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Returning to work post-op, but pain persists

watchyurbackwwatchyurback Posts: 73
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:32 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Just wondering if anyone can relate their experience with returning to work after spine surgery. I'm scheduled to return to my desk job on Monday, part-time for the first two weeks then up to 100 percent. It's been five months since my second surgery: L4-S1 posterior instrumentation/laminectomy/foraminotomy following ALIF at same level in October. Problem is I keep having very painful flare-ups, and as soon as I think I'm feeling better, bam, I'm out again. It's a gnawing, persistent, debilitating pain at and above the surgical site.
I've had physical therapy since March and have built up my core strength, but the pain is still bad.
I'm worried that my back won't hold up at work -- even though it's a desk job, the sitting really kills me (it was the main reason for my back pain to begin with). The nurse practioner at my surgeon's office says I should go back to work to "condition" my body. I have not had a chance to speak to my surgeon about my concerns because he is always in surgery.
Any thoughts, wonderments?
Thanks much. :S :S


  • I know exactly how you feel! I had not been released, but was actually looking for work since getting denied SSDI, and waiting on hearing. I would fill out applications online when I had a good day, then bam, the next day I was down for the count. It was scary even thinking about starting a new job (I was self employed but lost my clients from a year of inactivity). Every time I filled out an application or sent my resume in, I would ask myself "what happens when I'm working hard, and I suddenly need to sit or stand or walk or lie down? (and we know the need I'm talking about, it can't be ignored)
    Well, now I have more backing from my NS to apply for SSDI, so I'm going to live off my son for a bit longer, and apply again.

    Going back to work can be nerve-wracking without the sudden flair ups, and pain that goes with it, and the needs of all who are recovering (or not recovering well, as the case may be.) from major surgery. Do you have a good rapor with your employer? Have you spoken to him/her (if you feel you can) about your worries? Do you believe they will cut you slack for a bit? You should definitely bring up your worries to your doctor, and hopefully a few people here can give you support as well.

    I wish you the best of luck, and I truly pray your pain diminishes at least some each day! >:D<
  • Hi, I too have a deskjob programming and although I can get up and walk and stretch at times, it's been hard. I sit too long and it aches around my surgery site. I keep a heating pad and a cold pack for whichever works at the moment and also those thermapads that warm up and stick to you in my desk and other products like biofreeze and icyhot. Geez, I feel and smell like my grandma and I'm 44 years old. I'm 6 months postop from a revision PLIF L3 - L5 with hardware. I have arthritis in my knees and back so I guess it's just how it's going to be. I thank God sometimes that I do have a sitdown job since I couldn't perform a physical job everyday..but then it has it's down points.

    I can tell you that it does get some better after my muscles seemed to orient back to sitting for long periods...I think about 2 months or so back to work it let off some. My shoulders and upper back and neck started in then and I've had double trouble working. I'm now 6 days postop from ACDF on C5/6 with bone spurs removed. I'll be off probably another 3 or 4 weeks and have to go through that again. I'm a supervisor with a stressful project and I know when I have more problems and more of my team comes in for help, I have more pain. I feel like a prisioner sometimes and just have to endure it until the days end. It sucks and it's not fair. Then, the mental side, you watch all of them take vacation and you have none to take. They talk about shopping and doing fun things and you can't. It's truly torture sometimes. I have a hard time being positive (if you can't tell) LOL.

    It does get some better and maybe for you, it will get a lot better after some more time. Try and take more breaks to walk the halls, stretch your arms and bend while walking. People laugh at me and I tell them...hey, it's what I have to do to continue working. Get a headset and listen to music. Find things to look forward to when you get off work. Take a good lunch. Treat yourself. All those de-stressing things help a little.

    Good luck and keep posting to let us know how you make out at work. I love this board and it's my lifeline. My husband doesn't want to listen to me and no one else understands except these folks.
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  • Thanks, Kat, for the feedback. I went back to work today, Monday, as scheduled, but only for four hours as prescribed by my neurosurgeon. It was painful, with gnawing, burning aching pain at the surgical site and above it. I spent half an hour after work on ice, took a nap and am still feeling like a train wreck.
    I imagine all of us here have similar back-to-work experiences. There's the happiness at returning to a productive life, earning a living and the prospect of promotions, the social interactions, the excitement that beats lying in bed in pain. But at the same time it's tough because our bosses and colleagues don't have a clue what we're going through and have been through (unless, on the off chance, they've had serious back problems themselves).
    My boss was surprised when I told him I was still in pain, five months out from surgery. He seemed to think my two surgeries were something akin to a root canal, or maybe a wisdom-tooth removal -- something that hurts for a while and then you just get over it.
    Not so with post-op back pain.
    Focusing on work, which our managers expect, is so hard when we're in pain.
    I'm glad you suggested talking to my boss about my pain. I have a pretty good rapport with him and it's important that he not overestimate what I'm able to do.
    Thanks so much for your comments. I wish you the best.
  • Well, you do have one thing to be proud of for the day, you made it through! <:P It's hard, but for many of us, one day at a time (and sometimes one minute at a time), is all we can ask of ourselves. #:S Then we can feel good about something while we suffer =)) <br />
  • from a fusion at L5 S1, I had it January 5,2009. I have been a medical assistant in a very busy office for 15 years and it is a very physically demanding job that I love.....I went back to work April 30th part time and barley made it through the first 2 days I was devestated because this is what I love to do and I realized I might not be able to do it anymore..since then I have still stayed part time and now do desk work :-( I do some medical assisting when I feel i'm having a good day but I will never be able to return to it full time and I was going to look into nursing school until all my back issues started now I feel so hopless like I will never function or work normally again...So I understand how you feel but like the other posters before me we just need to take it one day and sometimes one minute at a time and hope to get some part of our old selves back.....
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  • I am so glad there is a thread like this. My fusion was Jan 20th and I am under increasing pressure to get back to work. Like others here, my work seem to think that now that I have had the operation I am "all fixed" I am dreading going back to work as I drive around a lot and at the moment driving is akin to torture. Then it's walking around all day and bending over desks to help my students. None of which is condusive to post surgery recovery. I am still on the same level of Fentanyl as I was prior to the surgery and feel no pain relief so far after the fusion. The physio tells me that as I was such a mess prior to the op that I shouldn't expect to bounce back quickly.

    Congratulations for making it through your first day back to work. It is a real achievement as I am sure that you were scared when you went to work this morning. Keep us updated as to how you get on and good luck!!
  • Well, now that I've read all your posts, I pose the question: are you glad you had the surgery? Or is your pain worse now than before? Do you expect it to improve over time?
    I had debilitating and worsening back pain for years prior to my surgery and had gone through years of physical therapy, all to no avail. But now, six months post-op, my pain is slightly worse than before. I only take Tylenol. My surgeon says I should change my physical therapy routine, do more aerobic exercise, more walking, Pilates (up to now the focus has been on core strengthening). I go through periods of tremendous frustration. My doctor says give it a year or more before deciding whether surgery was a mistake.
    Meanwhile, work is OK, but I find that anything more than four hours per day leaves me feeling like a train wreck. I'm supposed to go to 100 percent next week, but my surgeon has given me extra time for part-time restriction if needed. My job involves me sitting at a desk in a constant state of readiness (kind of like an air traffic controller). The tension only aggravates my pain.
    Meanwhile, I have the feeling my boss still thinks it's all in my head (although he's been quite kind overall). Before my surgery he kept bugging me to read Sarno's outdated and silly "Mind over Back," which says almost all back pain is the result of stress caused by repressed anger at one's father. I won't even address such nonsense here.
    But it shows you how society, and importantly our bosses, is suspicious of people reporting back pain. They think it's a moral failing, a mental disorder.
    I had to take today off because of unusually bad pain. Will try to go back to work tomorrow. I enjoy being back in "society," not wallowing alone at home in pain, but it's taken a toll, for sure.
    Please let me know how you all are doing with your back to work experiences, expectations, worries etc.

  • What kind of surgery did you have?
  • Hi Rose-Eykis,
    I had an ALIF with posterior fixation at L4-L5-S1. The anterior surgery was in October and the instrumentation in January. So I'm seven months out from my last surgery.
    An update: After struggling at work for four hours a day I now have to go back on disability. My bosses, very understanding but also very realistic about the demands of the job, want me there full-time. In any case, I am in too much pain to make it for even four hours a day. My neurosurgeon has prescribed a much more aggressive physical therapy program involving more aerobics, walking, Pilates etc. He says I'm taking longer than usual to heal and that my back muscles are weak and need strengthening and aerobic profusion to get better.
    I'm a bit disappointed, as you can imagine. Was really looking forward to resuming work.
    I think the surgical incision really injured my back muscles. It's taking a long time for them to heal.
    How are you coming along?
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