After several years of pain, burning, tingling, etc. in my legs, feet, hip and low back, I had a L5/S1 fusion with interbody ray cage on February 24, 1998. The L5/S1 disc was comletely degenerated and the two joints were sliding (up to 5mm as evident from flexion/extension x-rays) back and forth pinching nerves and causing considerable distress! Prior to the fusion I had tried physical therapy, rest, exercise, epidural steroid injections (4), medications, etc. Nothing worked.
After the surgery I wore a corsett support for 3 months. At the end of 2-3 months I was completly pain free. After ceasing use of the corsett, pain and burning returned, primarily to the same areas as I had problems before, but certainly not as intense or debilatating. The sensations have continued now for the last 3-5 months, easing up some. My primary exercise is swimming (1 mile per day min. at 45 min/mile) and some walking. I am formerly a basketball and volleyball player, and a long-distance runner, so, exercise is a necessity for me.
My surgeon has indicated that most of what I am experiencing is just part of the healing process, which he tells me will take 1 to 2 years for recovery. Part of this is dependent on my size; I'm 6'5", 230 lbs. (it appears to me that physics isn't on my side). The biggest problem I now have is the almost constant burning in my feet and shins, sometimes in my hip w/pain. My medications are Neurontin (400 mg., 3/day), Naproxen Sodium (400 mg., 3/day) and Tylenol, prn.
My primary question is: Is 1-2 years reasonable for recovery? Is the burning, and some pain, part of recovery, and something that I can expect to go away over time? Are there any exercises besides swimming (after I swim I feel absolutly great for 4/5 hrs.) that I may pursue?
Thank you for your input!
Everything you have described is right on the money in term of diagnosis and treatment. The pain you are still feeling is not uncommon after the fusion procedure you had. Remember that the fusion itself is not complete until about a year or two after surgery. In the meantime, you may still have some symptoms that should improve with time. The fusion right now is still young and needs to mature and become solid. You may want to wear the corset some days when the pain is bothersome.
You are doing the correct things in terms of exercise and rehabilitation. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for you as it allows a good workout and doesn't stress your lower back much. Just remember to take it easy and , as much as we like to think otherwise, we're not as young as we
used to be.
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