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Spine Fusion surgery and work

Sparky123SSparky123 Posts: 133
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:23 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi, I am new here (today). Its great that there is a forum like this for people to get info/advice. One thing I have not seen a lot of is people mentioning what kind of job they have with their back problems, so here is what I'm going through. I'm a 38 year old male and I have bulging discs at L4/L5 and L5/L1 with severe pain mostly in my back and sometimes in my left leg . I work at a Public Works in the Chicago area and my job consits of a good deal of heavy lifting. I have been on and off work for about two months now and I have tried just about everything from two epidurals (maybe having a 3rd next Tuesday), chiropractor, and PT but nothing has worked. The only thing I havent tried is Acupuncture, but I really have not looked into it much. I have seen two surgeons, a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon. The neurosurgeon said he could do two different surgeries, a Microdiscectomy for my leg pain or a Fusion for both. I guess I was leaning toward the fusion surgery until I talked to the orthopedic surgeon which I saw today. The first thing out of the orthosurgeons mouth was "So, what else are you going to do with your life? Your are not going to be able to do what you're doing now after fusion surgery." When I heard that, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The neurosurgeon pretty much said the same thing, which is a big bummer. One thing that bugs me is I have talked to alot of people about this and most of them have said their surgery has worked great, but they don't have a physical job like I do (one did, he is a plumber).

I guess my main concerns is if I get the fusion surgery is will I even be able to go back to a normal work load and will it get rid of most of my pain? What are the percentages of the surgery working and getting rid of my pain?

Does anyone out there have any stories of getting fusion surgery and still not being able to work because of ongoing pain or not having as good of mobility to do your job right.

Thanks in advance for anyones advice and stories!



  • Hi Mark and welcome to spine-health.com There is a ton of good information available on this site and we have a great, caring community here on the forums. Please feel free to ask questions, support others or just vent if you feel the need to.

    Unfortunately, none of us regularly posting on these forums are doctors so we cant answer your question (about heavy lifting) definitively. However, you have done the right thing by seeing two spine specialists and if they both feel that you could not return to lifting the kind of weights you have been, after a fusion then that really says it.

    The majority of fusion surgery patients go on to live a largely pain-free life, as I am doing now. On this site you do see a lot of people who are in ongoing pain but that is the nature of this site. Patients usually move on from here and get on with their lives when they are better.

    I have seen many a fusion patient return to an active lifestyle (e.g. golf, soccer (football), bowling, mountain biking, surfing) so fusion surgery does not have to spell the end of an active life style. But, it would likely end lifting 100lb bags of cement or similar heavy lifting activities.

    All the best and keep us posted with your progress... Bruce

    Keep positive!


    ...an old timer here and ex-moderator

  • Hi Mark, Welcome to SH. This is great site full of information and support. There are many ongoing lumbar fusion related threads here in the back/neck surgery topic. Also read the good news section for some positive outcomes. I am 7 weeks out from fusion L4-5 and I am planning to return to my job as a RN working 12 hour shifts in a hospital with my surgeons approval. He seems to think it won't be a problem, and quoted me an 80% success rate for my surgery. Every case is very individual and of course you have to go by your surgeons recommendations. I have considered that bedside nursing may not work out for me long term with my back hx, but I am going to give it a go. Fortunately there are other options for nurses if I am not able to continue. Did the surgeons think you would be able to continue your job if you only had the discectomy? Deciding on spine surgery is a very difficult decision and I wish you luck with it. The best thing you can do is do tons of research yourself so you can make an informed decision. Take care, Sue
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  • I take it you are an electrician with a name like Sparky.

    I suppose the question here is more are you prepared to continue to put your back at risk or are you prepared to look at something else. I know that is a big change and a big challenge just to think about it.

    I was massage therapist when I injured my back (work injury) but will never be able to go back to that as there was so much constant bending and the risk of woozy patients falling on me when getting up from the table. (happens a lot)carrying massage tables etc.
    As much as I loved that job and studied for 3 years etc it is not worth risking my back over. I only have one and already i have had more surgery then I would ever want.

    This could be a really good opportunity for you to make some changes, which doesn't mean you have to leave the field, just what you are currently doing- (pun intended) :))(

    eg you may be able to become a supervisor, a trainer or even an inspector. Yes these options may require more study etc but if your injury is work realted they may help you with that too.
    I am not saying this to scare you but if you are having problems now do you really want to be doing this when you are 58? Or is this a blessing in discuise that can help you move forward in a different direction.
    Having said that it may be quite possible for you to return to work with no problems but it wont hurt to do some homework and look at other options.

    I hope things work out for you and plesae keep us posted.

    Blessings Sara O:)
  • Hiya Mark,
    Welcome to Spine Health >:D< .There are lots of people on here who are in the same situation as yourself ;) . I used to work in mental health, but 2 years ago i was told to give up my job :( .This is what happened , i work 14 days straight through there were alot of double shifts and what they called long days (13 hours a day).I was shattered. I had a day off it was a lovely day so i though i would do some gardening, i was carrying a garden slab and felt something click in my back, and oh boy the pain was tremendous #:S . So my daughter and friend had to carry me in to the house and put me on the bed. She called my doctor he came and said thats it now , i want you to stop working, he said i shouldnt have been working and was doing far to much( i didnt see it that way as i loved my work). That was over 2 years ago, i am now with PM and they said i may not ever work again. I cant sit for to long, or stand, or walk or lye down. I dont know what the near future holds for me, but they have told me what my long term prognosis is :jawdrop: Your back is weak now so you have to be real careful.PM me any time if you want to vent . >:D<

    Angie x
  • Hello and welcome! I am in the same situation as you; I had my surgery, but will be having a long talk with my surgeon on Friday regarding work. I am a special education teacher of children with autism. I was injured at work and the job is very physical; lifting, restraining and unexpected head-buts, hitting etc. I do love my job....and want to return....but I don't want to get hurt again. One surgery is enough for me. I am hoping my principal "works with me" like she said she was going to. But at this point, the class assigned to me is a difficult one.

    I understand what you are going through and while I don't have any answers for you, completely understand!

    Is there some way you can return to work in a less physical position? I know that is easier said than done,though :)
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  • Hey and WELCOME!!!
    Your right this is awesome place filled w/ info either by patients ourselfs (personal) plusa alot of great articles. My drs office has even heard about this site. Well ok I had alot to do with that one!! :D

    Alot of ppl are right there is no answer for if/when/what/ your limitations will be. Most not all do not know until they are fully recovered which can take a long time.

    Some of my family members are in public works. I would imagine there would easier things for you to do as in the truck etc?? Just throwing guesses out there.

    Also would depend on the degree of your injury, how the surgery goes and how well you recover.
    I will never forget this guy that came on the site last year just for a little bit and he was out having dinner etc a week later. Vertually (spelling) pain free.

    With micro's there is always a chance of re hernation as you have read on here of others surgeries. With fusions there is a bunch of things to consider.

    So basically Bruce said it you will not know.
    One of my good friends after a year is totally fused now and going back to the gym for workouts. So depends on your recovery process etc.

    YOu hang in there do all your homework. I imagine your a guy with a wealth of trade knowledge. So if things were not to work out I imagine there would be other things that you could do.

    I personally do not work do to a bunch of other health issues not just my back. But AM GOING TO DO ONLINE COURSES for a medical assistant. YIPPPPEEE. Do not know when I will be done or when I will be able to use it, but at least I will have it behind me.

    Ok enough rambling LOL Good luck, do your homework on both different procedures. Then go from there.

    Take Care
    Terri ;)
  • I was wondering, what's "heavy lifting" on your job? 40 pounds, 75 pounds? Like Bruce said, if you do the fusion , you won't be throwing around 100 pound sacks of anything, but you may be able to do 40-50 pounds??? I just accepted a job offer in industrial sales, on the application they asked if there was any reason I could not lift 1oo pounds, I told them I was unable to lift 100 pounds.....and I got the job anyway. I had a 2 level fusion in May this year,and am starting to fuse now. I lift 40 pounds ( not consistently) and although I still have pain ....I don't believe I am damaging myself ....so I guess...it's an individual thing. I am now being treated for SJD, pain is just going to be a part of life I think, for me. I told my Dr if my fusion was %50 successful I would be happy, he said that was a reasonable expectation. So , like everybody is telling you, do LOTS of research,and ask questions ( I should have asked many more) Hope it goes well for you....Sagehen
  • Thank you all for all your comments and stories. =D>
    One of the worst things about this injury is that I have not been able to do much with my three kids (10,7,2 1/2). This morning was a bad morning, I almost lost it in front of my kids. My youngest one (boy) came up to me and wanted to get picked up, so my natural reaction was to bend down.....big mistake! I froze in that position with a bad shooting pain. The first thing out of my boys mouth was "You back hurt Daddy? That's OK." He then rubbed my back and walked away. After that, who wouldn't cry like a baby, lucky I was right by the bathroom and was able to shuffle in and close the door. After something like that happens, I really think to myself "Maybe I should just get this surgery as soon as possible". My life stinks right now because of this pain, so maybe the surgery will get me on a faster path to a somewhat normal life.
  • Sorry for your back pain. Sucks :( I might be young, but I do a lot, lot, LOT of research, and I am one of those people that creates lists of questions to bring to the doctor. Lol. I really think if you're going to go the surgery route, you should try the Microdiscectomy first. If your nerve is being compressed, that should definitely be freed, but I wouldn't jump right into a fusion. My Neurosurgeon's advice was to try the MicroD, and once the leg pain is healing, I could start working on Aquatic Physical therapy to strengthen my back. That may help you. Not so much heavy lifting, but multiple reps of non-straining yet strengthening exercises. Fusions are not reversible, so you would probably be better off exhausting EVERY option first. If you have the option of trying a smaller surgery first, that would probably be the best thing for you to start with. If it doesn't work, you can always do the fusion... But if it DOES work, then you've saved yourself from the recovery of a major surgery, you've saved yourself from any extra stress on the surrounding discs, had you decided on a fusion, and also the time.... When there are options, it is generally better to start at the bottom and work your way up.

    I hope you find something that works for you!!
  • Thanks Lo for your advice. Will Microdiscectomy even work for me since most of my pain is in my lower back, not my leg? Both doctors asked me where most of my pain was and they both said Microdiscectomy wouldn't do much, if anything, for my back pain, just my leg pain. At this moment My pain is about 95% back, 5% leg.
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