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Partly Fused

I’m 18 months post fusion L4/5 S1.  Recently had both MRI and CT; neither showed the area very well.  After seeing my surgeon, he concludes I look fused at the 4/5 but probably not at S1.  He is sending me for epidural shots because he cannot explain the really bad pain both above and below my fusion.  My hips and left leg are also affected.  I’ve had numbness in my left buttock and thigh since surgery; apparently that will not go away.  I spent a lot of time in physical therapy but managed to hurt my knee and both hands after the most recent visits (almost a year ago).  I still walk everyday but feel myself “tightening” up.  Any stretching or other exercise leaves the pain twice as bad the next day.

At 72, I’m not looking for more surgery based on this poor outcome.  I might mention I have fibromyalgia and was warned fibro people don’t always have the best outcome. 

What happens when a fusion doesn’t completely take?  It won’t grow after all this time, will it?  And No, I did not take NSAIDS and have never smoked.



  • Hi Bitzicat

    Really sorry to hear this. Only your surgeon can answer your questions about fusion growth.

    You mention you do not want further surgery and I am guessing you have discussed this with your surgeon.  Metalwork can hold things together but it is best you discuss about non fusion and how long that metalwork will do the work of your missing disc.  They will then be able to give you information to help you with future decisions.

    I have been left with further numbness after my fusion, right across the top of both cheeks and I think that is here to stay.  My warped humour has helped deal with that as in 'if I can't feel them, maybe the Lyrica didn't add weight in that area'!

    It is hard to deal with post surgery issues we weren't expecting and I hope your consultant is able to help with deal with the non-fusion part.

    Please keep us updated.




    L5/S1 herniation Apr 2013
    nerve root injections Oct 2013
    L5/S1 discectomy Jan 2014
    L5/S1 nerve roo &, facet joint injections & edpidural Jan 2015
    L5/S1 revised discectomy, L4/L5 discectomy & Wallis Inswing Stabilisation L4/L5 May 1st 2015
    L4-S1 TLIF with decompression June 2017
  • hvillshhvills Suzhou, ChinaPosts: 971


    Like you I also had a failed fusion at L5-S1 while the L5-L4 fusion was fine.  At 18 months one of the screws at the L5-S1 level broke and the surgeon had to go in and completely redo the L5-S1 fusion with new hardware because the bone growth at L5-S1 was zero. Now 3 years later I'm fully fused at L5-S1 but suffer from numbness across the bottom of my right foot due to nerve damage... which the doctor says I will just have to live with for the rest of my life (I'm 65).   I swim 800 meters everyday which helps a lot and I also try and walk daily but like you after about 5-10 minutes my lower back muscles progressively knot up and it becomes unbearable.  Your doctor can advise you best but I don't think your back will be stable longterm without a redo surgery of some kind.  The screws used in fusion are not designed to hold your spine in place longterm... only until the bones fuse... much longer than that and the chances of the screws breaking (like mine) goes up a lot.  Redo surgery sucks but sometimes there is no choice... talk to your doctor and see what he/she advises for the longterm. 

    Harry - 65 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
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  • BitzicatBBitzicat PhoenixPosts: 74

    A few weeks ago I saw a neurosurgeon who sent me for an EMG and CT Myleogram.  I am not fused at L5/S1.  Also one of the screws is loose.  I am still totally numb on left side due to nerve compression.  I’ve read a second fusion is even harder to recover from than the first, but I don’t understand why,  since everything is already opened up?  For the original surgery, I was in excellent physical condition having been in physical therapy for over a year, plus walking everyday.  Now, not so much...

    I have only read my reports and am waiting for the final verdict from the doctor; but I think I know what he will say.  So many people on here have five and six surgeries, etc. A second surgery seems to start the spiral.  Are there other options, can you just live with it the way it is?  Is there any chance it will eventually fuse; even after two years?  

  • hvillshhvills Suzhou, ChinaPosts: 971


    I've never heard of someone fusing after 2 years... but your surgeon will explain your options.  If you do have a redo surgery ask your surgeon about the different surgical procedure options... a lot of the newer procedures can reduce the invasiveness and thus help with recovery. I know in my case after my redo surgery the recovery was tough... I'm not sure why... but now 3 years later I'm solidly fused at the L5-S1 level. 

    To help avoid the surgery spiral you mention I'm MUCH more attentive to how I treat my back now days.  Gone are the days of abusing my back without thinking.    I no longer lift things with my back... if I can't lift it with arm strength only... I stop and get help.  I swim 30 minutes every day without fail... the swimming is super helpful for rebuilding and maintaining my back muscle strength... without putting stresses on my spine.  Your back muscles take a big hit in fusion surgery and working hard to get them and your core strength back is a key part of a sustained recovery.  

    I also take a weekly dosage of Fosamax in addition to a daily dosage of Vitamin D to help offset the effects of my osteoporosis and help with ensuring a solid fusion.  You might want to discuss with your surgeon if this makes sense for you as well.  At your age it's quite likely your bones, like mine may have some reduced density... which might have been a contributor to your failed fusion.  Your doctor  can easily gauge this with a bone density scan test.

    Simply put... being kind to your back every day is the best thing you can do to help avoid the surgery spiral. 

    Harry - 65 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
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