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Hi all, new guy w/lots of ???, sorry for long post

OpieOOpie Posts: 8
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:40 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Been lurking for a while and recently joined. Thank you all for a great wealth of information. I enjoy reading the posts and have learned quite a bit.

My somewhat quick history:
Have had 3 spine surgeries since '96 (Lam's and Micro-D's from L4-S1), numerous injections (some lasting 6+ months, some days), and now my surgeon is recommending a TLIF of L5/S1, possibly also L4/5, depending on what he finds. Surgery would be last of Jan/early Feb. Been having bad sciatica/numbness in left leg. Can't stand/walk long, hard to get comfortable, etc. Latest MRI shows slight bulging at L1/2, progressing to moderately severe at L4/5, and severe at L5/S1.

My questions (some sound selfish/petty but this forum has answered the main ones already):

1. I'm aware of how major of surgery this is. I know recovery is long and varies by individuals. I also know that I will most likely be changing/adjusting jobs to something less physical. My concern is how long until I can play golf and get into the boat and go fishing? Now hear me out, yeah, just hobbies/activities, but after all that has been going on and the time of recovery, I will need the boost of spirit to engage in these things that I have doing since I was about 7 (now 46). Golf--if by mid summer, OK. Fishing, have an annual trip(16yrs now) in early May that I set up for 12 guys. On the plus side, I have been a quick healer from previous operations despite being very bullheaded (layed sod 2 days after hernia surgery against my wonderful wife's better advice).

2. Smoking? Cigars. Have been enjoying them for about 25 years. Not many, but 1-2 a week. Sure, none is better than some, but how bad will it affect the fusion?

3. What would you say is the average time until a person is able to ride in a car with some comfort? I have a big fundraiser to attend in mid-March. My wife is making an outdoor-themed quilt to be raffled off and it is a men-only night, so she can't fill in for me. Don't get me wrong gals, this is a church activity for our Mens Ministry. The women have their own one at a different time.

4. Walking is important, as has been said "Motion is the Lotion", but it is winter in Minnesota and will be a while before I can get outside. Suggestions? We do have a treadmill, but come on, boring!!!

5. Stairs?? How hard right after surgery?? We live in a split-level and have to deal with stairs the moment I get home. Once on a chosen level, I can stay there for some time.

Enough for now. Again, thanks to everyone for a great forum.



  • Welcome Dean! Glad you've been finding advice here.

    First - have you had a discogram? It was instrumental in determining what levels I needed fused.

    From my humble perspective here is what it was like for me:

    I don't play golf, but I just might be able to gently work into it by now - at 18 mo. At the very least you need to wait until you are fused. That's minimum 6 mo to a year. Fishing - well it depends on your type of fishing - deep sea, stream or fly? Deep sea, yikes ,might be tough. Fly - watch your back mechanics as you let loose. Stream, well, that's pretty easy depending on the size of fish you're going after.

    Smoking - check with the dr., but from what I understand nicotine slows down your fusion and can possibly lead to no fusion, do you really want to prolong your down time?

    Riding in a car - At 18 mo. I still have a hard time after about 20-30 minutes and am really aching by 45. But - all you need to do is get out and walk for a bit. Briofreeze is wonderful too.

    Stairs - I was doing them the day I got home from the hospital. You just want to make sure you have great footing and DO NOT FALL. They will teach you how to do stairs before you are released from the hopsital too. Walking in Minn. - do you have a local gym you can get to? Weigh the risk of a car accident while in route vs. the boringness of doing it at home. Do you have a Wii Fit or any videos to make the treadmill more interesting? Download some Ipod tunes and try to enjoy it maybe.

    Hope that helps :)


  • SpineAZSpineAZ WiscPosts: 1,084
    Welcome. I am probably having a lateral lumbar fusion in February (waiting on insurance approval). I've been out of work since May and on STD and then LTD (short term and long term disability provided by my employer). I too will be likley changing jobs as my job required air and car travel and that's not likely to be comfortable and a good idea in the long run.

    As for your questions:

    1. Golf involves intense spinal twisting so it could be 12-18 months as you'd likely have to wait for the fusion to be complete. If the surgeon does the fusion but you have movement in that joint of the spine during recovery it can cause the fusion to not occur and that's not something you want to have happen. But I'm not a golfer so maybe others will stop by with more specific experience. Fishing may be sooner but it depends if you are talking simple boat fishing or large fishing (i.e. deep sea with larger catches). With many catches anglers bend back a bit to reel in the catch and that's also something that you want to avoid during immediate recovery until fusion happens and then after that be very conscious of your body mechanics so you don't jeopardize the levels adjacent to those fused. If adjacent levels get too much action and pressure they can then become compromised in the future. Make sure that others on your planned trip do all of the lifting of coolers, gear, etc and they wrangle the boat, trailer, etc.

    2. Smoking. Not sure how cigar smoking is viewed. The reason for no cigarette smoking is that it can inhibit fusion. Part of that is due to nicotine but part is due to constriction of blood vessels. This is also the reason most physicians mandate you be smoke free for a certain period of time before they'll operate. If you are told you must avoid it then it will likely be from now until you know your fusion is 100% solid.

    3. Riding in the car with comfort. I think this one all depends. If you are talking locally and ot a church event then I'd imagine you'd likely be able to get there and make sure you have a chair to use when you get there. But for a longer trip such as a recreational trip over 2 hours it could be much longer until you'd be comfortable. The big thing is "maybe". It will all depend on how you feel. {For me I'm a huge NASCAR fan and they are here in Phoenix in April. I know I will get there (30 minute ride and we take our RV) but not sure I'll be comfortable enough to sit in the stands. May just be hanging out at the RV that week. But it'll be worth it}. Driving, on the other hand, could be farther out due to medications and ability to drive so if one of the guys can pick you up that would make it better. And maybe one who is understanding and if you find you need to leave early he'll take you home or maybe your wife can then pick you up.

    4. Walking. I agree this is important. I think at first your tolerance will be in the range of a few minutes. After my neck surgery I waited until day 14 and then walked 5 minutes a day for a week. Then the next week I added 1 minute each day but stopped at any time if my neck hurt. My plan for my upcoming surgery is the same. To start slow and low on the treadmill. We have a TV in the room with our treadmill so I pick times when there is stuff on I want to watch and it makes the time fly by. Some physicians will recommend physical therapy. For me that would work well as it's a low co-pay and I hope to use their recumbent bike as well.

    5. Stairs. You should be able to handle stairs the moment you get home. They realize that for many people the bedroom is upstairs. It may be a few days, or weeks, before you are comfortable doing the stairs all the time. Make sure the PT at the hospital has you try the mini staircase they have. If your bedroom is upstairs just be sure to have a stash of snacks, etc, upstairs so if you are alone during the day you don't have to go to the kitchen. Maybe a cooler on a dresser with drinks you may like, etc. {This is where I'm lucky as our house is a ranch. And the last two times I had surgery I lived in a ranch in Wisconsin for low back surgery #1 and for surgery #2 I was sharing a house with a friend and her kids so my bedroom was downstairs as was my friends, and only her kids were upstairs so unless there was an emergency I didn't need to go up and down.

    I hate to say it but I guess I'm "lucky" in that my husband was recently laid off. So he can get me whatever I need whenever I need after the surgery.

    I hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questinos. We may be facing surgery at the same time so we can keep in touch!

    2 ACDFs, 2 PCDF, 3 LIFs; Rt TKR; Rt thumb fusion ; Lt thumb arthroplasty; Ehlers Danlos 
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  • Thanks for the quick responses. I appreciate all feedback as the thought of the fusion has me very worked up. I know that it is most likely needed, but also that there will be many changes. I am not very easy on my body and tend to overdo quite often (if I feel well enough to do something without help, chances are I will, even if I know better).

    No discogram. Has never even been brought up. Wish I would have asked about it a month ago when I had the last injection. Wow, even talking about that one is bad.....was extremely painful, far more than any of the others. Could not release my grip on the table for 5 minutes, then had to have the nurse help me walk across the hall to the room my wife was waiting in. I could not have made it on my own. The pain let off slightly after 30 minutes, then took 2 days to mostly dissappear. Surgeon (same guy for all my back issues) said as he was inserting the needle that there were "a ton" of bone spurs and the area was very tight together. Not the most encouraging things to hear as you are having a long needle shoved in your back.

    Amy and Karin,
    As far as golf goes, that will be tough. Maybe by midseason I will be well enough to at least ride in a cart with the guys on my league and share a couple of cold ones.

    The fishing is all here in MN. Walleye fishing, and unfortunately, the weight of the fish has never been an issue. All the guys who go would be more than happy to do all the heavy lifting of gear, etc, for me, it is just the matter of myself letting them do it.

    Glad to hear the stairs shouldn't be a big problem. Most of the time I can be on the upper floor, but would like to be able to get to the lower level as the treadmill (along with the Wii and the bigscreen TV) and the walk in shower I normally use are there.

    Also, good to hear that car rides, at least short ones, can happen. I have plenty of people to haul my sorry rear around (a wife I don't deserve and great friends).

    Will have to see on the cigars. I can go without for a couple of weeks before the surgery and for the months (hopefully fewer than many) after for the fusion to take. Smoking one will most likely not even cross my mind for a while after because of the pain and the meds, it will just get harder when I start feeling somewhat normal.

  • Dean, I am a very strong beleiver in the discogram! You still have time to get it done too - if you aren't going in for a few weeks.

    My NS was only going to do L4/L5. It looked the worst on the MRI. He said that in a year we would go back in and do L5/S1.

    I was not thrilled to hear about 2 surgeries spread over a years time - too much recovery time! Anyway, I was hesitant about surgery at all and so he said, well, we can do a discogram and see how things look.

    The discogram showed that my S1/L5 was the major pain generator. L4/L5 hurt, but not like the lower one. I would have had little to no relief for the whole year if my NS had only done L4/L5 like he intended.

    It's not a fun test, but hey, I'll take a few hours of high pain accompanied by a few days of being extra achy to avoid a full year of ongoing CES and sciatica!
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