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Questions for Lumbar Fusion Recoverees!

Kimmy72KKimmy72 Posts: 1,767
edited 02/03/2016 - 11:47 AM in Recovering from Surgery
I've noticed a common theme as I've been reading about recovery from spinal fusion surgery, so just wondering if anyone might be able to help me understand it. Why do I so often read that recovery from fusions in the L5-S1 area take longer than other areas of the spine?
Part of my concern about this is my job (VERY physically demanding). I was fortunate to get it--I was up front about surgery plans/projected time off needed etc, and they hired me anyway AND told me my job would still be there after I recovered.
At the time, I was thinking I'd be back by the 12 week mark (and did say that to my bosses), but now I'm not so sure. Additionally, I was only supposed to have a single level fusion at L/4-5, but now I'm fused from L4-S1...I'm assuming the extra surgical work added to my overall recovery time? I know it's not doubled, of course, but the areas in which these fusions were performed seem to appear often in the context of longer recovery times.
Any thoughts, ideas, input would be much appreciated! Thank you!
Kimmy72, Spine-health Moderator
Firm believer in PMA!


  • I am 3 months out from having the same levels done. I am just beginning to show a shadow of bone fusing. You only get once to let this heal and fuse correctly. As hard as it is to worry about your job, listen to your doctor and don't force anything to soon. Good luck and best wishes.
    Renee Roth
  • Kimmy72KKimmy72 Posts: 1,767
    edited 02/03/2016 - 1:40 PM
    You are dead on about only getting one chance! I've been following doc's orders, increased calcium/vitamin D intake (through foods and citrical), and doing 1hour daily sessions under my infrared mineral lamp (got doc's ok first on this one!).
    Is your fusion rate on the normal spectrum according to your doctor? Have you been cleared to begin physical therapy? If so, how's it been for you so far? Are you still in need of pain meds?
    Thanks very much for your past and future input!
    Kimmy72, Spine-health Moderator
    Firm believer in PMA!
  • hvillshhvills Suzhou, ChinaPosts: 732
    Recovery for everyone truly is different... but since the L5-S1 joint is the largest lumbar section in your spine and it takes the most stress so I would think it would be pretty normal for recovery for this section to take longer. Maybe others on this forum or your doctor can say more precisely...

    In my case I've had 2 fusion surgeries at the L5-S1 joint. The first was a double level L4-L5-S1 in May 2013 from which it took me almost 12 months to feel completely normal again. If I had to work in a very physically demanding job I think it would have been impossible to go back sooner than the 12 months... if it had been a desk job I could have probably managed it at 6-8 months. Some 18 months after my first surgery one of the pedicle screws at the L5-S1 level broke and the bone fusion which was weak and incomplete broke/slipped. As such, I had to have a complete redo of the L5-S1 fusion surgery in Jan 2015. I'm now 12 months post-op and getting close to being 100%... but not quite there yet. The recovery from the second surgery has been MUCH tougher than the first time around... not sure why... but it is what it is and I'm thankful to be out of pain. This is only my experience... and don't take it as normal or abnormal . Some people bounce back with remarkable speed... I read on this forum last month where one guy who is 70 years had a lumbar fusion at L5-S1 and was up and about cruising around the shopping mall with his wife only 8 days after surgery like it was no big deal... totally unbelievable. That's probably the extreme... but fusion surgery is a MAJOR surgery besides the cutting and drilling of the bones there is LOTS of muscle trauma and you need to give the recovery as much time as it needs REGARDLESS of your job.

    Speaking of your job... I guess you understand that since it's VERY physically demanding it may very well put you back on the surgeons table down the road. With your double level fusion at L4-L5-S1 there will be added stresses on your L3-L4 disc and doing lots of heavy lifting and/or other stressful activities will potentially cause the L3-L4 disc to herniate. It may be a hard pill to swallow but you may want to consider a new position at your company as the heavy physical work is just inviting future trouble. You also run the risk of breaking your L4-L5-S1 fusion if you go back to heavy lifting activities too soon after fusion. Even if the fusion is complete it may take another year or more to become truly solid and sound and NO job is worth destroying your future health over. You really need to fully talk to your doctor about your job situation. How far along in your recovery are you..?? How do you feel..??
    Harry - 63 year old male...
    PLIF L4-L5-S1 due to disc degeneration... May 23, 2013
    PLIF L5-S1 due to failed fusion and broken screw... Jan 19, 2015
    Microdiscectomy, decompression L3-L4 due to herniated disc... Jan 19, 2015
  • I am feeling ok for the most part...I've been able to start weaning off of one of the pain meds, so I'm taking that as a positive sign.
    Thank you for your very informative explanation about vertebral mechanics! Yep, my job is definitely NOT a sedentary one, and I'm thinking it would be fairly stupid of me to think I should OR could return to performing my regular duties after only 12 weeks post op. I really don't want to run the risk of adding more links to my titanium chain, so to speak. I honestly love what I do, but they're expecting me to come back at the 12 week mark. It really is a blessing and a HUGE compliment that they were willing to hold my position for me until I could come back, but I certainly can't expect them to keep holding it when I cannot predict what's ahead in the healing sense. I've spent 25+ years in this business (different places), so it's going to be a bit of a rough road (financially, too) if I have to let it go.
    My spine, and the continued "care and feeding" of it is my #1 priority for now. I know I need to be patient, and I'm doing just about every little thing under the sun to ensure that I heal well! Thanks again for your insights...
    Kimmy72, Spine-health Moderator
    Firm believer in PMA!
  • That is a rough recovery from that surgery. I also had a very physical job and once returning to that type of work hasn't been the best for me. Shortly later I was back under the knife for L3-L4 level which was also degenerative at the time of first surgery but discogram showed it not to be a pain generator at the time so my doc said leave it alone. Now years later I'm going back under for L2-L3 on the 18th of this month. No more lifting from now on! At 53 I have thrown in the towel on trying to return to the work I've done all my life. Some may do fine going back but that's why they try to push off fusions as long as possible because damaging the next level is much easier. Listen to what your doctor tells you! Good Luck!
    TLIF L4-S1 2007                                         TLIF L3-L4 2008                                          TLIF L2-L3 2016
  • Everything I'm being told not to do (the good ol' BLT) is part of what I do at work every day.  I'm also on my feet the entire time, but that didn't bother me so much as it was sitting that prompted the most pain pre-op.  I feel like I'm doing very well with my recovery so far.  I am following my doctor's orders to the letter, and paying very close attention to the development of new (but not compensatory) body mechanics.
    That being said (typed?), I do not want to undo my progress, and I appreciate what you had to say about being wary of causing future surgeries because I went back to work too soon.  
    If I could pick your recovery brain one more time--I had my post op checkup a couple weeks ago, and they want to see me sometime in March.  There was no mention of beginning physical therapy in the interim.  I was under the impression that PT usually begins around week 6 post-op.  Would a double fusion be reason to delay the start of PT?  They're doing another set of Xrays in March, so I'm wondering if they want to see what those results are first before they move me to the next step? 
    I truly appreciate your thoughts...I will be keeping you in mine on the 18th!! 
    Kimmy72, Spine-health Moderator
    Firm believer in PMA!
  • jogger61jjogger61 PennsylvaniaPosts: 2


    Everything you are concerned about with your job is exactly what I went, am going through. I had the same surgery you did. I started PT after 6 weeks but it was very light as I had severe nerve damage and had to go at it slowly. I too thought I would be back to work after 3 months. I could have if I had a desk job, but I have a fairly physical job and my job was pressuring me to return to work. I was able to stay out for 6 months; I could have used another 2 or 3 months of PT before going back, the therapist thought the same. I am still going to PT and I am on light duty at work. I do not want to jeopardize my health, but I do not want to lose my 35 year job either. I am taking it easy at work, but I am dreading the fact that I may have to perform a task that might injure me. Take your time with your rehab, follow your doctor's instructions as much as possible, and lift and bend properly. I did not bend for months after surgery...I used a gripper thing to pick things up, etc. Good luck and we can talk whenever you want to about recovery. I have kept a log since day one!

  • I've been off work 2 yrs in October. I thought id be back to work after 6 weeks. I went from a failed laminectomy/disectomy of L-4/L-5. To a non fusion and broken hardware. Til today my redo of my fusion. In more pain now than after the first fusion. The sciatic pain and numbness is constant. I dont think you can really predict what the healing time is its been six months since my last surgery and im still on a walker. Still in pain.
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