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Back surgery L3-L4 fusion. Now in recovery and looking for tips.
Old 07-08-2016, 09:45 PM   #1
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Back surgery L3-L4 fusion. Now in recovery and looking for tips.

I've had chronic lower back pain off and on for years. Over the past year or so it had been getting worse and I have tried some physical therapy which helped for a bit but didn't resolve the issue. Starting in April I noticed some weakness in my legs and tingling in my feet after walking short distances of 1/2 mile or so. I also had a hard time straightening up my back when walking. The doc put me on some meds while he started to try to get authorization for an CT scan. The meds seemed to help for a few weeks but the pain continued to get worse until finally about three weeks ago I was having a hard time even walking due to pain in my right leg and hip.

Went to the orthopedic group here in the area and they took some x-rays and found my lumbar spine had numerous issues. The worst was the L3-L4 had slipped off of each other by about 9mm. They were able to get an MRI approved rather quickly and showed the disc had been ruptured and was impinging on my L3 nerve.

Started a round of steroids which improved the condition about 90% for maybe 6 hours. Then we tried an injection but by the next morning I couldn't move from the couch. Spent 4 days laying on the couch unable to get up at all hoping the injection would start to kick in. By the fourth day I had had enough and ended up going to the ER in the ambulance where they admitted me due to intractable pain. I met with the surgeon in the hospital and we discussed what he felt needed to be done. Finally I gave the OK after realizing that a second opinion wasn't forthcoming and doing some research on my own.

I am 9 days post op now after getting the l3-l4 fusion and things are going well. My right leg was quite weak due to not being able to use it for the several weeks before the surgery so it has been a little slower recovering. Over the past few days I have started to walk around the house carefully with a back brace on and not need the walker, just a cane for a little security. Took my first shower tonight by myself without having to use the walker in the shower to stand up, that was nice! Didn't even need to take any pain meds today.

So I am happy with the results so far but realize it is still very early in the recovery process and I have months to go before I get back to somewhat normal life.

Worst part is I pulled the plug and fully retired just this year. Luckily my wife is retiring at the end of the month and she is burning up her vacation so she has been able to be by my side the whole time! Hell of way to start retired life!😞

Anyone else have any back surgery fusion stories or recovery tips?

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Old 07-08-2016, 10:26 PM   #2
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My empathy. I used to get lumbar issues, they never got to the point you did. I now have c-spine issues and have had interesting(not) times. Successfully avoided surgery to this point, one slip or someone forgetting to stop could change that.

From what I've been taught you didn't have much choice but surgery. I've talked with folks who put it off for many years and suffered permanent numbness.

It's odd, to me anyway, that of the dozen or so people I recall who tried epidurals for lumbar no one had long term relief. All went on to surgery. With the c-spine that's been successful for me. I hope it always is.

From the folks I've known who had the type of surgery as you they've all had great relief. From my last recovery from c-spine nerve pinches I'm taking the PTs advice to the max. They've always pushed building up muscle strength and I'm doing it. Lift heavy 3X weekly it's amazing the changes. Obviously work with your Doc and PT but it's been promising for me. Best wishes on a speedy and full recovery.
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Old 07-08-2016, 10:37 PM   #3
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Glad to hear that all went well so far.
DH had fusion surgery 6 years ago. All went very well for 3 years, then pain came back, not like before but some. Then 2 smaller surgeries (above fusion) within 3 months as he fell down stairs after s1.
Dr advised not to do other training than walking for first 6 months.
Today DH exercises carefully as pt advises, moderate weight lifting, too. We do walking and biking. The levels above and below fusion are stressed through fusion, as drs say. But at a certain point, like losing the use of a leg, there is little choice.
Overall, DH is much better off than before surgeries.
He hardly takes a pain killer and can do most activities as before. When walking, we do rest and sit for some min regularly.
Best wishes for your healing!
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Old 07-08-2016, 11:00 PM   #4
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I forgot to add that I'm only 59 so lots of good years ahead oh me. The doctor said that he pulled out a lot of disc material that had migrated out and was impinging on the nerve so no amount of conservative treatment would have corrected it.

Thanks for the encouraging stories! I'm okay with limitations on my activities as long as can get around without the pain, excruciating pain, pain that almost made me blackout before I called the ambulance. Don't ever want to be there again!

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Old 07-09-2016, 12:05 AM   #5
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I had similar story, but a few years younger than you, after putting it off for a decade, it was either get surgery or quit working.
Couldn't stand for 10 minutes or walk 15 minutes without a dead numb leg.

My advice would be to wear the brace, mine was a form fitted plastic thing with some foam on the inside and it went around the torso. I wore it whenever getting out of the bed for the time the doc said, then wore it outside for couple of months, even going to work.

I also took very seriously the lifting limit rules, and over the weeks or months worked up my limit of carrying groceries from 5 lbs to 30 lbs, as the fusion takes a long time (months) to really get solid.

Now a few years later, we just walked around the Botanic Gardens for 3.5 hrs and my back/legs were fine.

I do know a fellow who didn't wear his brace much at all, and his fusion didn't really fuse.
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Old 07-09-2016, 12:11 AM   #6
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I didn't have fusion just an L4-5 diskectomy way back on 1981 at the age of 30. Had suffered for 2+ years with increasing sciatic pain and tried pretty much every conservative treatment. At the time the gold standard was a large incision, complete disk removal and frequently fusion. I opted for a then-new microdiskectomy procedure. Pretty much complete and long lasting relief and I wound up even more active than before. Have had a number of minor relapses over the years usually as a result of improper lifting. Symptoms last a few days then subside. Only one serious flareup six years ago where the pain was worse than anything I'd ever experienced before. I wound up in the E.R. where they put me on a dilaudid IV that worked wonders on the pain. Fortunately, a more permanent relief resulted from lower back injections and I've been good ever since.

Do they still do a myelogram some weeks prior to surgery? I think that's been supplanted by MRI. In my case, that diagnostic tool proved worse than the surgery. I recall that mine required an overnight stay in the hospital but by the next morning, I was feeling fine and ready to drive the hour or so from Arlington, VA back to my home near Baltimore. Twenty minutes from home, I was hit with the worst headache I'd ever had and it was all I could do to finish the drive and head for bed. Once prone, the headache disappeared after 10 minutes or so. For the following ten days, I simply could not be in a non-prone position for more than 20 minutes at a time without the headache returning. The actual surgery was a piece of cake after that!

My experience was that full recovery took several months but I was back to work after about 6 weeks. I suspect the technique is more refined now and folks can do more sooner. Best of luck!
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Old 07-09-2016, 04:00 AM   #7
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Forgo to add: dr advised against sitzing longer periods for several months. So we constructed a daybed for the living room and raised the computer to a high desk.
Also raised the bed by using bricks so that getting up/ down became easier.
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Old 07-09-2016, 04:56 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian S View Post
I didn't have fusion just an L4-5 diskectomy way back on 1981 at the age of 30. Had suffered for 2+ years with increasing sciatic pain and tried pretty much every conservative treatment. At the time the gold standard was a large incision, complete disk removal and frequently fusion. I opted for a then-new microdiskectomy procedure. Pretty much complete and long lasting relief and I wound up even more active than before. Have had a number of minor relapses over the years usually as a result of improper lifting. Symptoms last a few days then subside. Only one serious flareup six years ago where the pain was worse than anything I'd ever experienced before. I wound up in the E.R. where they put me on a dilaudid IV that worked wonders on the pain. Fortunately, a more permanent relief resulted from lower back injections and I've been good ever since.

Do they still do a myelogram some weeks prior to surgery? I think that's been supplanted by MRI. In my case, that diagnostic tool proved worse than the surgery. I recall that mine required an overnight stay in the hospital but by the next morning, I was feeling fine and ready to drive the hour or so from Arlington, VA back to my home near Baltimore. Twenty minutes from home, I was hit with the worst headache I'd ever had and it was all I could do to finish the drive and head for bed. Once prone, the headache disappeared after 10 minutes or so. For the following ten days, I simply could not be in a non-prone position for more than 20 minutes at a time without the headache returning. The actual surgery was a piece of cake after that!

My experience was that full recovery took several months but I was back to work after about 6 weeks. I suspect the technique is more refined now and folks can do more sooner. Best of luck!

I'm quite sure that MRI has supplanted the need for a much riskier myelogram.


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Old 07-09-2016, 05:13 AM   #9
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At age 46, my wife had a 10mm slip at L5-S1. Conservative therapy, anterior fusion, laminectomy, discectomy, morphine, oxy, rehab, wheelchair and electric mobility scooter. Devastating for 8 years with permanent nerve damage. Through most of it, she had the grace of an angel. We got her a top of the line adjustable bed which was where she spent most of the day time to find relief. Our house has a small pool, so we added a solar heater to help provide relief. I prayed a lot.

This year, she had a spinal cord stimulator implanted. Two electrodes next to the spinal nerves bundle above L5-S1. Programmable in intensity, frequency, and location. Battery implanted in her fanny does not show under her clothes (a big worry for her). What a miracle. She is getting off of the meds, walking for up to a mile, and our future is bright again. St. Jude's medical device.
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Old 07-09-2016, 05:44 AM   #10
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Know someone that messed up their back by not taking time for their back to recover after surgery. He didn't listen to the doctor and was walking 4 to 5 miles (hills not flat) and was working in his garage within a week of having the surgery. He ended up in worse pain than before the surgery. Take your time and give your back time to heal.
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Old 07-09-2016, 06:14 AM   #11
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Everyone's recovery will be different because the damage and location will be different. Recovery will take time but most do not get back to 100% of functioning as they did before the damage. In any event because the spine has been fused your flexibility will have some limitations. One plus is that the fusion should be strong in a few months with both the bone fusion and the supporting metal rods. Pain will subside to some level depending on the level of nerve damage.

In my case I had 3 surgeries within a year to correct the problem with the last surgery being a fusion of L4-L5-S1. This was about 6 years ago. Since the damage to the spinal nerves going to my leg was severe I still resort to pain meds on occasion (That limits my beer consumption). I have never gained complete control of my foot so although walking is limited it is much better with less limping.

Sleeping can be a challenge at times but getting better. It was 3-4 interrupted hours a night but now extends to 5-6. Pillows between my legs (under the legs if you sleep on your back) help a great deal. I only sleep on my right side to take any additional pressure off the nerve which results in increasing the peripheral neuropathy.

You may not want to sit for more than an hour. You will know when to get up and walk around.

Listen to your doctor and physical therapist making sure they communicate to have a good understanding of the best way to proceed. Don't push recovery but follow their advice. This is a case of "Fast is slow and slow is fast".

Choice of foods can influence your recovery. Eat healthy. Wishing you the best in recovery.

Cheers!
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Old 07-09-2016, 06:15 AM   #12
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So sorry for what you're going through. My wife suffers from terrible arthritis and has had surgery for spinal stenosis.

They're always going to push you through physical therapy. Just do what they say, and improvements are usually noted.

Don't feel guilty about taking controlled substances, and take them exactly as directed for as long as they're needed. In our case DW would be an invalid if not for meds we get through a first class Pain Management Clinic. So many think such meds will make them goofy. For those in severe pain, the meds make'em act normal.
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Old 07-09-2016, 11:05 AM   #13
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If its any consolation, I believe there have been several NFL football players that had fused vertabrae and bulging disk repairs, and returned to playing, so given that, I do not see why your future recovery wouldn't be very good. Best of luck as you rehab.
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Old 07-09-2016, 11:21 AM   #14
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Don't feel guilty about taking controlled substances, and take them exactly as directed for as long as they're needed. In our case DW would be an invalid if not for meds we get through a first class Pain Management Clinic. So many think such meds will make them goofy. For those in severe pain, the meds make'em act normal.
+1
I second, use the pain meds if you have pain. They will prevent muscle spasms that can occur from the pain.
Over time the doc will decrease the pain meds so you wean off them.

I don't notice any flexibility issues from the fusion, maybe if I was a gymnast there would be a difference that I could notice, but for day to day activities I can't really tell.
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Old 07-09-2016, 01:31 PM   #15
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My DW had the exact operation about 2 years ago. It was a long road, but after 18 months she's happy with the outcome of the operation. She used a neurosurgeon vs an orthopedic surgeon. She was unable to "lift" or rotate her left foot upwards prior to the surgery. Now she's back to kicking my a&*. Don't take that the wrong way as I'm thankful having her back at 100 percent. She's still afraid to swing a golf club, however.
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Old 07-10-2016, 01:51 PM   #16
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Thanks for all the encouragement. It gets better every day. I can now walk around and get up down stairs with a cane without much trouble. Definitely still weak as it wipes me out to be out walking around for an hour or so.

I fully intend to go slow and take it easy. It does seem like the people who end up with problems later on tend to be mostly self inflicted.

Atmsmshr, glad your wife is getting some relief now. That is encouraging that even with significant problems there might be a treatment that can help.

The biggest fear I have right now is that as I get stronger and more mobile I will do something stupid and undo everything. Just keep repeating no BLT, fast is slow, and slow is fast!

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Old 07-11-2016, 12:04 PM   #17
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SteveN

I had neck fusion - on the other end from you, after years of terrible pain, steroid shots multiple times.

For me the surgery was and is a miracle. My wife said that my 1st words after waking up from the surgery were "it does not hurt anymore". I am coming up on 8 years and no pain.

Stiffness and some loss of movement - yes for sure - but that is nothing compared to being in pain 24 hours per day everyday for years....

Do as your quacks say and heal proper. Men, especially feel good and then go out and do something stupid....Don't be that guy.....

Thank God for modern medicine and physicians/surgeons !

All the best, gamboolman...
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Old 07-11-2016, 04:13 PM   #18
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...

For me the surgery was and is a miracle. My wife said that my 1st words after waking up from the surgery were "it does not hurt anymore"..

..
Me too, but some of it was the morphine drip
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Old 07-12-2016, 02:16 PM   #19
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Last Tuesday I had an MRI, through the auspices of the Hospital Emergency Dept, (we were without a doctor...this being Ontario), following about 3 1/2 months of sciatica, (the discomfort/pain of which fluctuated in intensity).

(Just prior to the procedure the young woman next door, who plays on a softball team with doctors, was able to persuade one, highly regarded GP to take DW & me on as patients.....we've me his staff, but not him as of this time.)

Last evening, around 07:00 p.m. I received a call from the chiropractor I had been attending, (he'd just received a summary of the MRI, but, as of a call to the Dr.'s office this morning they hadn't...they're following up)......chiro said my back was a total mess, with arthritis & bulging discs everywhere, (along with a number of other problems).

Chiro admitted there was virtually nothing he could do, (found his honesty refreshing), so now we're waiting for a call from the doc, and, I presume referrals to specialists.

So...in four months I've gone from regularly doing 6,000+ stairs in a workout to wondering where I go from here.....whatever it takes, I guess.
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Old 07-12-2016, 03:27 PM   #20
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I'm now two weeks post op and just saw the surgeon this afternoon. He said it all looks good, no need to wear a back brace and no restrictions. Just let my body tell me if I'm overdoing it.

I'm not in any real pain now, just a little sore and achey from getting things back in shape after months of suffering and being bedridden.

Couldn't be happier but still very early in the recovery. Going to start 4 weeks of light PT next week just to make sure I get back in shape and don't hurt anything.

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