Senior Veteran (female)
Join Date: Aug 2006
To GBRBHR from Emily
Emily, I am a new member and I am particularly interested in finding out if you ever got an answer regarding your swollen ankles. I am 2 months post surgery for an L4-5 fusion. This is my 3rd surgery in 20 years because of scoliosis and degenerative disc disease. I am standing relatively straight for the first time in as many years, the severe pain in my left leg and ankle that drove me to this surgery is nearly gone, I'm walking 2-3 miles with ease, but suddenly my left ankle and foot are swelling like both ankles did when I was pregnant nearly 40 years ago. My right foot is also swollen, but not as much. Weird thing is, I have been using an external BMI SpinalPak II which is a bone fusion stimulator prescribed by my doctor. I don't know anyone else who has used this on the lumbar area. I can't help wondering if the electrodes that are supposed to be encouraging bone growth are also encouraging pain in my hands and swelling in my hands and feet as well, since the formerly squashed nerve that was causing my pain is right in the line of the electrode fire. Sometimes doctors - especially surgeons - are the most tunnel-visioned professionals to turn to. My pharmacist and chiropractor understand how many off the chart reactions I've had to different medications, but some doctors have literally denied the possibility of what I have already experienced, so their opinions are not necessarily of any import to me. (God forbid if you badmouth a med or device that they're secretly invested in.) So far, I've had an ultrasound test for a blood clot immediately after seeing my new internist. We're all happy that it came out negative, but no other option has been offered to explain the swelling. Please keep me posted of any new information you may receive and I'll do the same for you since we have a common concern, and I've never been one to be satisfied with an unacceptable explanation, or worse, the brushoff when it comes to questions regarding my health. Unfortunately, my former beloved orthopedic surgeon/guru/teacher/champion of 20 years died suddenly 2 years ago, and here I am with a new set of doctors (an orthopedic and neuro surgeon) who performed a fine surgery, but couldn't really care less about me as a person. So many of us have discovered how lousy or practically non-existent the after care is. It really is up to the patient to seek out a compatible professional support system as well as peer support to help with the healing process.
Looking forward to your response. (I hope I'll know where and how to retrieve it.)
GBRBHR (alias Barbara)
Hi Barbara, and welcome to the board! I've found a lot of help, comfort, and encouragement here, and I hope you do, too. I started a new thread for you so it wouldn't get lost in someone else's.
I'm interested in your history. You sound so much like me, and there aren't many! I'm 48 years old. I had my first scoli fusion 30 years ago, T4-L4. Still had a very significant curve afterwards, but less pain. But I did still have pain everyday. My lumbar spine finally couldn't take the stress of holding up that huge curved fusion and I developed DDD. I lost 3 inches in height and had excrutiating pain. I had surgery 9/25/06 to fuse the remaining vertebrae down there, also going up into the thoracic and reinforcing that with fusing and hardware. The OR report says the second fusion was T10-S1. That's the short version.
As far as the ankle swelling, at my last appt my doctor and I agreed that I was ready to start weaning out of the brace. My PT told me I should start with just an hour a day out of it, then when that felt comfortable go to 2 hours for a few days, then 3 hours, etc. Once I got to 2 hours out of it, the ankle swelling started to decrease. When I got to 4 hours, it almost disappeared. I got overconfident, though, and weaned too fast after that and had a set-back. I skipped a day altogether and kept the brace on, and the next day the swelling was back! As I started weaning again, after I got past 2 hours out of it, the swelling again went down. So I think I can say with confidence that the brace was causing the swelling. I had a lot more swelling in my left ankle than the right. I figured it had to do with being not too symmetrical in the rest of my body! Are you in a brace?
I've have the same bone growth stimulator that you have, and I was already showing bone growth at only 6 weeks. At my last appt, my doctor didn't even take x-rays because the ones before, at 3 months, showed me fused. Amazingly fast! Next month at 6 months post-op he wants to order a CT scan to be absolutely certain that everything is fused as it should be. I've never felt anything at all from the bone growth stimulator. I can only assume it's working. I wouldn't think that would be causing your swelling, but are you able to shift the electrodes a bit, maybe one up an inch and one down an inch, to see if it made any difference? It would still be aimed at the right area, but from a different angle. That's just a shot in the dark.
I think it's absolutely fabulous that you're able to walk 2-3 miles with ease! I'm not up to that yet, but I hope to get there. What were your previous surgeries? I've never found anyone else who had my same condition. In fact, none of the ortho docs I've been to have ever seen a back like mine either. All the things they suggested to help me were really their best guesses based on their expertise, but not with experience because they had had none with my situation. I felt a bit like a guinea pig, but I was desparate for relief, so I went with the suggestion that made the most sense, knowing my own body and having some medical knowledge from training as a Registered Respiratory Therapist.
What do your doctors predict for you at this point? Are you able to work, or will you be able to work again at some point? I'm very interested in your answers, as I'm trying to figure out what to expect from this body in the future. I don't think I'd qualify for disability, but I don't know that I can work again either. I feel very much in limbo!
It's a pleasure to "meet" you. I hope you get some relief from that swelling!