Rafael Rodriguez swam, biked, and ran over 15 miles of winding terrain in Auburn, California. For the fitness enthusiast, placing 50th overall and 7th in his age group as a midpoint check-in at the prestigious Auburn Triathlon was an accomplishment in and of itself. But it was made even more remarkable because he did it after spinal fusion surgery.

Rafael Rodriguez’s participation in the Auburn Triathalon celebrated the 5th anniversary of his successful spinal fusion. See Spine Fusion Patient Is Thankful for New Life after Surgery

Diagnosed with spondylolisthesis

For a half decade, Rodriguez pushed through intermittent pain in his hip, lower back, and upper buttocks. He hung on to his active lifestyle with the aid of ibuprofen, but eventually the pain debilitated his athletic abilities, and he searched for a lasting solution.

Rodriguez visited a spine surgeon who diagnosed him with spondylolisthesis, a herniated disc, and a fractured vertebra. Spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebra slips forward over the one directly below due to a fracture or other spinal instability. To treat these conditions, Rodriguez’s doctor recommended that he undergo a discectomy and interbody fusion with a titanium implant.

Watch: Interbody Spine Fusion Surgery Video

Spinal fusion surgery enabled return to active lifestyle

Rodriguez’s surgery was a success, permitting him relief from the pain that once radiated throughout his back, buttocks, and hips.

Within 3 days after surgery, Rodriguez was walking around the hospital. This is common for a patient following a successful fusion, who is typically hospitalized for 1 to 5 days. Light activity, such as getting out of bed and walking around shortly after surgery, is encouraged to limit the chances of complications.

See Hospital Care After Spinal Fusion Surgery (2 to 4 Days)

After a few weeks, Rodriguez was off his regular pain medication and running several minutes at a time. Exercises, such as core strengthening and light conditioning, are commonly introduced to patients between 6 and 12 weeks after fusion surgery to help them regain mobility and independence.

See Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery: 1 to 3 Months After

“It is far more difficult to bounce back from spine fusion, or any surgery for that matter, when your body has been stagnant,” Rodriguez says. “You must focus on staying the course, by knowing your body and following the regimen provided by your physical therapist or doctor.”

Normal activities are often resumed by patients between 3 to 6 months after surgery, when the spinal fusion is set. By this point in his recovery, Rodriguez was running 5k races again. The fusion surgery helped him return to his everyday, active lifestyle, and he continued to improve his strength and endurance.

See Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery: 3 Months and After

Life after spinal fusion surgery

In June, Rodriguez participated in the Auburn Triathlon to celebrate the 5th anniversary of his successful spinal fusion.

Rodriguez wore the Spine-health logo on his triathlon jersey, thanking Spine-health for educating him and millions of people on conditions, treatment options, and expectations for recovery.

“Upon my diagnosis, I performed extensive research on different types of spine fusions, spondylolisthesis, herniated discs, sciatica pain, you name it,” the triathlete recalls. “All roads led to Spine-health.”

We are glad to hear that Spine-health — in combination with his surgery, titanium implant, and medical team — helped Rodriguez get back to doing what he enjoys most in life.

Learn more:

Spondylolisthesis Treatment

Types of Spinal Fusion