 weeks.
I'm doing the little bit of PT he wants me doing at home. Four leg exercises to keep my legs strengthened. I go for a short walk every day, and between that, making food, getting up and down to go to the bathroom, etc., I'm staying in bed 75% of the day like my surgeon instructed, but staying strong and healthy and active.
Anyway, a couple questions:
-How long until it's safe to sleep on my stomach? I'm usually a side sleeper anyway, but it's nice to just lay on my stomach sprawled out here and there. I haven't done so yet, and I try to sleep on my back mostly, but I also sleep in the fetal position occassionally with a pillow between my legs. I usually wake up each night to move to my back or side depending on how I'm lying down. I know I probably should avoid sleeping on my stomach for life, but just curious to how long you guys waited before even attempting to do so?
-I think it was successful surgery. I really do. My right leg feels better. My hips feel better. My back still has tons of surgery soreness and I know this is a long, long recovery where I have to be patient, but I do feel like my back will be significantly better (not "fixed," but better) when all is said and done. But my legt leg still has shooting sciatic-like pain. Is that often (I'm not looking for any definitive answers, as I know everyone is different) just recovery pain? I mean, I don't have disks there anymore, so the herniations are gone, but could that be permanent pain or possible just recovery? While I know it's only been five weeks since surgery, I also am trying to be patient and not worry about this pain. It's a sciatic-like shooting, occassionally radiating pain in my left leg. Sometimes weak, sometimes not. It has been getting a tiny bit better, but very slowly of late. I feel like I won't know anything for certain until I'm 10-12 weeks out and starting PT and really able to get back to living a normal life, walking the dog, twisting, bending, etc., but this one pain worries me. If my pain was at a 6-8 regularly every day of my life before this surgery - which it was - my goal from this surgery was to get down to a 2-3 max just for quality of life. I didn't have unrealistic expectations to be magically fixed or ever start really running again or anything, but I was strictly going for quality of life. Again, I feel like I'm going to be significantly better and despite the longest summer of my life, definitely worth it, which was one of my biggest fears going in -- the possibility of putting myself through something like this for nothing. No, I did not go into this surgery negatively like that, but I did have to prepare myself for all possible results. I wouldn't have gone through it if I didn't truly believe it would help, but I'm just curious to know how recovery went for people who had similar issues and had the same surgery as I did and if they experienced this kind of pain...and if I should just be patient and wait for it to get better because it's just surgical pain.
-Are they any restrictions and advice you would give me for 12 weeks out and for the rest of my life? I'm not going to run...I'm not going to play contact sports...I'd like to get back to playing tennis here and there, but it's not the end of the world. I would just like to be able to drive wherever without having pain get in the way, walk my dog without being in agony, not have pain interfere with work anymore, etc. But I am aware that without l4-5, 5-s1, that my l3-l4 disks are more succeptable to herniating because extra pressure is being put on them. Is that true? Because I don't want to ever go through this or any other surgery ever again. Is there anything I should know about those disks or precautions to take because the obvious stuff like sports and lifting heavy things etc.?
-Has anyone else been in the exact same situation as me? Those two levels fused? And if so, what was your end result? How was recovery and how is life now?
I know TL;DR, but this surgery was my last hope to ever feel normal again, and any help would be much appreciated.
Thanks in advance!