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Some common aches and pains after lumber surgery

BruceBBruce Posts: 516
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:24 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Many of us have felt new aches and pains after lumber surgery, that were never there before surgery, and which have left some of us thinking whether our surgery has failed or not and whether we will live with this pain from here on.

I am not a doctor, but I am a lumber surgery patient and I suffered from all the aches and pains after surgery (listed below) which certainly led me to believe in the early days that my surgery was a waste of time, leaving me worse off. Happily all these aches and pains resolved over time and I now live a pain-free life.

In my almost 2 years on this spine-health forum I see new lumber surgery patients experiencing similar pains as I did so it leads me to believe that there is a common set of symptoms that lumbar surgery patients might experience in the first weeks or months after surgery. Please, however, always refer to your doctor/surgeon, if you are worried about any new pain or are in any way unhappy with how your recovery is progressing

The aches and pains which I have noticed as reasonably common in lumbar surgery patients on this site, after surgeries are:

1. Sciatic leg pain (or increased sciatic leg pain) for a period of time – usually explained as being caused by the nerve roots which exit between the lumbar vertebrae and make up the sciatic nerves being irritated/inflamed during surgery. Nerves take a very long time to heal/repair.

2. Sacro-iliac joint (SIJ) pain – on one or both sides. This is the joint between the tailbone and the hip bone and it was explained to me that fusing the lumbar spine changes the geometry of the lumbar spine somewhat, coupled with the fusing of one or more lumber joints, puts additional or new stress on the SIJ joints. http://www.hughston.com/hha/a.sacjnt.htm

3. Thoracic spine pain – this maybe is not quite so common but does appear to have cropped up from time to time and certainly I suffered it for quite some time. Again, I believe that it is due to the change in geometry of the spine due to lumbar fusion and a consequent change in posture.

In my case, the sciatic leg pain cured itself over time and I was able to manage the pain in the first month with nerve pain medication. My SIJ and thoracic pain was managed and cured by my physical therapist.

The purpose of this post is to let new lumbar surgery patients know that the pain that they are feeling after surgery might not be as a result of a failed surgery and might simply be ‘normal’ pains following that type of surgery. My comments above are based on anecdotal observations only and as I stressed earlier, always refer to your doctor/surgeon, if you are worried about any new pain or are in any way unhappy with how your recovery is progressing.
Keep positive!


...an old timer here and ex-moderator



  • Thanks for this Bruce, hopefully it will make some of the newer forum members realise that what they are going through is quite normal.
    Blessings Sara O:)
  • I'd like to add

    4. Cervical spine pain - For whatever reason, whether it be emotional stress or physical stress via compensation, my neck and shoulders would get extremely tight and cause tension headaches

    5. Knee pain - since I was working so hard to bend at the knees and not the waist, my knees took abuse they weren't used to and would ache

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  • C, yes that's a good one too. Certainly for me too, with the no bending rule my knees take a pounding and would ache too, even after doing one of my lumbar core strengthening exercises which involved squats.
    Keep positive!


    ...an old timer here and ex-moderator

  • Thanks Bruce, I have it all including the cervical and knee pain. Can you tell me what types of treatments your PT did to help alleviate your SI joint pain. That is by biggest issue right now. It actually started after my first PT session, and continues. I am doing piriformis stretches, icing, heating. Any ideas? Thanks, Cali-Sue
  • Cali-Sue said:
    Thanks Bruce, I have it all including the cervical and knee pain. Can you tell me what types of treatments your PT did to help alleviate your SI joint pain. That is by biggest issue right now. It actually started after my first PT session, and continues. I am doing piriformis stretches, icing, heating. Any ideas? Thanks, Cali-Sue
    Well, my SI problem was at about 4 months post fusion surgery which puts it at about 18 months ago. My PT was treating me for all sorts of aches and pains at the time - some directly related to my surgery and some not related. I have severely pronated feet (flat feet) and at the time a right knee that was causing a lot of pain too - my point being I was getting a lot of therapy and doing a lot of different stretching exercises and cannot specifically remember now the exact ones for each! For my SIJs, I do remember lying flat on my back while she moved my pelvis and upper leg around. It was relatively gentle, just to start some movement again.

    The primary exercise my PT got me doing to get the SIJs working again were pelvic rocking (pelvic tilt) exercises – lying flat on my back and doing 20 pelvic rocks, 2 -3 times a day.

    I was doing other stretching exercises that I think also helped the SI joints, such as leg cross exercises and psoas major muscle stretches.
    Keep positive!


    ...an old timer here and ex-moderator

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  • Thanks Bruce, I had SI pain immediately post-op, but it went away around 3-4 weeks, everything was good except for back tightness at op site. Then I started PT at 9 weeks. They have me doing pelvic tilts, bridges, some ab stuff, bike, leg press.... so who knows what it was but that first night my SI joints flared up and haven't stopped since. Funny it sounds like the exercises you did for it are the ones that brought mine on. It really feels like inflammation to me, yet no NSAIDS allowed, so what to do. Guess I just got to give it more time. Thanks again, Sue
  • I'm having a 3-level lumbar fusion in a month, so this is good information to have. I know it is disheartening to have more pain after surgery, but you're right, things usually do resolve. Nerve pain seems to take forever to heal.


    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • I have also found that all the squatting and bending from hip joints (instead of back) to pick things up causes my hip joints to be really tight and sore some nights. It is getting better as time goes on but was really achy at about 8 weeks.
  • Bruce, I cannot thank you enough for your post! The post-fusion "confusion" we go thru....! And the worries about "failed back" etc. when most of the fall-out could simply be our bodies' responses to the tremendous assault we were subjected to. You made it very clear, as did my NX on Wed, that MOST "annoyances" are just part of the healing process, but ALWAYS stay in contact w/ your doc, should things get worse, or SUDDENLY increase, etc. Prudent advice. And right-on target, with what to expect. I also "have it all" and brought these things to my NS attention @ my 9-month x-ray/check-up last Wed. I'm fusing just fine, lots of new bone, everything looks good, nothing has shifted or moved or is out of place, all the screws, rods etc just where they should be ---BUT---as you listed, I have: new sciatic pain, from the damage to the L4/5 nerve root during surgery (normal) SIJ problems due to the changed geometry (normal) throactic pain now, into the upper back & shoulders & my neck, including an annoying "snapping" sound when I turn my head (normal, b/c the other levels are now adjusting to the change in mechanics) leg fasciulations --involuntary muscles spasms in my legs---due to the nerves firing signals randomly (normal) and some sensation loss in the perinium area yet (normal, as he opened from L3-S1 for a wide exposure, due to my priors. Everything he said corroborated w/ what you wrote! I felt so much better after my appt on Wed, knowing that all these little (but very annoying) things are to be expected, esp if one has had priors (I had 2) and/or was used to being flexible/active/almost hypermobile, as I also was. My NS assured me that nothing is amiss, that I'm doing fine, was impressed that I'm teaching again F/T & getting more social active again...so sometime "fresh eyes" and a pat on the back for being a survivor does wonders!

    Thank you again! I am so glad you are pain-free now, after almost 2 years. My NS also said that: to figure the recovery time for 2 years, not the "6-9 months" they tell you--he said that timeline is just the BEGINNING...it takes about 24 months to truly find out where you end up...and I want the best, of course, but would setttle for a little less of the above annoyances and more flexibility.

    Time will tell! And time is the Great Healer. And we are all so impatient, understandably so. But it gets better, or gets "different" and we plough thru.

    Blessings to everyone tonight! If your are about to embark on this journey, fear not. And if you are about 1/3 way thru the recovery, keep plugging away! And if you have come out of the tunnel & are now sailing along, my ice's pack's off to you! :)

    Bruce, thanks again! You helped more than you'll ever know~!

  • I remember at about 9 months still doubting whether I would 'come right' and voicing this to my surgeon. He told me that he would only ever consider my surgery a failure if i still had significant pain after 18 - 24 months. In other words he believes that before this, it is too early to consider fusion surgery a failure and to do so without hard evidence could be jumping to conclusions - I believe he is right.
    Keep positive!


    ...an old timer here and ex-moderator

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