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L5/S1 fusion- seemingly long recovery

Started by MrsWilly on 12/13/2018 12:52pm

Hey folks, thanks for reading this, apologies for the length.

I have DDD and limb length discrepancy (7mm) and my back pain started when I was 15. Since “teenagers don’t have chronic pain” (as I was repeatedly told) it wasn’t taken seriously until my twenties.

Fast forward two decades and I’m in my forties. Over the years I’ve had every shot possible and a nerve ablation but have gotten to a point where my doctor said I had to have surgery or go on disability. I wasn’t able to sleep and was spending most nights on my living room floor trying to stretch and pop the pain away. My days became excruciating because I really never got rest. I sat on special pads to protect my spine and a hot compress at work. I then spent my lunch in an empty office stretching and icing it so I could make it five more hours. I was just about to get a prescription for the expensive rising desk so work would install one for me. I’m a payroll accountant so I have to work ten hours in an office chair and I cannot do it on narcotics.

Aetna fought me for a year, I had to threaten to sue, TWICE! I finally had fusion in February 2018. It has now been ten months and I have had a few really good days recently but mostly I wake up at 4am with my body crying for Norco. I even had to have a set of sacroiliac injections because at nine months post op my pain was still severe enough to inhibit my progress at physical therapy. The shot helped so I can do more exercises and my pain is localized to just my cage unless I exacerbate the situation by over exerting myself. However, I’m still in pain every morning and after my exercises but now I get a few hours of sleep pretty much every night so it’s progress considering where I was a year ago.

My physical therapist says I’m progressing well but I’m still only up to a few hours of activity per day, and that’s still with medication. If I don’t do anything other than rest in a propped position I’m in pretty good shape but moving is stiff, then sore, then tender, then I get quickly fatigued, then the voice in my back yells “lay down NOW!” If I don’t rest immediately I will just collapse. It happened most unexpected at physical therapy the first time they put me on the treadmill. It was only five minutes on the lowest setting. That was a couple of weeks ago and it’s still really hard for me to do the full five minutes. But I do because I have to even if it’s killing me I know I have to.

My PT says my recovery time is proportionate to the damage I’ve done to my muscles through years of trying to position myself to avoid pain. I do all that I can but if I push too hard I hurt myself. To outsiders I’m milking this recovery but my exercises are painful and my self esteem is shot, this isn’t the vacation people think it is just because all I CAN do comfortably is lay around.

It’s gotten to the point where I feel bad about myself if I don’t do anything but I feel guilty if I do anything “fun” and I really shouldn’t but I just do. So I force myself to do productive things like crafting or baking (with my son’s help) to mitigate this useless feeling. Then if I want to show it to anyone I feel like I have to justify how hard everything is like “see the greeting card I made? It took me two days.” Otherwise I sense judgement that probably isn’t even there.

I don’t want to constantly complain about pain and my recovery so I don’t whine to my friends and inundated my social media with woe is me posts but it seems like that makes everyone think I’m just hunky dory as opposed to grinning and bearing it. I only tell a few people how I’m really feeling and only if they’ve asked about me.

My husband had a film premiere in October and I had to sleep in the afternoon to be rested enough to go and relaxed all day so my back would be as comfortable as it could. Every friend we saw asked when I was going back to work and I hate that I have no answer for that. I lasted about three hours and as soon as it was polite I had to go home. I’m a producer on the film we’ve worked on for three years and I couldn’t even go to the after party to thank everyone because I was at the point where I had to lay down. The forty minute ride home felt like an eternity.

I had a job but I lost it because I had to keep extending my leave. I do wish they’d have told me it would be a year to begin with. Every few months I have to go back to my office HR feeling like garbage because I have to extend it again. This last time my medical insurance was canceled to add insult to injury. I have my next follow up today and I know I’m not ready to go back to work yet but I just can’t wrap my brain around being out of work any longer.

It’s hard to stay positive when the light at the end of the tunnel keeps getting further away. I try to but I’m getting depressed because there seems to be no end in sight when they talk about recovery in terms of months and more months.

Did anyone else take this long to get better and back to work ? Or feel this way during your recovery time?

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2 Responses


First, you shouldn't feel bad about the prolonged recovery from Fusion surgery. It can take 2 years or even a bit longer to recover from fusion surgery.
Assuming you had a PLIF/TLIF fusion, the muscles that support and stabilize your spine were also cut to get to the area to be fused. Couple that with the previous years of accommodating for pain , disuse and resting to ease the pain leads to disuse and compensation, physical endurance and stamina problems recovering post op.
Having been through 2 separate lumbar fusion surgeries myself, and experiencing complications post op, we become hard on ourselves and expect too much physically in comparison to previous activity levels.
Walking , and slowly increasing the time and distance, along with the physical therapy helped. So did swimming in a heated pool, water walking was beneficial too, because the weightless feeling eased the gravity related pain.
Doing the exercises you get in PT at home can help to build muscle strength and endurance. I worked up from simply standing for a couple minutes to walking across my livingroom, eventually to my mailbox, and on and on...it took time, regular walking schedule, and resting periodically when needed.
It does get better, and rebuilding your tolerance to activity, ability to sit, stand, walk, is a slow process.
Hang in there.


I had lower fusion rods ,12 screws and the cage in 2014..The first 2 years were ok.Now I am in the worst pain ever.It did take about 3 months in the beginning with physical therapy.Hang in there prayers for you.