Re: L5/S1 ALIF procedure. What to expect post-op?
Hi Mary -- I had a one-level ALIF in December 2011, but it was L4-L5. I expect that the recovery process is fairly similar.
The first day in the hospital, they will teach you to log roll. If you have good upper body strength, log rolling will be much easier, because you want to keep your shoulders and hip in a straight line, using your arms to push your shoulders up. My first night, I had a sore throat and my low sodium vegetable broth seemed like the best thing I ever tasted. You will probably be in the hospital for at least three days. I wish I had taken ear plugs and a sleep mask because there was a lot of noise and commotion.
Physical therapy in the hospital made sure I could walk up and down a few stairs, as I have two steps in my house. They also gave me a walker and a toiler riser, because I did not feel comfortable sitting all the way down to a regular toilet seat. When I got home, I used the walker for about three weeks. It reminded me not to twist around and kept people in stores from getting too close. You will want either a recliner or a tall chair with good lumbar support. I sat on a dining room chair with a pillow for about a month when I wasn't in bed or walking. (Walking frequently is very important.)
I made the mistake of not taking laxatives before I was keeping down food. I had a tough time with getting BMs going again. I also had a lot of nausea and threw up a few times. (I have mild IBS, and I don't think my intestines enjoyed being moved around.) Sneezing and coughing were both extremely painful, but holding a pillow over my stomach helped.
I had about three months of physical therapy twice a week before I hit a plateau. I really liked the water therapy. The exercises after surgery are significantly modified from before surgery, so don't try to do pre-op exercises! I also did a lot a calf stretches even while lying in bed. My mid and upper back got stiff from the change in posture, so I used a couple of tennis balls up against the wall to massage between the shoulder blades and also the buttock area. (No direct massage on the spine and not on the operated area.)
Husband took care of me for about a month, but I was mostly self-sufficient after a week at home. I could not empty the dishwasher or do any lifting for about three months, but I could heat up simple dishes and bathe myself. I am still not using the vacuum, and I bought a robotic vacuum about a year ago.
Finally, I took a month off work, then started working about 15 hours a week, progressing to about 36 hours per week over the next two months. I have the ability to work at home some days, so this helped me to start working quickly. I also have to use my own leave (sick and vacation), so I pushed to get back to work. With all my dr's appointments, I am currently working just under 40 hours per week.