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spinal fusion surgery questions

Started by frank921 on 09/30/2011 12:39am

First let me tell you my history. 7 years ago I had a discetomy at l5-s1. Recovered 100%. 2 years ago fell out of my attic and fractures at l4 and l5. Last August, my back started hurting again so I went to see my docotor. I presented with low back pain and numbness in legs. Did physical therapy, medications with no relief. Did mri which showed two heriniationsl4-l5 and l5-s1. In dec, involved in auto accident and new mri showed both herniations had worsened and one was touching s1 nerve root. Also, in the report it was noted that i had at least moderate stenosis and also epidural liptmosis. I did two rounds epidural steroid injections that worked for a couple months then the numbness started in both legs. While on vacation in August I was rolling an icechest down a hallway and my back started hurting so bad I left the icechest behind. I could not move for two days. Since then things have gotten worse. Now getting shooting pains down to both feet. Big tow on both feet have sharp pains. I work on my feet for about eight hours a day and twoards the end of the day it feels like i am swinging my right leg. It really starts to hurt. The pain in my legs gets to be a real bad burning at times. Have sharp stabing pains in my back. It is really hard to get through a day of work. Besides the pain concentrating after taking vicoden does not work well. My doctor sent me for another esi and it did no good. He no longer does surgery so he refered me to another othopedic surgeon. Went to see him and he sent me to do an emg and said my leg pains could be caused by neuropathy. I did the test and the report show that there is denervation at both level and stated there is no signs of neuropathy. The doctor then said our option would be surgery but did not want to do this because of my age. He said that I would need to be two fused levels and that I would never work again. He said because of my history and my weight the chance of full recovery would not be good. I am at about 350lbs. He suggested that i get another opinion. This will actually be a third opinion because my original doctor told me I would need a fusion. That appointment is for next week. I have several questions that maybe someone can help with.

1) Is it true that with my history I will probably never work again?

2) Should I continue to work feeling the way I do. I do not feel productive anymore.

3)What questions should I ask?

4)My last mri was done in January should I get an updated one?

PLease give me your thoughts. I am so stressed about this. It will be hard enough to miss work for a simple surgery but to never work again was hard to hear. thanks

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6 Responses


First a few questions: You said: 'The doctor then said our option would be surgery but did not want to do this because of my age.' Unless I missed it, you didn't say how old you are.

About working: You said you worked on your feet all day, but not what you did for work.

Some of the tests you've had done might have missed the neuropathy I'm sure you must have because of your weight. I think that might also be what is causing your doctor(s) to tell you that you might not have a good outcome. Even folks with average weight have a hard time getting a positive outcome for more than a few years or no further fusion surgeries after the first.


Hi Frank
It's been a tough ride huh! Obviously every case is different so I can only tell you of my experience, so here goes with my story, are you sitting comfortably....ok people with back problems don't sit comfortably.

I am 56 and taught skating as a career for 31 years. I had a herniated disc L5/s1 as the result of a skating accident, that was in 1983, I had surgery to removal the herniated portion. 3 months after the surgery my problems started to return and they found the disc had ruptured further, so in 1984 I had further surgery at the same level. During this time I continued teaching. By 1992 things had got worse and it was found that the area had become unstable and was misalied, pinched nerves etc. So I had an anterior and posterior fusion at this level with instrumentation. One month following the surgery I was back on the ice teaching, way too soon, but being single and self-employed financially I didn't have much option. It was tough going, but I made it. Though a lot of the leg pain was resolved from the fusion I still had significant back pain, so 2 years after the fusion 1994 they removed the hardware, which after the initial healing period did resolve things. My fusion was a success, given the choice I would do it again if I needed to. I was good up until 3 years ago when I had yet another accident, which set off a whole new set of problems. I now have 4 herniated discs, stenosis, a cyst, facet issues and the old osteoarthritis. I am not a candidate for more surgery at this time as they dont know exactly what is causing the problems.
So, that's my story, can you continue to work after fusion? Personally I did, should you continue to work, well that's up to you, but what's the alternative .... We sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, I found while I was working it help take my mind of the pain. What questions to ask, hum what are the alternative treatments available, what are risks involved in you having this surgery, what are the ramifications of fusing the spine in later years, when you fuse one level the levels above and below it take on extra stress resulting in more wear and tear. I think you specialist would want an up to date MRI before any surgery. Check your surgeons credentials, who many of this type of surgery has he done and how frequently does he perform this surgery. Your spine is very fragile, be very careful what you consent to and by whom.

I wish you good luck, and please feel free to post again if there is anything I might be able to help with.


I just turned 40 and I work in a supermartket as an assistant manager. I have seen the neuro surgeon and he has said that he would also not recomend surgery. He said the I have ddd and by looking at my mri and history I am not a candidate for surgery. I asked what I could do and he said take stronger pain meds. he also took me out of work. I can't stand long without pain. I dont know what to do going forward.


Frank, you need to find yourself a doctor who will help you, not put you on pain meds for the rest of your life and offer no other options for relief.

Since we're posting on Spine Universe, please go to their search function on the main page and look for "spine specialists" in your area. They are surgeons who have training in BOTH neuro- and orthopedic fields, with a specialty in the spine ONLY (cervical, thoractic, and lumbar). They are educated and trained for a number of years more than a regular orthopedic surgeon. This is the kind of doctor you should see next. They can help, much more so than any other type of doctor/surgeon out there.


I agree with you cupcake, Drs are all too quick to just pass out the pills and get you out of the office. We as patients have to be proactive in our treatment, which means educating ourselves to treatments that are available and making sure we find the right Dr to work with us. The hard part is finding a good Dr, but it is important that you don't give up and don't let yourself be brushed off, fight for what you deserve because if you don't no one else will and it's a hell of life when you are in pain day in day out, there are treatments that can help with DDD, I find swimming one of the best things I can do to help my back, just that weightlessness helps take the pressure off and loosens up the muscles.

All the best Frank.


I know what you must be feeling. I was there at one time and went into a bad depression because my pain was very debilitating. Even though, two orthopedic spine surgeons advised that I needed a spinal fusion (L5-S1), I was so scared to undergo the procedure due to its invasiveness. I finally got to the point of desperation after I was no longer able to carry on with normal life. My entire day was spend on my back, in horrendous pain and me just praying God would take me out of my misery. I then thought to myself, why not get the surgery? How much worth can my situation really get at this point?? So, I went and got the surgery on Dec. 14, 2010. I am not going to lie, this was the worst surgery I have ever had. The pain afterwards was unbearable for a few days. The healing and recovery process was lengthy. But finally, after about 4 months, life started to be good again. The pain went from a 10 to a 1 (2 on a bad day after prolonged sitting) and it stabilized that area of my spine. I can actually cough and sneeze now without any pain. I am still dealing with a lot of inflexibility on my hamstrings and it affects on some areas of my life (like tying my shoes) , but I take that any day over the pain I used to feel. I am not taking any pain medication or muscle relaxers and I am currently undergoing physical therapy to help with the muscle tightness. As for working, it all depends on what you do. I was a firefighter before my surgery. Even though, I feel physically fit and capable to continue working as a firefighter, I made the choice not to. I still have two herniated discs at the L5-L4, and L4-L3 level. I don't see the point of risking another back injury if it can be avoided by simply working in a different field. This is easier said than done because I absolutely loved my job and also, all my education was geared toward fire science. So, here I am, 39 years old, going to back college to get a Bachelors in Biology so I can apply for PA school. Not how I envisioned my life to be, but that is just what it is going to be now. I realize not every person has the luxury just to not work and go to college, but if that is not an option for you, at least consider a change of career if you are working in a physical demanding job. There are also educational programs offered to people who have suffered a disability. These programs are designed to assist you to change into a different job or field. Anyways, I hope this post helps you makes sense of things a bit and I wish you the best. I am glad that I got my surgery and the success that I am having. Not being in pain was worth it all. I can even jump on the trampoline with my 8-year old daughter without any pain afterwards.

I wish you the best of luck,