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L5/S1 spinal fusion - 21yrs old - need advice!!

Started by baggers on 03/13/2013 8:04pm

hi everyone I'm in major need of some advice!!!

I little about me - I'm a 21yr old female and have has random periods of severe back pain since I was 18, these would last 2 months max. I have always been really active and very into sport. due to my love of fitness i become a personal trainer and LOVED IT!! I trained myself for 2hrs everyday loved Olympic lifts and sprint training would have 5 clients a day + work the gym floor for a few hours (regular 12-14hr days) and loved every second!! then 8 months ago this all came to a stop I can't even do Pilates with out and being shattered after! I get pain consistently in my lower back, hip and sometimes into my thighs. I get numbness in my toes and my leg will randomly give way under me. I can't sleep because of it (can't remember the last time I went to sleep before 3am)

An MRI has shown I have grade 1 spondylolisthesis, minor disc bulge, disc degeneration and lots of scar tissue. I've been having physio for 7months with no change and I met with a consultant and they have offered my a spinal fusion with decompression & laminectomy(not sure if the last 2 are just part of a normal fusion).

I don't know what to do?!? I want my old life back!!! I haven't really found much info on someone my age getting the surgery for spondylolisthesis (lots for scoliosis but that tends to be multiple fusions at a higher levels so im presuming that dramatically changes the pain levels/rehab/recovery)

any advice welcome!!!

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9 Responses


Has anyone ever mentioned Degenerative Disc Disease to you?


no they have just said l4,l5 & s1 all have degeneration which they think is just due to how active I was.


Hi, the reason I ask is because I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. I am over half your age, 46! I had 2 cervical/neck surgeries this past year 46 is considered young but 21 is really early to have worn on your spine. Like you, I've always been very physically active. I've been working out since I was 18. I live on a lot of acreage and loved to work around the property, chain sawing trees and basically lifting, carrying and pushing weight way more than I should have. I also have taken tap class for the past 10 years. I had neck and pack pain for years that would come and go. For 8 years I went to a chiropractor. Due to my lack of knowledge, I should of gone to my medical doctor a long time ago. I'd go to the chiro, get an adjustment and feel a little better until the next time I flared up. Not once did he ever do an xray. I even questioned about having an MRI. He'd tell me no that its basically arthritis and because I'm so active, it all flares up. 2 years ago I started jogging. That really jarred my neck. The arm pain I had I thought was heart problems and had that checked out 3 years ago. For at least 3 years I'd do assisted pullups at the gym and this certain tricep machine with my hands over my head. That would agravate my right shoulder. I thought I pulled a muscle or had bracitis.
Finally, I went to my medical Doctor and they did an xray. They could see something and then I had a MRI. I was severely compressing into my spinal cord and my neck was unstable. At this point I was hurting so bad. I was fortunate to get into the hands of a physical therapist here in town through a friend. He was connected with a surgeon in Los Angeles. Within 3 days of my MRI I was in the Doctors office in L.A.. He basically laid it all on the line. He said there was no other options other than surgery. I had tried the exercise, chiro, lots of alieve and tylenol. I had between 1-2 months to get it done. My neck was considered very unstable.
Basically, I have Degenerative Disc Disease and arthritis. I wore and tore on my spine much quicker and harder than someone with the same spine that hasn't been active. I forgot to mention that what really sent me over the edge was joining a Boot Camp class for 4 months. I absolutely LOVED it!! It really expedited my condition. In January 2012 I had a 3 level fusion, C4-7. I didn't fuse in the 3rd level and was still in a lot of pain 3 months later. In July 2012 he went back in. This time through the back of the neck. He refused what he had done so now I was double fused! My C7-T1 had become unstable after the first surgery so he also fused it. I am 4 levels fused!! I am finally feeling better. My problem now is my L4-5. I just had an epidural. We'll see. Most likely will need to get it fixed.
I can fully relate to your love of exercise. My ability to be physical at that level is so important for me. It's been a real hard time for me. You being 21 makes it that much harder!
My best advise to you is to find a good doctor. I was very lucky to be put in the hands of an excellent Doctor. He has been worth the 4 hour drive to Los Angeles. My husband and I counted 15 trips there last year!! It's so important to not only be put into the hands of a good doctor but to trust him or her. I'm very fortunate to have found one. Please let me know if you have any other questions or help I can give you. My heart goes out to you. Don't let to much more time go by, you deserve to get better/fixed!!


thank you so much for talking to me and sharing your story!!

I'm from England and my surgeon is one of the best in the country and the hospital is one of the best spinal hospitals in Europe. so I'm definitely seeing the right people!
my main fear is it causing more pain than I'm already in now, I'm physically still quite strong although I haven't trained for 8months so I'm hoping that should help with the rehab side of things. I was told there was no point in me even trying the injections!! I'm going to perceiver with my physio even if I decide on surgery as I want to be in the best position going into the op (also the joys of the NHS my physio is free so I'm having it every 2weeks at the moment)

I do really want my old life back! my pain is putting my relationship under lots of pressure too and at 21 I want to be having all the fun I can and I feel so restricted!

I have had a CT scan today to see if there has been any progression since my MRI (last October) so I will be meeting my consultant in the next few weeks to get results so I think that's when I'll make my decision.
I'm so scared of the surgery I've never had any sort of operation so being put to sleep for that long terrifies me.
how long did your op take? and how long where you in hospital for?


Historically/past results prove that an S1-L5 fusion is the most successful fusion they do and I figure that because it is the last link in the chain=disc that you run the risk of bearing more strain/workload. I was told I didn't need surgery for 2 1/2yrs by supposedly a former head of a very recognizable EXCELLENT hospital but he was a neurosurgeon. Long story short, I never injured my Lumbar to any degree but did a lot physical labor of lifting while bent over slinging dead fish cartons, 75-100lbs and lifting weights/training when I raced Motocross for 10 yrs all over the East Coast.and to say the least that is a hard sport on your body period. When I finally went to a Doc that was recommended by a Radiologist I met by chance while he was on vacation here OBX I went to Raleigh NC area (I live in a remote area for Quality Professionals) He basically looked and said what kind of Doc have you been seeing. He sent me to the spine surgeon he teams with and I got the same thing, I was basically without a disc at S1-L5. They did a discogram on my T11-T12 old trauma which I had ruptured/blew and hand multiple compression fractures from a hard fall racing and when I asked did they have to test my Lumbar answer was no "you don't have anything to test. They accessed me through my abdomen so I had no back muscles cut my S1 came out in 3 small pieces, the internal surgeon, spine surgeon both said bone to bone worst they had seen someone tolerate that.

OK to the chase/answer your question, my S1-L5 fusion should have been done at the start and I have NEVER regretted it and I have a very tolerable pain in my Lumbar BUT my XLIF (Thoracic Fusion) has been a disaster 3 yrs down the road. I had a high tolerance for pain when I raced and into my 30's and switched professions to pushing paper but always worked out. My Lumbar pain would radiate bi-lateral into my hips never the classic pain down the leg BUT YOU ARE AWFUL YOUNG TO HAVE FUSION WITHOUT A MAJOR TRAUMA EVENT car wreck etc. I would explore maybe some laser trimming for your bulge...wait a minute...I'm no Doc you can e-mail me direct and I will only give what my results have been but there is so much age difference and I healed up from 3 Thoracic compression fractures and a blown T11-T12 without pain meds. You can never undo a fusion and the new stem cells implants to regrow Lumbar disc which should be approved by 2015 sure look promising as I have talked to one of the Docs doing the trials in Va they are just not touching prior surgeries or Thoracic.


I hope you got something out of my novel but you CANNOT undo a fusion but if that is the answer L5-S1 is the one you want to have done.


Thank u so much for your advice!! I will definitely ask about the possibility of laser options or a more minor surgery. I've been having physio for 7months and my physio & GP were both really shocked that the consultant said fusion was my only real option.
I've never had any for of major trauma to my back, the dr believe it could be because I began walking from a very young age(just turned 6months old) so my back may not have been strong enough to take the strain.
I can't get too sleep with out really string pain meds and I hate that I'm relying in the just to get a code of hours sleep. I'm also concerned my doctors are going to start to think I'm just a drug seeker if I keep going the way I am!!
I'm going to get myself a TENS machine to try and help cut back on the meds.

I'm so confused on what to do I have about 50 questions I'm going to ask my consultant when I next see him to hopefully get my head around things.

Thank you again for your help. It's really appreciated!!!


TENZ units are great. I use mine mainly for my spasms as I can basically go into lockdown spasms to the point of tears when they are located right against my spine, sounds weird as far the different location and severity of the spasms I have and have had them for 7 yrs. Besides my fusions which were Lumbar April '09 and Thoracic Oct '09 I have had a 4 level bi-lateral Rhiztomy T-12 up Dec '11 and a laminectomy and foraminotomy Feb '12 around my XLIF Fusion. No really cut and dry answers on spines as your big toe connected to backbone as the old saying goes. Good luck



I know this post is very outdated, but I was hoping you could post an update of your condition! I am going through the very same thing at the age of 22! I loved power lifting and soccer and now I can't do either! I have Spondy/ stenosis at l5s1, any input would be appreciated!



Hi, baggers (and everyone else)--

Thanks for posing this great question! We'd like to share a few resources that may help anyone considering spine surgery.

The first is a list of good questions to ask your spine surgeon before undergoing surgery: ( Spine Surgery: Questions to Ask Your Doctor )

And the second is our Spine Surgery Advice blog, written by one of the spine surgeons on our Editorial Board: ( Spine Surgery Advice ).

Learning all about the procedure and having an honest discussion with your spine surgeon will help you make the right decision for you. We hope this information helps, and we wish you all the very best!