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L5/S1 fusion surgery scheduled for Nov 3

Hi - this is the first forum I have ever joined but after reading some discussions I decided that I definitely need to be here.  I am scheduled for L5/S1 fusion with dual pars defect repair, on Nov 3 - three weeks from today.  I have been suffering with left low back pain which radiates into my butt, down my leg with tingling in calf and foot for almost 2 years.  It started as stiffness sitting and getting up to the point where it is painful to sit and sometimes stand - walking is my favorite activity.  I tried shots, chiropractic, and PT - nothing really helped.  I finally went to see a neurosurgeon who suggested the surgery.  I went to see a second doctor who said the surgery would definitely help.  I am currently seeing a more aggressive chiropractor who says he can "unwind" all of the problems that have occurred because of my back pain and maybe avoid surgery.  I also have appointments with two more neurosurgeons for two more opinions.  I am 53 and have been very active all of my life - a 5K runner (also ran two marathons), softball, soccer, snowboarding, and lots of work in the gym.  I have been able to keep a strong core through all the pain - which has helped alot.  I have adapted to using my abs for everything - getting up, rolling over in bed, etc.  I still go to the gym twice a week but all I do it walking on the treadmill, planks, simple weights lying down, and various leg machines - a LOT less than I was doing 2 years ago.  I am not looking to get back to running, soccer or softball, but I would like to be able to live everyday without pain, sit and stand without pain, and snowboard comfortably (and sit on the lift without pain).  The doctor doing the surgery said I should be able to do most things after one year, as long as I am patient.  He says that I the benefit of being in good shape going in.  He says snowboarding should not be a problem as long as I don't go crazy.  I am 53 (almost 54) - I am done being crazy.  I had a motto - run the risk of wearing out, rather than rusting out.  So - I am wearing out and it's not fun.  But, I had fun doing it.  I've had several knee and shoulder surgeries, which didn't really scare me.  This one SCARES me.  Thus the reason for four opinions.  But I have a lot of living to do and I don't want to live with every day pain. My ortho doctor told me to wait until I can't stand it anymore because there are so many risks.  But I don't want to risk it getting worse and delay getting back to pain free.  I am willing to take the risks.  So - anyone out there have a similar situation?  Anyone think I should wait?


  • hello, irwashko!

    being anxious about spinal surgery is perfectly natural--not to mention human!!  i've often remarked to friends/family that i feel lucky to be living in an era where these surgeries are even possible!! 

    since no one here is permitted to give any type of medical advice, it is best that you discuss the pros and cons of delaying surgery with your healthcare provider.  get as many opinions as you feel you need to make an informed decision.  remember--you are interviewing potential surgeons, not the other way around!!  i do hope you are able to find a good "match"!!

    i'd like to welcome you to the forums!  please click on the following link for some helpful information to get you started!

    welcome to spine-health
    Kimmy72, Spine-health Moderator
    Firm believer in PMA!
  • juniperjjuniper coloradoPosts: 39
    Ohhh!!! Please update your progress before and after surgery! I am a newbie here and am scheduled on Dec. 12th for a level 1 possibly level 2 fusion. Definitely doing the L5/S1 area, not sure about the L5/L4. I am going in on Oct. 27th to do a facet joint numbing procedure to see if that helps in my L4/L5. If it does then we will do a level 2 fusion. I also have a bilateral pars defect, slippage, degeneration, slight disc bulging. I have been dealing with it for 4 years now and like you have tried everything! The procedure that helps me the most is the nerve ablation, it may also be called RF. It takes away half of the pain but I am still on meds and I still can't do ANYTHING impactful. I hit 1 (ONE) golf ball last friday and it has been flared up since. I too am nervous but I don't want to live the rest of my life on meds and not doing things I love.  I am very interested to see how your surgery and recover goes! Best wishes!!
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  • lrwashkollrwashko Canton, CTPosts: 32
     I had a nerve numbing in the SI joint area last December and it worked for about 2 days.  They told me that wasn't long enough to really pinpoint the area as being the problem.  I haven't had one directly in L5/S1, that I know of.  I did have about 5 shots in different areas and nothing really helped.  No one has suggested that it be done to pinpoint L5/S1 being the real problem.  Fortunately, I am not on pain meds and rarely take anything for pain.  I do have lidocaine patches - that help sometimes.  I also do a lot of icing,  which helps a lot.  I cannot take a lot of ibuprofen due to intestinal problems (most likely caused from taking too much for so many years when I was very active).  I am getting a 3rd opinion on Monday and another one on Oct. 24.  I will definitely keep you posted.  Thanks for the wishes.  Same to you!
  • AllijayAAllijay NHPosts: 36
    edited 10/22/2016 - 6:53 AM
    Hello Irwashko-I just had an L5/S1 fusion and decompression at L5 on October 3. I have been dealing with progressively worsening back pain for the last 5 years and had been doing Pilates that really helped with core strengthening & flexibility. 2 years ago I had a facet cyst removed that was pressing on a nerve in the lower spine after having the epidural injections which didn't help. I was doing ok, getting into a more focused fitness routine that included using the treadmill, stationary bike & swimming as well as weight loss. Despite my focus on getting fit for old age (I'm 67), a year ago the nerve at L5 pinched causing pain & weakness in my left leg and increasing discomfort in my lower spine. An MRI earlier this year showed the disc between L5/S1 was collapsed - obliterated per the doctor's notes.
    The surgeon basically told me it wasn't a matter of if, but when, I would need a spinal fusion. I resisted for several months and he was patient with me until I finally realized that he was right when he told me I'd be ready when the pain was so bad, I wouldn't care what kind of surgery he was going to do. Prior to the surgery, I continued to do as much as I could physically to get ready for it (it actually felt better to walk/swim/do PIlates) and it paid off in my ability to heal.
    Although still too early to be overly confident, I am being cautious but doing well and attribute that to being in good shape prior to the surgery. The first week was rough just being in the hospital and recovering from the surgery itself, but I got through it. I have a high tolerance for pain so fortunately didn't need or want narcotics afterward. It was a long surgery for me - about 5 hours and 3 days in the hospital. However, each day was better than the one before it and that trend has continued. I'm out walking several blocks 3 times a day, doing some home exercises and start formal PT next week. Also cleared to drive short distances for now.
    You are still young and know how to take care of your body. If you find a surgeon in whom you have full confidence as I did/do, it should go well for you. There are risks but I read alot on this site prior to the surgery that helped educate me and prepare me for it. You already have a positive attitude and that's key as well to getting through this and coming out stronger on the other side. I am hoping to get back skiing which I began at age 14 up until the last several years. I understand what being physically active means in our lives and like you, I want to get better and get back to being more active. Wishing you well.
  • Jessica1209JJessica1209 Arlington, VAPosts: 1
    Hello, everyone!   I'm new.  I'm a 57 year old petite female who up until several months ago was in great shape, going to the gym a lot, etc.  Then, back pain, starting slow but now often excruciating. MRIs show L5-S1 degenerative spondylolisthesis.  Have tried so many steroid epidurals and other injections that I feel like a pin cushion.  No help. Orthopaedic surgeon says, "well, we tried injections, time to schedule surgery."  That scared the hell out of me, so will try one more round of shots, this time a transforaminal epidural (new pain doc).  Also got a second opinion from a neurosurgeon.  Bottom line:  both pain management docs and the chiropractor believe the imagery shows such minor issues that I shouldn't need surgery; BUT, , nothing they are doing is working, I can't sit, for months now, pain is constant, I have to lie down or stand/walk, am on pain meds ( dilaudid) which are only working a bit, and it's been five months now, so I don't think I have any choice left but to do the surgery.  But I'm very scared!
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  • lrwashkollrwashko Canton, CTPosts: 32
    Allison - thank you for the information about your surgery and yourself. I am feeling a little bit better that being active and in shape is going to help in my recovery. I really do like my doctor and the two that gave me second and third opinions. Basically they have all told me I need to fix the structure otherwise it will just keep getting worse and cause other problems. I am already experiencing hip issue because I am compensating for my back pain. I, too, have a high tolerance for pain so I am hoping to be off the pain meds as soon as possible after surgery. I really hate the nauseous and dizzy feelings I get from them. I've had knee and shoulder surgeries and only took the pills the first day. Surgery is two weeks from today and I do have thoughts of canceling but my husband says "get it fixed before it gets worse and look forward to lnext year when you can get back to being active and snowboarding". Keep me posted on your progress - I would be really interested in seeing how you are doing in a few weeks.

    And Jessica1209 - as the doctors and many others are saying to me "it's very natural to be scared'. It is major surgery but the way I look at it - I don't want to live in pain everyday and if they can give me 75-80% relief, I will take it. Good luck!

  • Hi Lisa- when you mentioned the surgeons all telling you the structure needs to be fixed that's exactly what I felt about my situation although my doctor didn't express it that way. I knew that my efforts to get fit over the last several years was keeping me upright & walking around, but it wouldn't replace what wasn't there anymore-the disc between the L5/S1. That realization was driven home when the nerve pinched and though I stepped up my fitness routine, my left side was going downhill as were my spirits, and I was compensating with my right leg & hip. Hoping you listen to what your body is telling you and also your husband. I'll be thinking of you on November 3 and look forward to hearing how you're doing as well.
  • Hi Jessica-I'm sorry you're in such pain and scared of having surgery. It is a big surgery but as my doctor said to me when I questioned him about what type of surgery he would do, he said "it doesn't matter what kind of surgery, when the pain is bad enough, you're not going to care what I do, you're going to want it done." He was right and while I wasn't questioning him or his skills, I was questioning myself and whether it was worth going through to get to a better place in my life. And now that I'm on the other side, I know it was the right thing to do. No one but you can make the decision and one of the factors that helped me was to realize that right now it was an elective surgery and I did have a choice. But it can become an emergency situation should the bowels/bladder be affected and that's what scared me. Even after the surgery, my doctor (who is an orthopaedic surgeon) ordered 3 bladder scans to make sure everything was functioning as it should. And it was.
    I hope you can get through the fear and make your decision based on the facts of your particular situation and trust that your doctor is ready to help you. Take care.
  • lrwashkollrwashko Canton, CTPosts: 32
    Thanks Allison. BTW - my surgery has been postponed until Nov. 9 due to something the doctor needs to attend on the 3rd. I will be having a second neurosurgeon attending the surgery so I feel very confident about that. I saw the second guy for an opinion and liked him just as much. Just like you, the numbness and pain going down my left leg into my foot made me realize that it was just getting worse - that just started about three months ago although the pain in my low back and butt have been there for over a year. As you say about your spirits, I find that the pain and lack of doing what I want to makes me "tired". It just grates on my nerves day after day. I am trying to be positve and confident that the surgery will give me the chance to live day to day without all of the pain.
  • Hi, gonna give this forum a try. I am 68, short and overweight.  I have had disc problems since my thirties.  Always before I could take NSIDS and my back would heal.  15 years ago I had xrays of my cervical spine, which showed some wear and tear, but I never went to or was recommended to see a specialist.  In Dec 2013, as I was walking, my foot simply turned and I heard. Bone break.  Looking back that was probably a warning.  Scary stuff began in June when I fell twice. Then realized my leg and foot went numb before I fell.  Primary doctor prescribed tramadol and in August ordered an MRI. Results showed "advanced multilevel lumbar spondylosis with moderate central stenosis and moderate-severe right neuroforaminal narrowing at L4-5. L5-S1 shows moderate to severe central stenosus, moderate left and right neuroforaminal nawwowing".  I had to look up most of the words in the report. My primary referred me to a neurosurgeon and recommended I follow his advice if I needed surgery.  Took 8 weeks to see the surgeon
      Very nice and has a good reputation.  He looked at the MRI and talked to me for about 10 minutes. Because I had read up on all the stuff I had figured he would recommend a laminectomy, which he did. But then he said my spine was unstable and the laminectomy would make it more unstable. So I would also need fusion at 4-5.  At that point, I apparently became an idiot. I asked no questions, just sat there and said lets do it.   By the next week, I had recovered enough to ask my primary to find me a second opinion, which is where I am now.        The pain was awful during the summer, but chiro has really helped that. Sometimes I need little meds.  At worst I took 800 mg naproxyn and 50 mg tramadol twice a day.  However the chiro made no success with the numbness and falling. Ten minutes standing and walking will make my right foot completely stop working.   So guess I am looking for folks who have similar issues. Looks like a lot of people tried many things before surgery, whereas I just took pills and kept going.
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