Recovering from L4-S1 PLIF fusion surgery

Here I am, almost 8 weeks since my PLIF L4/S1 surgery. It seems like long time ago, I never thought the time will go by so quickly.
Next week, on Tuesday I'll go back to work and I think I'm ready for it.
Lots of things happened since surgery and this website has been really helpful. I tried to learn from many of the stories, many of the posts here can be a bit depressing, but that's the reality.
So far my progress has been amazing. First 2 weeks after surgery were really rough, I had to stay in the hospital for 6 days, because of pain, spasms and I developed fever. Then I got some type of throat and mouth infection and couldn't eat and almost no liquids for another week. I had night sweats for 2 weeks after surgery, which was horrible, I thought it will never go away!
But I told myself, I have to be strong and I have to walk - the only way to get the fusion going. Luckily I was able to stop all pain and muscle relaxers medications after 10 days post-op. It wasn't easy, but it helped me a lot with recovery.
I adjusted my diet to higher protein, which is not easy being vegetarian. I also started taking additional supplements, multivitamins, Magnesium, Calcium + Zinc, vitamin D and protein powder supplement.
At 3 weeks post op I was able to walk 3-4 miles a day and my surgeon cleared me for PT. I still think it's the best thing that could happen to me. I had a lot of issues with muscles being still locked, especially left leg and hip. Through my PT, deep tissue massage of my hip and leg, very light exercises (more of muscle squeeze) at week 6 I was able to walk between 6-11 miles a day.
My surgeon cleared me to start driving after 3 weeks post op, just a short drive, as much as I can tolerate. In 5 weeks I was able to increase the distance I can drive to about 1 hour without rest or 2 hours with short stops.
During my 6 weeks post op I was cleared to start using swimming pool (no swimming, just walking and light aerobic exercises) which really helps me with left leg/hip muscle tightness.
Now I'll be starting week 8 post op of my PT and I was told I'll be able to advance my exercises to the next level. 
I'm really happy that I decided my PT early, although I had a lot of concerns. So far, I haven't taken pain meds since week 2 after surgery and I hope it will stay this way after I go back to work. It seems icing my back helps a lot when I'm in discomfort and pain.
I'll be frequently updating this post as my recovery continues.
I have a CT scan scheduled for November 21 to see if fusion is taking place.



  • hvillshhvills Suzhou, ChinaPosts: 809


    Good on you... you sound like a model patient.  Keep up the good work on your recovery... just be careful to not over do it and listen to your body.  For me swimming was the best PT... I do it almost everyday day... even now at 18 months post-op I still enjoy it.

  • Thank you Harry.
    I just hope recovery will continue at the right direction.
    I learned a lot from this site and the members. There is a lot of dramatic stories out there, but not many of the good recoveries. I'm obsessed with the no BTL rule and it helps with my recovery and stabilizing my back.
    Speaking of swimming, I can't wait till I get cleared, which is another 2 months probably. I can't wait to start lifting light weights too, but that's more of 3-5 months from now, hopefully.
    I was very active before surgery, so it's hard to just rely on walking now.
    It's all about patience, the rest will come later.

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  • hvillshhvills Suzhou, ChinaPosts: 809
    edited 09/10/2016 - 1:07 AM


    Be careful with the weight lifting... the fusion takes more than a year to be truly solid and strong... not 4-5 months.  Furthermore your spine structure has been permanently changed by the surgery... and not really for the better.  The fusion will put added stresses on the adjacent disc joints above and below your fusion... that they were not designed to handle.  You MUST be "kind to your back" for the rest of your life to ensure you don't end up under the surgeons knife again because you damaged the adjacent discs.  Lifting weights doesn't really fall into the category of being kind to your back.  Trust me... I learned this lesson the hard way... and I don't want to see you learning the same lesson.  If you feel the urge to be more active do more swimming or walking or any cardio activity that won't stress or jarr your spine.

  • MagistraMarlaMMagistraMarla San Antonio, TexasPosts: 78
    I started water walking at 8 weeks after my first surgery and then worked my way up to water aerobics (modified where necessary) and then lap swimming.  My fusion didn't work, so I'm now scheduled for a revision surgery Oct. 25.
    I still go to the pool nearly every day.  I'm only free of pain when I'm in the water.
    I started PT at 6 weeks, and it definitely felt good to have those gentle massages and to learn some gentle stretches.
    I have an excellent Physical Therapist, who is always in my corner.  I also love the TENS and ultrasound therapy that his techs provide.  I will beg my surgeon to let me return to those treatments as soon as it is safe.
    BTW - Mine will be a revision of L3-L5, with the addition of L5/S1.
  • Harry,
    I know, being patient is the top priority in good recovery. What i meant when I said lifting weights is I'll do couple simple exercises where I will substitute elastic band with maybe 5lb weights, if my PT guy will allow it and at the right time.
    I'm hoping that I can also continue my PT until March or April and my therapist will gradually work with me on it. I definitely don't want to compromise my back.

    MagistraMaria, I'm sorry to hear you need to go through the revision surgery. It must be tough to go through it again.

    Kimmy, thank you:) Ive been working hard on making progress and this site helps me to learn and understand more.
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  • victorrvvictorr Tampa bay,FloridaPosts: 18
    Hi, fellow spiney,I just had my  L4 L5 fusion on September 6,was sent home on the 10 th,right now am walking 2 miles per day, hamstrings are a little tight, am stretching them daily, as an x runner and triathlete, it's been my mission in life to stay in shape, I turned 63 on September 11 ,this type of recovery cannot be rushed, we need the fusion to take ,before we get more physical, if you do too much too soon, it will set you back or worse create surgery complications, so let's all be patient! !God speed! !
  • Here is another update for my recovery.
    I'm 9 weeks post op as of today. Things are going well, I feel progressing every week now as it's easier to do more tasks (especially putting socks on:)). Still no bending, twisting and lifting limited to 10-15lb. Luckily my wife takes care of the heavy lifting like groceries.
    I advanced in my PT to a few minutes of biking, up to 10-12 minutes per session right now. I'm continuing with my walking in the swimming pool. 15 laps of mixed walking (front, backwards and sideways) as well as light aerobics and stretch. If I don't do the swimming pool, I walk at least 4-5 miles of dedicated exercise, besides my daily walking to store, Starbucks or at work. Dedicated walk exercise is so much different and I learned it's not the same as walking and doing choirs.
    No major setbacks, just occasional sore back/muscle if I walk too much or too fast. Pain medication and muscle relaxers free for 7 weeks now and hopefully I won't need to go back there anymore. I ice my back several times a day and it seems to help a lot. I still have occasional numbness in my left foot/big toes and pain in left leg/shin. My left hip/hip flexor muscles are still tight, but I saw a huge improvement since my PT started and when I was allowed to walk in the swimming pool. 
    I went back to work last week, just 3 days of up to 6 hours each. This week I'll try to work 4 days and next week 5 days. First day back at work was tough, but it's getting easier each time. Today was a 8hrs workday and I feel pretty good.
    I feel my recovery is going well, my PT guy is doing amazing job by balancing my exercises and we continue with deep tissue massage - probably the biggest reason of my good recovery.
    Also, I can't enough the members of this forum. So many stories I read and I try to learn and apply many of the advice in my daily recovery process. Harry and Kimmy, thank you for your comments, they definitely help me to make the right decisions.
    I'll continue to update my recovery every week or 2 weeks. Next major PT step in a couple of months, where I hope I'll get cleared for swimming. Hopefully by xmass I'll be swimming:)

  • SavageSavage United StatesPosts: 4,299
    edited 07/23/2019 - 1:08 PM
    hello victorr!
    Welcome to Veritas Health Forumplease click on link for helpful information!
  • My 11 weeks post op update as promised.
    I returned to work 3 weeks ago, very gradually. This week was the toughest on me with working 10 hrs for 4 days.
    My back is doing great, I continue to see improvements, where I can kneel or squat to pick up items off the floor.
    Most of my numbness in left foot is gone, same with sciatica in left leg. No pain meds or muscle relaxers for 9 weeks, it feels good to be clean:)
    PT is once a week now, I'm trying to get approval for more sessions from my health insurance provider to last until December.
    I was allowed to start using a stationary bike for up to 15 minutes per workout and it feels great!
    My legs and back are getting stronger, getting up from a chair, walking up or down the stairs feels natural and come with relative ease.
    I continue to ice my back when I get tired or sore, which happens every day.
    I can't wait to get cleared for swimming, still probably 6-8 weeks. For now, I just continue to walk in the swimming pool.
    The stiffness around incision is pretty much gone.
    The biggest struggle I still have is with putting socks on and getting in the car. My hip flexor is still an issue and it doesn't help that I'm on the taller side.
    I've been very patient with recovery and following rules, as I still avoid bending and twisting. It seems to be paying off for the most of the time.
    I hope all my surgery buddies are recovering well.
    Next update in a couple of weeks
  • hvillshhvills Suzhou, ChinaPosts: 809


    Good on you... I can definitely relate the putting socks on issue.  Even now I still have to be very careful and deliberate with my "socks procedure".  Keep up the good work...

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