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  • L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

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    Old 04-28-2008, 10:12 PM   #1
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    L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

    I'm needing some feedback from those who've gone down the path. I'm contemplating a fusion at L5/S1. A brief history: 51 year old male, 5'7" -150lbs., with total of 4 back surgeries, 2 lumbar and 2 cervical, but at just 2 levels. Laminectomy at L5/S1 in 1979 and 1990; laminectomy at C5/C6 in 1991 and Cervical fusion at same level in 1992. I have a moderate disk bulge at C6/7. Orthopod says I'm poster candidate for lumbar fusion. Until October 2007, I could walk or hike as far as I wished, but have experienced sciatica and foot pain since. I have to wear a lumbar elastic brace to get through the day, and must spend hours each day in a horizontal position to avoid the pain. I 've tried PT out the wazoo to no avail. As far as occupation goes, I manage my own residential real estate rental properties, which allows my the freedom to lie down for significant periods during the day. I'd like to go back to work as a lawyer but there's no way I can stay upright for a full work day without being miserable for that day and several thereafter. I can stay relatively pain free in a prone position, except that after sleeping about 4 to 5 hours at night ( and this with the aid of meds), I wake up hurting with interscapular pain and have to get up and walk around and stretch to make it better. Low back muscles are weak and hips feel weak, with significant atrophy. Exercise just doesn't seem to help anymore. Though MRI shows no degeneration at L4, I'm concerned that level is weak and that the fusion will lead to a cascade of continuing problems at adjacent level. Also, I really don't know anyone who had had a lumbar fusion at L5/S1 and so can't talk to someone who has been through it and can share the experience. It seems I read nothing but horror stories about this surgery but I'm at wit's end. I don't want to give up and spend the rest of my life lying down. Is there, can there be good life after fusion ? Any shared experience or advice is welcome. Thank you in advance for taking time to read and respond. M.

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    Old 04-29-2008, 04:10 AM   #2
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    Re: L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

    I have just had 3 level fusion and am significantly better 5 weeks post-op. However, I know several folks who have had "transition" problems down the road although not with my surgeon. The success of the surgery depends in large part on the skill of the surgeon. I did a lot of research on line making sure I had an excellent surgeon. I asked the physical therapists if they had this surgery within a 2 hour drive, who would do it? You want a surgeon who got an A in the classes and teaches residents. etc, Good Luck.

    Old 04-29-2008, 05:19 AM   #3
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    Re: L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

    Well one reason you read horro stories is because anyone here is having problems and the success stories are off haveing a life. Remember that!!

    Dont let anything discourage you. You know your body and know if its right for you. Everyone heals different.

    I had the surgery in 2002 and i did not know what i know now the dr. never told me about BLT no bending,lifting.or twisting and the fusion never took causing the harware to break so i had anterior/posterior surgery with a fusion at L-4 to S-1 in march 28 so i am just 4 weeks post-op and i have had some nerve pain but as far as the back it feels good. I watch evrything i do not wanting anything to go wrong this time. But they made sure i knew all this that i know from here. We have not saw bone growth but it is still to early.

    If you need this surgery DO NOT let anything stop you or any stories it was the best thing i did the firdt time although it never took. I couldnt walk before and after i had 5 years pain free i hope and know i will do the same with this one. But hopefully alot longer.

    Good luck!!

    Old 04-29-2008, 07:51 AM   #4
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    Smile Re: L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

    hi,i had l5 s1 fused 8 weeks ago,i know its early days and i am very careful how i do things but i feel great,i have no back or leg pain and i can walk further than i have been able to walk in years,i try to walk upto 2 or 3 miles a day cos they say thats the best exercise for your back to fuse,i go for a x ray in 4 weeks so i will let you know if the fusing is taking place,i do hope so,i am in england so we get our treatment done on the nhs so its free and we just get given a surgeon who is in our area where we live,unless you can afford to pay for it and then you go private,but the nhs doctors wouldnt waste money on giving people this operation if they think they didnt need it,i am happy with mine anyway.i know someone who was 21 years old when she had this op done and she is fine now,i am 40 but i hope i carry on like i am doing,just thought id let you know my story,

    Old 04-29-2008, 07:57 AM   #5
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    Re: L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

    Hi Mark, and welcome to the board!

    Like tmvincent said, take the horror stories with a grain of salt. Most fusion surgery is completely successful. Those people aren't hanging around the message boards. The failure rate of fusion surgery is around 3-5%.

    You might ask your doctor if there are any past patients he can let you talk to. I would have loved to talk to someone in person before my fusion. I plan to tell my doctor at my next appt in June that he can give my number to anyone who wants to talk to someone as they're making their decision.

    You will always need to be aware that you have had back issues, always need to be careful not to lift anything too heavy or put too much stress on your back. And it's true that once you have a fusion, the levels above or below can go bad because of the extra stress they take due to the fused section next to it. If you're careful, there's a good chance you can avoid any further problems, but as they say, once a back patient, always a back patient. You can't expect to do everything like non-back patients do. But you'll learn to modify how you do things and will be able to do a lot of what you love. Once you're fused, you'll want to keep your core muscles as strong as possible and listen well to your physical therapist when he/she teaches you how to move, lift, bend, etc,. properly.

    For me, I can't imagine not having had this surgery. I was quickly heading for a wheelchair. Painfree was never the goal for me (but my problem was very different from yours), but I consider my surgery a complete success. I don't see a wheelchair in my foreseeable future at this point! I do still have pain, but it's much more controllable with pain meds than the pain before my surgery.

    Only you can tell when you've reached the point that it's time. From what you wrote, it sounds like you're there. Don't be frightened off from needed surgery because of posts by people with failed surgeries. While it's true that some surgeries aren't successful, most of them are. There's no guarantee. Some people do end up worse. We aren't going to lie to you here! But most people end up much better off.

    I wish you the best as you make your decision. If you have other questions, we'll do our best to help you from our own experiences. You might want to read the thread at the top called, "Post Surgery Tips." It will give you more information on what to expect and a ton of suggestions that will make your recovery easier if you decide to go ahead with the surgery.

    Take care,

    Old 04-30-2008, 06:12 AM   #6
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    Re: L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

    Thank you all for your personal stories and support. I hope that you all continue to improve. I'm scheduled for a visit to the Orthopeadic surgeon on Friday to explore a date for surgery. Any further thoughts are welcome, as well as updates on your personal progress and (hopefully not) setbacks.

    Old 04-30-2008, 11:12 AM   #7
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    Re: L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

    I had an L4-S1 fusion in 1993. It's 15 years later and I'm doing relativley well. I did have some back pain this Spring and x-rays showed facet arthritis. But the disc space above L4 is fine with no further problems. Is anyone 100% normal after fusion? - probably not. Can it improve your quality of life? - absolutely. I was in my 20's when I had the fusion and I've never regretted it. I exercise regularly (bike, hike, walk, etc).

    With, or without, the surgery you'll always have to be conscious of how much you lift, ho you lift items, twist, etc. Good back ergonomics will be necessary even if you don't have surgery and it sounds like you are suffering enough now.

    I've always been the kind to aim for the best quality of life possible. So for me lumbar (and then cervical) surgery was an easy decision.
    Rt thumb fusion '13. R&L thumb arthroplasty '12 ; RT TKR & Bilat CTS' 11. Fusions: L5-S1('87), L4-S1('93), C5-C7('06), L3-S1('10), C4-C5('13). C5-C7 foraminotomy '08

    Old 04-30-2008, 07:56 PM   #8
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    Re: L5/S1 fusion : Can you live a normal life afterwards ?

    My daughter is approaching her three year post op mark in about 6 weeks, L4 - S1. She is going away to college and is living a normal life. She has been snow skiing, water skiing, bowling, ... Her doctor has told her to listen to her body. As a previous poster has said, she does need to watch how much she lifts the rest of her life. By the way she had her fusion at the age of 15 so I know that helped her bounce back really quickly. cas

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