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Thoracic pain following Lumbar Fusion (DDD) - 9 months on

LucyMLLucyM Posts: 20
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:50 AM in Degenerative Disc Disease
Hi all,

Just wondered if anyone can help me with similar experiences as am getting desperate again!

In May 2010 I had lumbar fusion surgery at L4, L5 & S1 due to degenerative disc disease. From May until November my lower back recovered well and signs are that this surgery has been a success so far (ie no constant sciatica down both legs, no constant lower back pain) BUT what I'm now finding is that my thoracic area (and even ribs) are suffering hugely at the moment. This started in Novemeber and got worse & worse, I have recently been back to my doctor and to a chiroprator, who have advised that due to the fact such a large segment on my lambar spine is now fused, the rest of my back will be taking the strain. I am also having physio, attending a back class at my hospital and due my last post-op appointment in March so I am on the case but at times, the pain in my middle back is SO painful it's reducing me to tears and I can literally hardly move all day, it's like someone has their hands inside my torso and is twisting my spine and ribs. I am back onto stronger meds and going back to chiro this week but what I'm wondering is if anyone else has experienced this - is it a case of the upper back will in time get stronger as my body adjusts and the pain will reduce? I've been told my recovery from this op will be about 18months so I am only 9months in but just as I was starting to feel better this all started up. Is it a case of it has to get worse before it gets better? I have a TENS machine on order and am due to go back to my doctors this week to review medication, as some nights the pain is keeping me awake for hours. My chiropractor has told me I have a very flat spine and that the thoracic vertebrae hardly curve, making the work they have to do even harder. I have an area of stiff pain in my back in this area also. My physio says that the muscles in this whole area of my back are extremeley tight and has given me exercises that should help with this (although they haven't done so yet) :(

Obviously with being a DDD sufferer, they have told me that longterm they cannot rule out that the vertebrae further up my back won't deteriorate in the same way as my lumbar area did, but I never imagined that this would only have taken 9 months?!

I am 34 years old and currently unable to work or function normally, I just want my life back! Or even to know that this might be temporary pain and that there is light at the end of the tunnel would be great...

Anyone out there had similar experience? I am just concerned with maintaining the longterm health of the rest of my spine as spinal surgery is tough and I want to look after the rest of my back for the rest of my life, and hopefully go on to have children also.

On the plus side, anyone reading this who is about to under-go lumbar fusion can take the good from this - that my lower back is now what I would consider to feel (almost) normal and that all my leg and foot pains are gone!

Thanks guys, I look forward to hearing from you.

Lucy :)


  • I can relate to some of what you're feeling. I've also had a PLIF L4-S1, 3 1/2 years ago. What I have found is if I happen to sleep on my back, I am in horrible pain in the same area that you have described throughout the day. It does tame down as the day progresses. Have you tried changing your position while you sleep or even a different bed?

  • Hey there! Yes I do find if am on my back for any length of time now it irritates this pain for sure, sleeping on my side is always best for me, knees bent, and this seems to make that area of my back "pop" occasionally which also feels like it brings a bit of relief.

    My bed is good, I currently have a mattress topper that really helps me stay as comfy as possible (if we ever ARE truly comfy in this state)! I saw my physio yday and she said that what I'm going through is common after a lumbar fusion, which is sort of a relief to hear. She explained that as am now using/moving my back differently this will be affecting how tight it is in the thoracic area, as well as the fact that I am probably holding myself in an "unrelaxed" state a lot, a sort of a mental barrier to overcome, I now keep thinking.... and RELAX! Do you find you do this too? Also, she said that many people suffering from a very tight thoracic area describe this "burning" pain in their ribs, so I'm hoping that the combination of trying to stay active with walking and doing my physio exercises regularly plus stretches that I've been shown will hopefully all help... fingers crossed!

    Hope you're well and thanks for your help :)

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  • I am glad you posted to get support.

    I can identify with the thoracic pain all to well. I had a Lumbar fusion in 2007, and had continued pain. Diagnostic testing in 2009 showed annular tearing in both the levels above and below my fusion. Then a fall in 2010 really put me in a bad place...the thoracic pain you describe is also a part of my daily life right now with a rupture T 6-7 and tears in T 10-11 and T 11-12 as well.

    I can't imagine having this come on 9 months into my fusion recovery...my heart goes out to you.

    Please keep us posted about your progress. I hope that your stretching helps you. I work from a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction workbook. If you old like the name of the book, send me a PM.

    Many of us seem to have somewhat of an arsenal of tools we use to cope with our spine issues over time.

    Take care Lucy,

  • I also had L4-L5-S1 fused and am now having thoracic pain in the mid-spine that wraps around my ribs. Mind you, I have a previous bulge of one of the thoracic disks beforehand. I'm afraid to have it re-evaluated.
  • I had lumbar fusion in 2009 on L-4, L-5, and S-1. I did well following surgery and physical therapy. I thought..."GREAT"..no more pain...and then about 6 months ago, I started experiencing pain in the thoracic area and up around ribs. This is very discouraging and scary. I just don't understand what is going on.
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  • I had L3 to S1 fused in November of 2010. Other than the post-op pain, I had no pain. No siatic pain in my hips or legs. Before my fusion, I would get up in the morning hurting in my thoracic area. I didn't know what it was for sure, maybe it had something to do with my lower back. After the fusion, I didn't hurt for a while. Then about 4 or 5 months ago, I began hurting again. Sometimes it would wake me up. There would be rib pain that spread under my arms and sometimes I would have pressure on my sternum. It didn't matter if I slept on my back or my side(only that on my side tipically wasn't as bad). I also started hurting immediately above the fusion along with heel pain and some sciatic pain in my right leg.
    I went back to my doctor to see what could be done. I had already got back on the pain killer in the evenings along with the muscle relaxers. He put me on predisone for six days which helped a little of the sciatic pain but did not stop it. He arranged for MRIs of my cervical, thoracic, and lumbar.
    I just got the results Friday. The lumbar "looks" fine. However, I've got 4 or 5 bulging disc in the cervical and about 6 in the thoracic.
    I'm going to go back to the sports doctor that I used for about ten years for steroid injections and see if that helps.
    I wondered if I was dreaming stuff up or not at first. I saw the MRIs in the doctor's office and then I read what yall have posted. Let's me know I'm not crazy, by the way, neither are you.
  • The outcome of my surgery was pretty good. Most of the pain had gone but in the past month I too have began to have mid-back pain.

    The doctors tell me that there is nothing wrong but that's how I feel. I have been able to make it the past 17 months (except the 10 days after surgery)without taking pain meds but now it looks like I'm going to have to start. This is the one thing I did not want to do.
  • I have been reading your blogs, but I haven't seen this one yet.

    I am one month out after having L4 - S1 lumbar fusion for severe spondylolisthesis and DDD. I feel great, almost no pain meds (just one before bed). Am walking and just started driving some.

    Last night, I woke up on my back and pulled out the pillows from under my knees (comfortable sleeping position compared to always on side)and turned onto my left side. Something popped in my thoracic under my shoulder blades and I couldn't breathe - not even a gasp. I rolled back, but it didn't help.

    I got out of bed still unable to breathe or even make a noise other than thump on the wall to wake my husband. It was several minutes before I could even suck in a tiny breath. It was like my chest froze. It lasted a full ten minutes of gradually increasing my breathing before I felt "normal" and "safe" again.

    Called the nurse at my ortho and she was convinced it was a panic attack. How could it be when I didn't panic until I couldn't breathe?

    Has this happened to anyone else? I would appreciate your feedback. My surgeon said he didn't think it was from my fusion and the next time I should go to the emergency room. If there is a next time... :SS
  • supergirl87ssupergirl87 Posts: 1
    edited 03/07/2015 - 6:42 AM
    Hi! I have the same problem but i had my thoracic spine fused for scoliosis when i was in eighth grade in 2001. My spine was shaped like an s. I had a 67 degree curve in my upper back and a 37 degree curve in my lower back. I needed to get my top curve corrected because the curve was causing my ribs to compress my lungs making it hard to breathe. After surgery i grew 2 inches taller and could breathe much better, however, every once in a while i would get sharp pains in my back and ribs when i laughed too hard. After about 5 years these pains disappeared but when i entered college and had to sit through 2 hr physics tests i noticed intense pain in my lower back. Before having surgery i had no back pain but i had to have it done because of the pressure being exerted on my heart and lungs. Now due to my job i have to lift heavy objects and stand for hours at a time which causes severe lower back pain and hip pain. Over the last eight months i have also experienced numbness in my right leg after standing for an hour. I used to be able to stand for six hours without my leg getting numb. My family doctor says i probably have a bulging disc in my lower back that is pressing against a nerve causing the numbness in my leg. My scoliosis sergeon told me that i would need my lower back curve fused when i turn 50 but he wasn't going to fuse that part in 2001 because i wouldn't be able to bend over. Is this true for people who have had their lower back fused like you guys that now you can't bend over? I also knew that there would be damage to the discs in my lower back due to them having to compensate for the lack of movement in my upper back but i sure didn't think it would be this bad when I'm only 27 years old. Any thoughts or comments are appreciated.

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