What are people's experiences with spinal fusion surgery?

Posted by heatherm @heatherm, Oct 27, 2020

After trying pretty much everything, with little pain relief, my surgeon has put me on his priorty elective list for fusion of my L3/4/5, and maybe S1. I’ve heard both positive and negative experiences with this surgery. What are people’s experiences, with this? ,

@jenatsky

My surgery was 1992 with stainless steel plates and screws, which provided me with stability but increased vertebrae wearing above and below. Now they typically use titanium cages or something similar. I recommend you check out the site for others who have previously charted their path.

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Just an FYI, I had both lumbar and cervical fusions in late 2011, with titanium cages, screws, etc. It will still place more stress force above and below the fusion site, because the normal mobility of the spine is “lost” in those areas. I now have problems below my previous lumbar fusion and both above and below my neck fusion (it was two levels, my back was also 2 levels). It’s just a not unheard of “eventual” side effect…at this point, I tolerate it and have refused further major surgery (more fusion levels).

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In reply to @lindaferrara "Oh boy." + (show)
@lindaferrara

You made me LOL! 😊

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@wisco50

Just an FYI, I had both lumbar and cervical fusions in late 2011, with titanium cages, screws, etc. It will still place more stress force above and below the fusion site, because the normal mobility of the spine is “lost” in those areas. I now have problems below my previous lumbar fusion and both above and below my neck fusion (it was two levels, my back was also 2 levels). It’s just a not unheard of “eventual” side effect…at this point, I tolerate it and have refused further major surgery (more fusion levels).

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Do any of you regret having fusions on back or neck? I've only had the one fusion of L4-5, and feel once I'm fully healed I can start living again. I'm wearing the back brace for another 2 months to protect the area. I do have neck pain, with similar issues in C5-6-7 area, and have SI joint and degenerative disc disease overall. I'm afraid that if I overdo activity, my pain down into my legs and feet will come back. They cleaned out alot of my bone spurs, arthritis during the fusion surgery, and the numbness and pain in my feet is almost gone. I'm reading these posts from everyone and worry I will do something to cause my pain to return. Thanks everyone for sharing of your experiences, it has been so helpful.

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@ga29

Do any of you regret having fusions on back or neck? I've only had the one fusion of L4-5, and feel once I'm fully healed I can start living again. I'm wearing the back brace for another 2 months to protect the area. I do have neck pain, with similar issues in C5-6-7 area, and have SI joint and degenerative disc disease overall. I'm afraid that if I overdo activity, my pain down into my legs and feet will come back. They cleaned out alot of my bone spurs, arthritis during the fusion surgery, and the numbness and pain in my feet is almost gone. I'm reading these posts from everyone and worry I will do something to cause my pain to return. Thanks everyone for sharing of your experiences, it has been so helpful.

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I sure hope PT is in your near future? I had my L4-S1 fusion in 1992 and have no regrets even though I’m still in pain to a lesser degree. PT saved my life along with weight loss. It stopped me from having my back redone at 69 yo. Do not let your surgery define you. Take control of your recovery and work at relieving your pain. Don’t be afraid to use medications to control pain as the alternative is too destructive.

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@ga29

Do any of you regret having fusions on back or neck? I've only had the one fusion of L4-5, and feel once I'm fully healed I can start living again. I'm wearing the back brace for another 2 months to protect the area. I do have neck pain, with similar issues in C5-6-7 area, and have SI joint and degenerative disc disease overall. I'm afraid that if I overdo activity, my pain down into my legs and feet will come back. They cleaned out alot of my bone spurs, arthritis during the fusion surgery, and the numbness and pain in my feet is almost gone. I'm reading these posts from everyone and worry I will do something to cause my pain to return. Thanks everyone for sharing of your experiences, it has been so helpful.

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@ga29 No regrets. A cervical fusion at C5/C6 gave me my life back and my ability to control my arms again (after rehab) so I could paint again as an artist. PT helped a lot, but so did horseback riding just at a walk by sitting with good posture because it builds core strength. Building core strength is the best thing you can do to support the spine and avoid future spine surgery. Of course you do that within your ability and with your doctor's blessings. Believe that you will recover, and do your best to get there. Fear causes pain, so embrace your journey and get outside for some relaxation. Don't wish for more surgery. If you get to where you will need it again, go into it by advocating for your best possible outcome, ask lots of questions, and get as many opinions as you need to make an educated decision. Physical therapy can help in your recovery, and if your PT also does myofascial release, that can help loosen the tight surgical scar tissue. See our MFR discussion for info. https://connect.mayoclinic.org/discussion/myofascial-release-therapy-mfr-for-treating-compression-and-pain/

Here is my story. https://sharing.mayoclinic.org/2019/01/09/using-the-art-of-medicine-to-overcome-fear-of-surgery/

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Thanks so much everyone, excellent advice that I will take to heart. I think my fear has taken over somewhat, and I will work hard to reverse that. No PT ordered as of yet, 10 weeks out, of 4 months order in a back brace and only told to walk as much as I’m able. I was told my bones are soft, assume that refers to osteopenia. Once the brace comes off in May, I’m asking for PT, I agree that’s so important! Building my core up, it’s been gone for a long while, Lol. I don’t want more surgery, but my neck was a close 2nd to my lumbar pain. I hope I can use PT again to relieve it. No more epidurals or ablations if I can help it though!

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I was diagnosed with osteopenia too, much to my surprise since I’ve been taking 2000mg Calcium a day for 10 plus years due to my lactose intolerance.

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@ga29

Thanks so much everyone, excellent advice that I will take to heart. I think my fear has taken over somewhat, and I will work hard to reverse that. No PT ordered as of yet, 10 weeks out, of 4 months order in a back brace and only told to walk as much as I’m able. I was told my bones are soft, assume that refers to osteopenia. Once the brace comes off in May, I’m asking for PT, I agree that’s so important! Building my core up, it’s been gone for a long while, Lol. I don’t want more surgery, but my neck was a close 2nd to my lumbar pain. I hope I can use PT again to relieve it. No more epidurals or ablations if I can help it though!

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@ga29 Are your doctors doing anything to improve your bone quality? That would be a factor in future spine surgery. Bone quality determines how well screws will hold if they need to place hardware. You might ask questions if there is a reason you are not absorbing enough nutrients. Are you on any prescription medicine that can affect this? Do you have enough calcium in your diet? Have they checked your blood calcium levels? My mom had a problem with her parathyroid glands that pulled calcium out of her bones and elevated blood calcium levels. That made her bones brittle and she fell and fractured her pelvis a week after the surgery that removed the bad parathyroid. It is worth asking why your bones are soft and what remedies could help. If you can make things better, you'll be in a better position if you do need another surgery.

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@ga29

Do any of you regret having fusions on back or neck? I've only had the one fusion of L4-5, and feel once I'm fully healed I can start living again. I'm wearing the back brace for another 2 months to protect the area. I do have neck pain, with similar issues in C5-6-7 area, and have SI joint and degenerative disc disease overall. I'm afraid that if I overdo activity, my pain down into my legs and feet will come back. They cleaned out alot of my bone spurs, arthritis during the fusion surgery, and the numbness and pain in my feet is almost gone. I'm reading these posts from everyone and worry I will do something to cause my pain to return. Thanks everyone for sharing of your experiences, it has been so helpful.

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@ga29 No regrets.. it was a great help.. Had it when 57 now at 84 I can dance circles around most of my cohorts.. My fusion was L4,L5, S1.. I had cervical problems about 8 years later .. but I am using the Prescribed Cervical Traction Device to Help give those a rest from the crunch ..use it 20-30 minutes a day… Ken

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@ga29

Thanks so much everyone, excellent advice that I will take to heart. I think my fear has taken over somewhat, and I will work hard to reverse that. No PT ordered as of yet, 10 weeks out, of 4 months order in a back brace and only told to walk as much as I’m able. I was told my bones are soft, assume that refers to osteopenia. Once the brace comes off in May, I’m asking for PT, I agree that’s so important! Building my core up, it’s been gone for a long while, Lol. I don’t want more surgery, but my neck was a close 2nd to my lumbar pain. I hope I can use PT again to relieve it. No more epidurals or ablations if I can help it though!

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@ga29 When I complained to my spine surgeon, years after my lumbar surgery, about the pains I was having in my neck, He had an epidural done …. then a few days later he asked it that helped… No it had not… so he said … You have "Cubital Tunnel Syndrome"… that is your elbow "crazy bone"… The spine surgeon said that he did not "do" limbs.. so an Arm surgeon fixed the problem out patient…So Epidurals are handy .. positive or negative… Ken

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@jenniferhunter

@ga29 Are your doctors doing anything to improve your bone quality? That would be a factor in future spine surgery. Bone quality determines how well screws will hold if they need to place hardware. You might ask questions if there is a reason you are not absorbing enough nutrients. Are you on any prescription medicine that can affect this? Do you have enough calcium in your diet? Have they checked your blood calcium levels? My mom had a problem with her parathyroid glands that pulled calcium out of her bones and elevated blood calcium levels. That made her bones brittle and she fell and fractured her pelvis a week after the surgery that removed the bad parathyroid. It is worth asking why your bones are soft and what remedies could help. If you can make things better, you'll be in a better position if you do need another surgery.

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No, nothing so far. I eat and drink loads of calcium, hasn’t helped. My calcium levels are high I think, bloodwork shows it at almost 10? My PCP never mentions it, tells me to take Vitamin D3, and calcium tablets. I take meds for hypothyroidism, Synthroid and another that’s like a booster. My stomach hurts when taking most supplements, so I’m not real good about taking. I read your story on here re: your fear of surgery, amazing! I’m glad you were helped! I’m seeing my primary doctor in a few weeks, first time since my surgery. I will bring up my bones issue!

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Maybe you need to be on Alendronate or similar drug in addition to your calcium intake? I use Jarrow Formula BoneUp which contains elemental calcium 1000mg/3 caps. I’m going for my 2 year follow up Dexa Scan today and I’ll document my results when I get them.

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