I get messages pretty regularly from my fellow spondylolisthesis sufferers. Sometimes they’re considering having a spinal fusion, or they’re preparing for surgery, or they’re in the throes of early post-op recovery. I love getting these messages – first, because I sent quite a few of them myself, both before and after surgery, and the responses I got were invaluable. Seriously, as supportive as my family & friends were during my recovery, my spondy friends got me through some really tough days.
Second, it can be challenging to find spinal fusion success stories online. They’re out there – and the ones I did find (like this and this) were a tremendous source of inspiration and reassurance. But more often than not, I found myself reading about failed fusions, scary post-op complications, and long-term surgical side effects. It’s hard not to be terrified.
The first couple of weeks after surgery, I wasn’t sleeping well at night. I was scared and in a lot of pain at that point, and I found myself scouring articles and forums for people with similar symptoms. Most of what I found left me even more terrified.
It was good to know that I wasn’t alone. But it would also have been good to know that there was a light at the end of the tunnel – that recovery and even a return to a normalcy was possible.
The thing is, most people don’t turn to health forums when they’re feeling, well, healthy. We use them to ask for advice. To complain & commiserate. And don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of value in that. But it can give a skewed perspective – because people are much less likely to take to the internet with their success stories. And so people who are seeking hope & good news often come up empty handed.
It can take a full year to recovery from a spinal fusion – so at 5 months post-op, I don’t know if it’s fair to call myself a success story – yet. But for those seeking hope and looking for positive outcomes, here’s what I can tell you.
At 5 months post-op:
1. The pre-op pain in my right hip is 100% gone. (The pain was severe and was actually the symptom that caused me to seek medical treatment in the first place – not back pain.)
2. I rarely, if ever, experience numbness or tingling in my feet (also a frequent occurrence before surgery).
3. The SEVERE post-op nerve pain in my left hip and leg is almost completely gone. At most, I experience mild twinges when I overdo it. This pain began to subside at about 10 days post-op and was no longer an issue by around 3 weeks. (If you’re reading this and you’re in the first two weeks of post-op recovery, IT GETS BETTER. I promise.)
4. I am almost completely med-free. On occasion, I’ll take a very small dose of pain medication at bedtime after a particularly rough or active day. But for the most part, I don’t need anything stronger than Tylenol.
5. I can stand for reasonably long amounts of time without pain. I do sometimes feel achy (in my back) or uncomfortable, but it no longer hurts to stand in place.
6. Since my surgery, I have:
- flown on an airplane
- gone on a 5-day family vacation that involved a lot of walking
- been the passenger during an 8-hour road trip
- gone canoeing and kayaking
- resumed nearly all of my normal daily activities (cooking, cleaning, laundry, carpooling, grocery shopping, etc.)
7. I’m not allowed to run until at least 6 months post-op, but I can (and do) walk 1-2 miles at least 3-4 times a week.
8. I still tire easily and need more sleep than I did before surgery – however, I no longer need daily naps just to function. I do still experience periods of intense, full-body fatigue, but this happens much less frequently than it did even a month ago.
9. I do still have lower back pain and stiffness, which I suppose may never fully go away – I mean, the stiffness is obviously because two levels of my vertebrae are fusing together (and in the meantime are being held in place by titanium rods, pins, and screws). As for the lower back pain – you need to be aware going into surgery that a spinal fusion may not cure your back pain, nor is it intended to. The goal of a fusion is to stabilize your spine in order to prevent further slippage of the vertebrae. I still have spondylolisthesis – only now my grade 2 slip has been reduced to a grade 1. If my successful recovery continues, my spine should remain stable and my symptoms of nerve damage (hip pain, numbness in my feet and legs) should not return.
So. Am I pleased with the outcome of my spinal fusion? Yes.
Would I make the same decision again? Yes.
Any complaints? I don’t like not running. And frankly, I don’t think I’m anywhere near being able to attempt it again. The other day I was doing a little ballet with my daughter, and even just a few balancés (very minimal impact) made my whole back ache. I do find myself getting frustrated with my body sometimes – I’m nowhere near as strong or as flexible as I was a couple of years ago. But then I remind myself that: 1) I couldn’t run or practice yoga long before surgery; and that 2) now that I’ve had the fusion, I’m getting closer to where I want to be every day.
It’s been a tough road, and it’s not over yet. But at least now I’m heading in the right direction.
Do you have questions about spinal fusion? Please – and I mean this – ask me anything. I will share 100% of my experience with you. And if I can’t answer your question, I can probably connect you with someone who can. Leave your questions in the comments. Or if you don’t want to post it publicly, send me an email at (sharon[at]mommyrunsit[dot]com) or PM me on Instagram or Facebook. I want to help you get through this the way that others helped me.
Stay strong. xo