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Spinal Fusion
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Spineneedle posted:
Hello, I'm new to this forum and am contemplating spinal fusion in the coming months. I'm hoping to get feedback from people that have already had fusions done and hopefully their success stories!

I've already had all the usual steps taken for treating back pain, and especially chronic pain, from Physical Therapy, to Pain Clinic's having the spinal injections, and now a laminectomy and spinal fusion of I believe L4 & L5. I've been researching as much as I can before actually making my decision, but I've basically decided already that I'd rather go this route then continue on with the 'let's see if this will fix it' treatments and such. Ten years ago I swore to never let anyone cut into my back, let alone my spine but with all the new technologies and advancements to medicine, plus 20 some years of chronic pain, well I'm basically ready to take the risk.

I'm quite physically active now, or at least as much as my pain will allow, or after I've had an injection as I'm a horse trainer and of course rider so I'm in fair shape for such a proceedure but my biggest worry is the recouperation time, being layed up for x amount of time and so forth. If your physically active and find sitting or lying down hard to do, that's my biggest hurdle.

I'm also aware that one should be in good health before hand, and that havign a strong immune system helps with the bone healing and fusion, but I'd like to know what diet's, vitamins and or minerals others have found to be helpful before and after surgery.

I read one post on here that was quite encouraging about the advantages of not putting off for months if not years having a fusion done, so any positive feedback would be helpful.

Thanks in advance.
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DianeR01 responded:
Hi Spineneedle.

Please remember this is a back pain board, most of those here are in pain and may have had failed procedures, you may not get too many success stories. I came here about a year and a half ago when I was climbing the walls because of pain after my fusion. My pain issues have resolved but I still lurk.

I had L3-S1 fused two years ago after multiple recurring ruptured disks. I was 45 at the time, not terribly fit but very active. Initially my recovery was going well until about three months out and I started having pain issues due to the nerve damage in my right leg. It took about 3-4 months to really get it under control and begin to feel better. To sum it up, the first year was difficult and I questioned my choice.

It is now 2 years almost to the day since my fusion, I believe I made a good choice. I do have numb toes on my left foot and much of my right foot and lower leg are still numb. There is little which can be done. I am not in pain, I walk 4 miles a day for exercise, I can pick my 20 lb dog up off the floor without pain, I ride my bicycle and have few limitations. My legs and back ache from time to time but some ibuprofin helps tremendously.

The biggest thing to remember about a fusion is THERE IS NO GUARANTEE A FUSION WILL RELIEVE YOUR PAIN. If you do choose to have the fusion, do get in the best shape you can and eat a well balanced diet, reduce any alcohol consumption, plenty of veggies and some will swear by calcium supplements. I had a bone growth stimulator but am not sure of the difference between having one and not.

Please be sure your doctor understands your profession and will be realistic about your ability to return to work. Do not hesitate to get a second or even third opinion. This is a big choice and you cannot go back if things do not work out.

My best to you

di
 
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bj1208 responded:
hi spineneedle - welcome to the board -

first came here about 3 years ago looking for information, etc. from the support group of what was going on with my back - at that time all my tests results showed i had a bulging disc at L5-S2 - because of changing jobs and ins i had to go to different PM's - thus each one wanted to start over on treatments -which i hated cause all treatments did not work - until i finally fond one that listened and saw what others had done - but he did try other treatments that had not been done - once those were done and no results he sent me to a neurosurgeon - he sent me to have a myelogram and discogram done - it showed that i had DDD of L5-S1 and posterial tears at L4-5 - so i had Anterior Lumbar Fusion L5-S1 on 2/25/08 - i fused 100% by my 6th week post op - but by my 3rd month post op my pain levels went off the chart - worse than before the surgery - which the surgeon had told me before surgery that there was only a 50/50 chance that the surgery would reduce the pain levels - so my surgery as far as the fusion was great - however i suffer from chronic back pains - (Failed Back Surgery Syndrome) - since my surgery i can no longer do the things i used to do - work, clean house (i have/had OCD!!!! so big change there) and all the outdoor activities/winter activities, etc. i stay on my bed all day long, except to cook dinner or go to store or to doc appts -

when you are looking at having a fusion surgery - be sure to research on the net all that you can - ask the surgeon lots and lots of questions - find out his/her success rates - ask if you can speak with those that have had great success - talk to friends (you'd be surprised how many do know someone that has bad back problems) -

as far as getting in shape -that would be good - just be careful and only do exercises approved by the surgeon and/or PM doc - DRINK MILK BEFORE AND AFTER THE SURGERY - i truly believe this is the reason i fused 100% by my 6th week post op -

also - do as the doc says - don't try to be a superhuman - think we all wish that -

also - if you are having the surgery just to get rid of the pains, think again - ask the surgeon the success rate for this - it's normally low -

know this is not what you wanted to hear but those of us on this support group have some type of failed back/neck surgery and are in constant chronic pains -

take care - joy
 
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Spineneedle responded:
Thank you Diane for your reply.

I'm sure I used a poor choice of wording when asking about success stories, but your reply has helped me with the reality of the situation I am in or facing.

Luckily my horse work is not a paid profession, but I'd really like to continue being able to ride.

I suppose in my situation the pain has been going on for so many years I've lived with it, and have gotten some relief with the spinal injections, but not for the nerve pain. My biggest concern is the loss of feeling in my left leg and especially my foot. I've already been told that he (my neurosurgeon) can not honestly tell me that the nerve damage can be repaired by the fusion, the laminectomy should help with that.

I've been researching as much as I can, and know now since last seeing my doctor that in my case it's better to get the fusion done at the same time as the laminectomy, rather than waiting and having to have it done in the future.

I have degenerative disc disease and scoliosis, so I'm looking at L3, L4 & L5S1 as my biggest problem areas. L5 being the worst. I have numbness & loss of feeling in parts of both legs. He explained to me that the left leg problems are due to L4 & L5, but the weakness and loss of feeling in my right leg is from L3.

Oh, and I should have posted that I've already had the 3 epidural injections and they only helped with the pain from inflammation, not the nerve pain...so I'm basically at the point that I either risk the surgery , or just continue with pain meds. as my pain clinic doctor said he won't continue the injections. Again thank you for your feedback.
 
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serendipity888 responded:
Hi Spineneedle~~

About the riding.........You really should not ride. Not only is it traumatic for your spine, but with the weakness in your legs, it is very dangerous. You could fall and end up much worse than you are now.

I'm guessing, that deep down, you already know this. I have had to give up riding. My doctor said a fall would likely paralyze me. I KNOW, what you are giving up. You can still train though, and do ground work. These magnificent animals will love you no matter what. It will be a different relationship, but just as rewarding.
 
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tiger683 responded:
Its unfortunate that you already have the numbness in your legs I had that before my first surgery and now I will never feel most of the right foot ever again. However.... I had the L4-L5 fused last year October that fusion went very well I healed good I have permant numbness and sciatica because of the damage to the sciatic nerve. NOw I am dealing with the L5-S1 collapsing in on its self because it can not handle the extra weight. I am trying epidural injections however if they do not help me I am looking at getting the L5-S1 fused as well.

Everyone is different you must make your own decisions and try to be as educated as possible so that you can ask all the questions that you need to, to feel comfortable with whatever the doc has to say. I always have a page of questions for my doc I think it irriates him but I dont really care.

The surgery can take away some of the pain possibly not all the pain. Keep that in mind. My doc after my fusion kept asking "is the pain better than before the surgery". If the answer is yes they consider it a successful surgery.

If you have any more questions please feel free to ask!

Love-M
 
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Spineneedle responded:
Thank you for the great feedback...lots of info. I'm already aware of and looking into, so the feedback i get here confirms some of my fears, questions and such.

Fortunately I've got a very good neurosurgeon, and he's done these proceedures many times with success, but he's also quite honest and while he would like to attempt to reduce the pain levels he tells me there really is no actual gaurantee of doing so, and that he already knows he can not eliminate the nerve damage I've already recieved. I'm also confident that he's not suggesting the fusion alongside the laminectomy just do do further surgeries and make money at it. He's shown me my MRI images and explained that the area is so compressed and then bones from the DDD are already fragile, so fusing the worst area makes sense all at the same time of the laminectomy.

He's a very straightforward guy, and looks to the positive as well as taking the least evasive steps that he can. He has not told me it wouldn't be advisable to ever ride again, just that I won't be getting up on one of mine for quite some time after the surgery. This I already figured would be the case and am looking at it being close to a year before I could ride again. That bridge I'll cross when I get there. The clinic/hospital I go to is for Neurosurgeons/Orthopedic doctors only and they also have their own Outpatient Hospital, of course my surgery would be done at the regular hospital, and I know that the length of stay will obviously be according to how everything goes with the surgery and then the recoup time beofre I'm released....but it's the reality of when I return homw that I'm a bit worried about.

Again I am aware that everyone is different so their healing time will be different as well.....but I'm looking at the realistic outlook of recoup time before you can actually start doing things...the basic work for mothers, I've still one child at home. She's certainly not an infant, but still needs my attention...so what do other mother's do in this case, and obviusly when you can't afford outside help and such?

And has anyone else had to use the brace afterwards, or is that typical proceedure with these sort of surgeries? I've been told at least for 6 weeks.

Again thank you.

Moya
 
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Spineneedle responded:
Thank you Serendipity,

My surgeon has not told me not to ride now, but he has advised that I won't be riding anytime soon after the surgery and that I am aware of. I've basically done most of my riding, and not anything rough, just after having my epidural injection...obviously give or take a few days.

The training I usually do mostly ground work anyway, and I do a very gentle sort of training, so no sort of bucking bronco riding for me thats for sure! Most of my weakness and numbness is in my left leg and foot. I hadn't riden is over 15 years until a year ago, and my left leg was quite weak but I'm working to rebuild the muscle the best I can...but I really have accepted that one never knows and I may never ride again...but will keep a positive outlook.

Thank you again, and I look forward to reading more of your postings on this site!
 
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Jotasha responded:
I had spinal fusion in May of 2004. During surgery I got nerve damage from the waist down, leaving me with a paralyzed right foot and ankle. I am now permanently disabled, I can walk but not far, have trouble controlling both the bowel and bladder, because of the nerve damage. The severe pain is better, and walking is better than just standing, but I cannot walk far because of the cramps that start in my right leg. It has changed my life drastically, I too used to be involved in training and showing horses. The original injury was from falling off a horse.

Most people have a fusion with no problems, unfortunately I was not one. Also no attorney wants to bother with you because the "case is not worth enough to them" as I was told. So I get no compensation , have to live on social security and am unable to to go far by myself as if the car breaks down I am at the mercy of every criminal that roams the streets and highways, as I cannot walk for help.

My doctor was a Spine Specialist, so one of the best. I'm sure he did not want this to happen but it did, but now I have to live with it.
 
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Trubdo responded:
Hi, just a couple of other things to think about before surgery.

1) Neurosurgeons are not God, although many like to think they are 2) My neurosurgeon told me I should be back to work in about 4 days. It was 4 weeks and I had only been at my job for 5 months. Ended up having to change jobs 2 months later as I could not handle the stress. 3) Never forget about scar tissue. I had cervical fusion of my C4-C7. The pain above my fusion did go away; however, the scar tissue below has made my pain worse and I am now taking Oxycontin every 8 hrs. and other meds. Prior to surgery I was on Darvocet. My surgery was in May 2007.

I was 53 yrs. old at time of surgery and in good health, though not physically strong. I have added vitamins and supplements to my regimen in the last couple years. Vitamin D is especially important, as is Vitamin C. I just read where glucosimine is not longer thought to help joint pain. I also have fibromyalgia so take supplements that help soft tissue. Whatever you take, consult with your PCP first.

If not for the scar tissue, things might have turned out differently for me. Good luck with whatever you decide. There are no guarantees unfortunately.
 
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pfhobson responded:
Hi I too am suffering from the L4-L5 herniated disc and have had two surgeries without success. When the surgeon then showed me the hardware involved in fusion, I just thought, "NoWay". I then consulted a surgeon friend who basically told me that unless I was in lots of daily pain or incontinent, stay away from back surgery. I then started looking into alternatives. The best I could find was Spinal Ozone Injections which have been done in Italy for some ten years and are still done there, India, etc; however lately some of my friends told me about an Argentinian Neurosurgeon who is doing the injections in Mexico and I am going there for the series. I can go into greater detail if you want to email me. pfhobson@yahoo.com
 
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cweinbl responded:
Hi "Spineneedle." I've had three disc herniations and four spine surgeries, including two discectomies and two laminectomies (including multilevel fusion). I devote a significant amount to time to researching spine surgery techniques and procedures. Here is as much as I've been able to ascertain:

1. The success rate for spine surgery today is 50-60% for pain relief and about 80% for improved function. So, if you're having surgery because you are losing function in your leg, the success rate is good. If you're having surgery to relieve pain, the success rate is still bad (very bad, compared to most other elective surgical procedures). Never ask the surgeon about the success rate. You will not receive an accurate answer. All surgeons are egocentric when it comes to their own ability and techniques. Do your own research.

2. There is a huge difference is outcome based upon the skill and talent of the surgeon. Therefore, you should obtain opinions from at least two fellowship trained spine surgeons. A spine surgeon restricts his or her entire practice to disorders and trauma of the spine. Therefore, they know more about new techniques and have much more experience implementing them. Fellowship trained spine surgeons can be located at or near teaching hospitals. Why risk your health to someone less talented and experienced? Don't you deserve the best? Just as an example. my spine surgeon (1989) developed the first surgical technique to harvest the graft donation from the patients hip without the need for another incision. I traveled 100 miles for my spine surgeon, who has operated on Jack Nicklaus and many other celebrities.

3. Disc replacement surgery is the spine surgery of the future. It has a higher success rate without the need for complex bone grafts. Patients with replacement (artificial) discs also have a much better range of motion. Again, spine surgeons are better trained with this leading edge new procedure.

4. Be cautious about having implanted cages, rods, pins and pedicle screws. Many patients with implanted hardware later experience new pain because portions of the metal implants can impinge a nerve root or other tissue. This does not occur with autologous donation or cadaver bone. I used autologous donation for my fusion and I've had no problems with it at all. The other advantage with autologous donation, compared with cadaver bone, is that your body will never reject its own tissue. I would think twice before having metal implants.

5. No matter what they tell you, plan on a recovery of at least 12 weeks. I missed 16 weeks of work after my fusion (L3-S1). My advice is, do not go back to normal routines (work) when you feel well. Go back at least a week later. If you go back too soon, you'll risk inflammation, which can be just as nasty as the pre-surgical pain.

Best of luck to you.
 
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gwhpnut responded:
DON'T DO IT!!!! I have only see one person it has worked on. I had it done..I am sorry I didn't have someone to warn me first. everyone else I have met is in constant pain, I myself am on disability, and in pain. ALSO NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT THE SEXUAL SIDE AFFECTS AND LOSS OF SENSATION. this will not make your life better, at least the odds's are it will not be, the only person who will make out is the surgeon...and you will have to sign so many releases that if it goes wrong, you cannot sue them. Really, try a different type of work first...I wish I did, even if the pay was bad, at least I wouldn't be in constant pain...(@13 YEARS) it varies, but is always there...you will need pain killers and they mess with your mind as much as the pain. at times you will think you are nuts, depressed...my doctors then put me on paxil. this was another bad idea, this drug should be off the market too.. I tried to kill myself, and all this pain and suffering due to one surgery...THINK ABOUT IT, A LOT... AND THE BEST ADVISE I CAN GIVE YOU IS, GET A GREAT LAWYER!!! don't end up like me!!!! AT LEAST I AM TELLING THE TRUTH, NOT LIKE YOU DOCTORS. , victor
 
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JohnIrvine responded:
I had a spinal fusion, L4-L5, L5-S1 back in 1991. Back then (after the surgery) it took me almost 3 months before I could get out of bed an do much of anything lasting more than a few hours. 9 months before I was almost back to 'regular' if there is one.

I am experiencing problems logging in to this website - please feel free to reply for a more detailed explanation if you wish to , chasebiz@att.net.

John, for Concord, California
 
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SkutchSr responded:
Sitting or laying is not my problem. After two lower back spinal fusions, standing and walking is almost impossible for any length of time. My first operation involved removal of a disk and replaced with a metal device. My second removed the first device, removed two disks and installed two new ones. Recovery time took a little more than a year each. -- Good luck especially riding. Steve Sr.


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