My Story: Lumbar Fusion surgery 6 months on…

6 months post Lumbar Fusion surgery, was it worth it?

Here is my diary from months 5 and 6

surgery

May 2017

As I watch the instructor doing his moves and try to copy I have to keep reminding myself that I am actually taking part in a high impact boxing class. For the last 5 months, this was something I really couldn’t imagine. The class involves a series of upper body punches and lower body kicks, squats and lunges all at high intensity. Whilst I still cannot jump or do the other high impact moves, I can easily adapt each move so as not to put too much pressure on the lower back. As I watch those around me though it’s clear that my flexibility has a very long way to go but I am generally feeling good about being able to do even this much.

I am now 5 months post spinal fusion. It has been a rollercoaster ride of pain, hope, set backs and frustration, but I really pleased to say that there has been a light at the end of this tunnel. One of the goals all along for me has been to be able to exercise again as I did pre back-pain. Prior to the surgery many people told me that high impact exercise may never be possible again, yet little by little I am coming back.

Long haul flights and the stress associated with a work conference took my recovery a step back recently, and that is a lesson to me that whatever improvement has been made it can still be reversed by fatigue on the lower back. The main impact of overdoing sitting is still a severe pain in upper back which can usually only be released by massage. It has been explained to me however that this pain does stem from the misalignment of the lower spine for so many years and the recent changes to this.

Each week is still full of ups and downs: lifting Baby whilst Husband was away for 3 days last week meant that the pain levels increased. However, the difference is that after a good night’s sleep this can now be reversed.  This is the antithesis of how things were pre surgery – waking up every morning meant instant pain which was only amplified by rest or sleep.

For the last 2 weeks the upper back pain has been less and the lower back much less. I am riding this wave albeit it with the awareness that stress and strains can change things within hours.

June 2017

It’s now mid-June and I am starting to let myself believe that the corner has been turned. Life has been extremely busy with travel for work and a holiday and although all these things cause me pain, the intensity of it is lessening and the recovery time is also diminishing. Each week I begin to understand more about what I need to do to look after my lower back. In the weeks where life runs as normal and I am not under particular stress, the pain is minimal and is improved by rest. At other times when I am not able to rest in the evenings, or I am travelling, or sleep is a luxury I pay for it with back pain.

Having said all of the above though, the important thing is the pain is nowhere near what it was pre-surgery. Here are some things I can do now which would be impossible before:

  • Lifting. Baby is now a Toddler and weighs around 2 stone. I can lift her with minimal pain. If I carry her for extended time I will pay for it later but generally, I am able to lift her with ease compared to before
    •Standing for long periods. This was impossible before and now I can stand for around 2 hours without pain
    Getting up off the sofa. This was a major source of pain in the evenings for me, now not so. On bad days there is still pain and effort required but nothing like the intensity of before.
    Running. This is not advised post fusion, but on occasion when I have needed to I can now run without serious levels of pain which would have been impossible before.
    High Impact exercise. Many exercises, such as jumping and sprinting, are still out, but on a positive note I can now do many exercises far more comfortably than before, for example, squats, lunges, circuits, sit ups and Pilates. There is still a way to go but progress is encouraging.
    Sitting at a desk. In the weeks and months immediately post fusion this was a serious pain generator. By month 6 I am not able to sit at a desk all day. I do have more pain in the evening than days where I don’t sit at a desk but again it’s minimal.
  • Walking. Walking longer distances used to leave me in severe pain a few hours later. In June I managed to climb a small peak in Romania. After a 3 hour trek in the pouring rain I was drenched but not crippled!

 

The journey is still ongoing, but ultimately I am not looking back. This operation was a success and is still changing my life.

 

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4 responses to “My Story: Lumbar Fusion surgery 6 months on…

  1. Just a word of caution. I had fusion L-3 through L-5. I thought things were improving as my surgical trauma was going away and my surgical wounds healed, so I reduced my pain meds. I also returned to my normal activity. As I reduced my pain meds nearly completely, my pain level rose in kind. After 2 years it became apparent that the pain meds kept much of my pain hidden during the 2 years of recovery leading me to conclude (as a neurosurgeon has also) that my return to a normal activity level caused the adjacent joints to further deteriorate and more quickly. I’m back where it all started. I ended up having to increase pain meds again and completely lost my ability to sleep normally. I was facing either another two level fusion or get a neurostimulator implant for the pain, or increase pain meds as the pain increased. I chose the neurostimulator option and though the trial was very good, I am not recovered yet from the implant surgery so I have no relief yet but expect it. So what I am trying to explain is that, like me, you could get a false sense of normality and accelerate inevitable adjacent joint deterioration rather than keeping it at bay indefinitely. My advice from my experience would be to stay active and mobile, but make a very deliberate change in the way you execute your activity. Modify how you do things so as to protect your joints. For example like step around rather than twist, squat to lift instead of bend, use something to assist with weight rather than just dead lifting something, and finally just avoid activity that would put your spinal joints at risk. Best of luck to you.

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I was just told this morning that I need the surgery and that scares me. Your story has put my mind at ease.

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