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spinal fusion surgery--should I go through with it?

Started by fenspot on 04/07/2010 11:29pm

I have spinal stenosis L4-L5, spondylolisthesis, a bulging disc and a bone spur. This was diagnosed 1 year and a half ago, Had the leg pain for a year prior. (It took my HMO a year before they finally did an MRI and discovered what the problem was.) Have done cortisone shots, (first one worked but not the 2nd or 3rd) saw chiropracter and tried acupuncture (didn't work) and physical therapy.. I did exercises prescribed by the PT every day, however, during the last month they have become too painful to do. Since I really dislike being on pain meds, I got by on Tylenol for about 8 months but have gone back on pain meds--Tramadol 2x day. . My condition is also worsening according to a recent MRI. Since my overall leg/back pain became unbearable making it difficult to sleep and get through the work day, I decided to go ahead and schedule spinal fusion surgery with a neurosurgeon. I am now having second thoughts since I found out it would be a very invasive surgery that would last for 8 1/2 hours. (Have never had surgery before). The risks associated with this type of surgery are very high and there's no guarantee that my condition would improve enough for me to return to work afterwards or avoid future back surgeries. I don't like the thought of being under anesthesia for that long a period. Are there any noninvasive surgical procedures available for this type of back problem?

I would welcome any thoughts or advice from others who have had this type of problem and / or gonue through spinal fusion surgery. Thanks!

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I certainly cannot say whether you should go through with this or any other surgery. What I can share with you is that I did undergo a one level fusion -- L4, L5 w/instrumentation -- almost 7 weeks ago for problems almost identical to those that you are describing for yourself. I also had 3 lumbar epidurals over the course of the year preceding my surgery. They did not help.

I had suffered with pain in my legs, primarily the right, for many years. Awakening each morning was dreadful. I would have to wake up each day a full 3 hours prior to leaving for work, just to allow myself sufficient time for the pain in my lower back, hips and legs to subside. I did not take any pain medication, save for ibuprofen.

In the year prior to the operation I started losing the feeling in my left leg. I would be standing and suddenly my leg would just go dead -- much like the way we think about a leg going to sleep after we have been sitting in a peculiar position for a long period. That, of itself, was disconcerting.

Then I started losing the feeling in both legs simultaneously -- everything below the waist would go dead. That was very frightening and ultimately convinced me that I should have the surgery. I had simply run out of options.

Today, at nearly 7 weeks post surgery, I can tell you that I have not lost the feeling in either leg once. Neither have I experienced the sciatic pain that had been a nearly constant companion for many years. This is not to say that there has been no pain. There has! The first week or so after the operation was quite painful. That initial pain has yielded to a daily discomfort -- more like a stiffness.

I have been walking daily for a month and there is what I would describe as a mechanical discomfort. Hard to describe. It is not a pain, per se, so much as it is an annoyance. It is getting better, though, and I take encouragement that it will continue to get incrementally better with the passing of each new day.

Was this surgery fun? No! Was this surgery necessary (for me)? Yes! Your mileage may vary.

Best wishes and good luck!

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Only thing I can add to the previous post is, if you decide to go thru with it...follow your sugeons recommendations to the tee so your fusion has the best chance to be successful. There will be pain after and not to scare you but the first week after is tough. After that though, you should feel relief and start to notice every day is better than the one before. If you smoke, quit right away. That is very important. Make sure you have someone who can stay with you 24 hours a day for about the first 10 days -2 weeks until you are able to get up out bed, use the restroom and bath on your own. You will not be doing anything yourself for the first few days. It also is closer to about 5.5 hours I think is what mine took. Good luck either way but one last thing..The way my surgeon said he knew I was ready is, ask yourself this" Is there anything else I can do that will make me any better? Is the pain at the point where you cannot just take it anymore?" Pain meds are bandages, not a cure. It only gets worse the longer you wait.

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Fenspot, once u have any kind of back surgery, ur back will never be the same again. Like scott said, has everything else under the sun that can be tried, been tried first? Is the pain so unbearable that u'll take the surgery? Whatever course u chose in ur life, I wish u the best!!! *hugs*

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fenspot,

I am not sure if you've gone though with the surgery yet. Either way, have you considered yoga classes? I was diagnosed with L5-S1 spondy, grade I, in my teens. Hasn't hurt me too much since then (I am 39 now), but I rarely have back pain along the spine now since last December, when I started hatha yoga classes. I go about 3 times a week at a nearby studio. It has really helped me along with my other exercises (running/weights). I truly believe that the stretching AND strengthening it provides has made me feel great and goes to the root of the problem, for me at least. There are many other success stories online about yoga, also. Just a thought.... best of luck. P.S. If you do, it's always best to luck for the RYT (registered yoga teacher) cert in a teacher.

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Sorry to hear about your pain - I had similar and after trying all other avenues I had the surgery 6 months ago. The surgery took 4 and a half hours and I was only in hospital for 4 nights. After 6 months I find that I still have sciatic pain - the surgeon says that my sciatic nerve has a kink in it that he couldn't remove.... so I'm back to where I was pre surgery. The other area I checked out extensively was implantable pain management devices and I will try one of these in the future.

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I underwent posterior lumbar interbody fusion, laminectomy, foraminotomy, peek cage insertion, complete pars fracture removal and I don't remember the rest on feb 22nd of this yr on l5/s1. I have been approved for a tens unit and can't wait to try it out. I'm thrilled to have a non-narcotic pain relief method to try. U may want to think about trying one of these!!:)

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Good idea fenspot - I purchased a TENS machine a couple of years ago and I find it is very helpful - but only for daytime as I can't sleep with it on.

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I have been debating this same question for 4 years and still have not had the surgery. The reason is that I am the caregiver for both parents, one is 101 and bedridden and the other 98 with rectal cancer. The pain just progresses and eventually will drive me to the operating table. But, strangely enough, the pain has eased tremendously lately as I have had breast cancer surgery and am now undergoing radiation treatments. Would not recommend this as an answer, but it does prove that our bodies react differently to different stimuli. So keep on trying something different, I would even recommend that you try a different accupuncturist as there are many schools that teach many different techniques and that might help you. I also tried a kinesologist which helped more than the chiropractor. Good luck and make the choice that is right for you.

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I am going through the same thing...I am about to have a Minimally Invasive TLIF with an orthopaedic surgeon...pls check into this procedure it does not take as long for the surgery and it is much less stressful for your body. There is a lot of information on this site about it.

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Oops, posted twice for some reason!

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You may want to find my posting regarding spinal fusion. It is under hardware pain. I had a spinal fusion from T-1 to S-1( shoulders to tailbone) 3 years ago due to severe scoliosis and had to have a pedicle subtraction ostotomy 10 months later. I have never recovered at all and can feel every bit of my hardware. Pain is off the chart on major pain meds. I cant work at all and basically live my life in a recliner as I can hardly walk. Need head, back and shoulders fully supported for a tiny amount of relief. My surgeries were 13 and 8 hours long with two surgeons. I was intubated and in ICU for many days after both surgeries. The first surgery I had post op delerium which was horrible due to the length of the surgery. I am still doctoring continually to try to find help!

With that said, my surgeries were very extreme. I have read so many stories of people that do just fine after their spinal fusion. I was told by one doctor that 1/3rd with back surgeries get better, 1/3rd stay the same and 1/3rd get worse. Unfortunately, I got much, much worse.

I don't mean to scare you but think very, very carefully before you agree to the surgery. Ask your doc a lot of questions and make sure you know their experience with the surgery that they are recommending. I went in just assuming it would work and all would be fine.

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8.5 hours??? I would get another neurosurgeon opinion. The spondy is what makes the surgey necessary because nothing short of surgery can stop the slippage. I had same thing without the bone spur.

There are a numberof new techniques being used where the down time is 2-4 weeks, but it depends on your xrays etc. I would defintely get another opinion. I interviewed 5 before I selected mine. Depending on where you live, I might have sme suggestions for you.

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hi, yes if you want to get rid of back pain do it ( have the surgery ) the longer you wait you could have permanate nerve damage. I had the surgery done last wednesday ( May 19 2010 ) I feel good my left leg is still numb at times , but the DR. said it could take months for the numbness to go away. hours,everything you described ( me to a T) same symptoms everything. But my surgery was to be 1-1/2 hours but was alittle longer due to an old surgery( I had scar tissue) I had a laminectomy in 2007. other than the 8 hour surgery I would go with it . I did not do the shots, and I got a second opinon Let me know how things go for you

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ABSOBLOOMINLUTELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I had an anterior fusion at L5/S1 on the 3rd March..though I am guessing mine wasnt with instrumentation as my op was only 3 1/2 hours long. I didnt have time to really investigate the ins and outs of what exactly he was doing as i had the discogram (Hated hated HATED it cos it FLIPPING hurt) on the 1st March and was told I washaving a fusion instead of a disc replacement ..I didnt have to wait cos I was in so much pain...God bless private medical insurance...(I am writing from just outside London so its not the norm here!) Oh and my surgeon!
I had previously never had any kind of surgery or even stitches. (thought that was quite impressive for a 36 year old)

Am guessing you're back is too damaged for a disc replacement?? May be a question to ask your surgeon as I know not all orthopedic surgeons do it...I was initially reffered to one surgeon and I was prompted by my physio to ask to see another specific, because he knew he did both procedures...As I say..it may be worth an ask?

As I have mentioned in an earlier thread started asking for honest feedback..i was unable to walk without limping badly...had 3 epidurals (or cortizone injections in american), and some facet joint injections..The epidurals gave me limited relief, the facet joints none, and accupuncture worked for a couple of days...and I relied heavily on drugs! Actually I wasnt able to do much cos of the pain! Now I have my life back! I think you have to have surgery as I would guess your life isnt what it was? It MUST be worth giving yourself a chance.

The day of the op I was walking because I had no leg pain...previously they could have chopped it off without anesthetic and I wouldnt have cared! Now I am trying to repair the total muscle atrophy, with a small amount of non impact excersice, lunges, squats and pilates.

I have just had my first 24 hours with out painkillers or any drugs of any description...for the first time in about 8 - 9 months...Very happy bunny today! Waffley bunny too!

If you're not to knackered and not already doing it also pilates helped me regain my mobitliy back relatively quickly and long term I kind of think you have too if you have back issues!

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Dear Fenspot, I also did everything I could to avoid the fusion surgery. I waited until I could no longer walk upright without bending and leaning on something,Severe pain and weakness (spinal stenosis).took over after a few steps.. I had the fusion done 7 weeks ago and I'm feeling pretty good. It took almost 8 hrs, and due to the fact that I waited so long, my doctor had to dig deep to release my nerves. This caused me extra extra pain (surgeons words) on top of a painful surgery. You didn't mention your age or if you have any other medical problems. I'm 51 w/ high blood pressure/and chol. The pre-op checks your heart (EKG) lungs, (Xray) 6 vials of blood, for various reasons (clotting time etc) I'm happy I did it, and wish I didn't wait 6 years. Unfortunately, your back will only get worse the longer you wait. It's a rough operation, with a long and painful recovery time. Perhaps sometime in the future a noninvasive procedure will be found. Good Luck

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Thanks everyone for your comments. Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner, I did go ahead with the surgery and have been recuperating. Some of you had questions about my age (59 year old femaie)and general health (good). Three years ago, I was a physically active person, did yoga, horseback riding, hiking, swimming. This all changed after onset of spinal stenosis 2 1/2 years. ago. I spoke to 5 surgeons and they all said the same thing.

I went ahead with the spinal fusion surgery; it was approx 6 hours long. Fusion has come along "nicely" according to my neurosurgeon. Post surgery had pain and achiness in my legs and numbness in my toes. Had x-rays & got off the clamshell back brace one week ago and started PT- was totally off pain meds at that point. Unfortunately, I now have a lot of pain in the left side of my back now, numbness in toes, especially on left side. Feels like I strained something. Very difficult to sleep at night, cannot get comfortable at all. I put the back brace back on which helps somewhat. I hope I'm not in that 1/3 percent who gets worse post surgery.

. I will never do surgery again, will avoid at all costs. The recovery time has been too slow and I feel much more limited in what I can do. Can no longer walk my dog which is really sad.

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Dear fenspot..... please try to keep your hopes up that you will be pain free eventually. I am now 9 months post surgery and my fusion and bone grafts have healed and all is fine. At the same time I have bad arthritis in my right hip and a labral tear that is giving me a lot of grief.... initially after my fusion I also said that I would never have surgery again, but now I would happily go through another one to get rid of pain. Feel free to chat with me here whenever you like, hugs to you XX Anney

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Dear Anney,
Thanks so much for your response. I am cancelling my PT appt for tomorrow and instead will make an appt with the surgeon to find out why I now have so much pain. I really don't feel like I did much in PT, however, I did more bending than usual since I didn't have the back brace on.

How long did it take you post surgery till you were pain free? I was hoping to return to work in late August but this is looking unlikely now.

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Dear fenspot - I think that seeing your surgeon again is a great idea. I have been seeing mine quite often and recently I had a myleogram to ensure that everything is OK with the graft and the screws and rods are in the right place - and they are all fine. I have found that I need to be very proacive with Drs and surgeons - if something doesn't seem right, follow it up.

My complication is that it seems that my sciatic nerve is taking an 'unnatural path' following the surgery and also may have been damaged because I had spinal slippage for a very long time before I had it repaired... so I still have pain from that and I am seeing a pain management expert Dr at a hospital for that. The pain related to the surgery did not last very long, I did not have a brace but the surgeon wanted me to be very careful with movement for the first 6 weeks, no lifting, bending twisting at all until he could see on the Xrays that the graft had taken. My scar healed quickly . I was very tired post-op, mainly because I lost a lot of blood but I gradually got back my strength. I took things very easy for 3 months but I was able to go back to doing yoga classes, walking on the treadmill and using an exercise bike for 30 minutes. After 6 months we went to Europe for 2 months and I had no back pain at all. So dear, what you are doing is a great idea - there will be diagnostic tests that can be done to pinpoint why you are still having pain and then it can be addressed. Let me know how you go.... gentle hugs XX Anney

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hi fenspot I broke my back when I was 19 and also thru the years my cushions in my lumbar went bad. and the pain just got worse. and after 40 years of being on pain meds I got sick of it all, I found a surgeon took my old mris and he said L-1 thru L-4 have to be all fused together. 8 screws and two rods later and they also took out a bone where I had broken my back. I was out around 4hrs. they did a open back its about a 10inch cut that hurt worse then my spine. but with this being done I dont work any more cant lift things anymore I cannot bend over I have to squat or go to my knee. and Im having probs now with my hips. they also recurved my spine . so this maybe why the hips bother me. but I dont take any vicoden anymore. And I can say that I feel betr in my back. Im not telling you what to do you are the one that decides that. does it hurt the surgery, yes and you must have patents it takes time to heal. I was 100%fused after a year I wore a brace and a fusion belt to help the bone growth. and exerciseing and walking. and the pain in between. and after surgery dont sneeze it really hurts. good luck

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I had the x stop spacer surgery on 11/29/12 at the L4-L5, also have a spondy at the same level. 25 minute surgery vs. 4 hours the surgeon said. I wore a brace when out of bed for 2 1/2 months. Surgeon said at the last appt. that he wasn't sure how much relief of the sciatic pain I would get as my slippage was pretty bad but he's happy with how I'm doing - and so am I. Still have some pain when I roll over in bed or sit on something soft but other than that I feel really good. No restrictions though I'm still being careful with lifting.

I hope more surgeons start offering this as an alternative. There's only one in my area that does it and I'm glad I found him thru the website and took the chance in going there that he could help me.

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My mom had the spinal fusion surgery doing vertebraes 1,2,3,4 in lower back about eight years ago. It has basically crippled her . her age at time was 64, heart disease, bipolar and very over weight. Now she has seen another dr. after surgery five years later and was told by her original x-ray The dr. that preformed the surgery should have done the fifth one to because we both have spondylolisthesis that is where your vertebraes slide forward causing the symptons your having and eventually she had no choice because after the fifth one slides forward your back basically has nothing to hold up your spine. with this condition it affects the nerves through legs feet buttocks and etc. well getting back to new dr. he said her fifth vertebrae should have been fused to and he left a pin on her nerve believe it or not? I have checked into this dr. and have found he is highly desired as a very good surgeon actually in the future he would have been one of my pics of drs. I would go with but by my mothers experiance with him he seems to be a monstr or maybe something might have happened on the surgery table that prevented him to do this but never was in her surgery procedure. So, is it safe and ok to go forward with your surgery? Is it the dr. I really do not know . But my friend Shannon age 35 at time had L3 and L4 fused at seems to be doing great. Very confuseing but go with how you feelafter checking into everything about procedure drs. and references. I have found age makes a differenc e. seems 60 and over people do not do well by this surgery but being younger is better. I wish i had answers but now you have 50/50 from my references. good luck!!!

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I am 74 now and at 72 had a hip replacement that left my Spine a mess...I would do everything in the powers out there to do NO Surgery..... I will do all I can to NEVER do anyone one....

I've had good results with 16 acupuncture sessions in 2012 and now on a new great
anti inflammatory which has taken me off a good portion of my daily pain pills....ughhhhh..

Some get good result with Prolotherapy depending on the conditions, I had good results
for my shoulder.... with Prolo.

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I have been diagnosed as suffering from degenerative dics disorder in the lower 3 lumbar disc levels along with congenital lumbar stenosis!
I am asking whether people would select to have a lumbar fusion or not?

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I just wanted to offer an update on my results from the xstop spacer surgery since I see my first post was in 2/13. I sent the neurosurgeon a thank you note on the one year anniversary of the surgery to thank him for giving me my life back. I can say I have almost no pain at all any more. A little doing down dog in yoga but he told me there is nothing in my back which is effecting the sciatic nerve any more so not sure what it is but its nothing I can't live with.

I would suggest anyone with any disc problems to check and see if any doctors in their area perform this surgery and whether it is an option for them. It truly gave me my life back and with little surgery time or recovery time.

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Did anyone hear if "fenspot" went through with this surgery? Our condition sounds similar, and I CANNOT WAIT for my fusion surgery to get here in May of 2016. I am 45 years old, have a 35° curve in the lower part of my spine, herniated discs in L4-L5 & L5-S1, stenosis and spondylolisthesis. My doctor says I am young to have some of these issues (in addition to an auto immune disease), but it doesn't surprise me having grown up in Bridgeton, MO by the West Lake Landfill...but I digress.
I've "thrown out my back" several times over the last twenty years. Sometimes from something completely inane like picking up a branch in the yard, which led to crawling back to the house crying. The last straw was when it happened by standing up getting out of bed. Physical therapy has never helped, yoga HURT, walking more than twenty minutes HURTS--the only temporary band aid that put off surgery this long was lost weekends of meds and no movement.
I have tried to do everything right, and am at the ideal weight for my height and age. I eat as clean as possible (non-GMO and organic food), have not had one soda since 2003, have a job where physical involement is neccessary (though repetitive motion and overbooking of clients can push it), and I love walking outside when the St. Louis weather allows. So yeah, when people say have you tried this or that-- I just cut them off with YES.
My previous general practitioner had me on 1000 mg a day of ibuprofen, while my pain management doctor had me on 300-600 mg a day of gabapentin and a series of two epidural steroid injections. THIS IS WHERE IT HIT THE FAN. Something in that combination pi$$ed my body off royally. I got sores up my left leg, and all over my scalp. My hair started falling out in chunks, and has never been the same since!!! It has been almost a year, and the sores on my scalp are just now subsiding--after a hellish time of my dermatologist throwing different medications blindly at it like a dart game.
My doctors FINALLY agreed there is no other choice. This forum has helped give me peace about it. I am realistic in my expectations, and understand there is no perfect fix...but a lot of people feel BETTER, and that is good enough for me. Thank you to everyone that has shared their own story.

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