Tag Archives: recovery from ALIF

Bone Growth Stimulator/Supplements

********update, if your insurance company does not pay for this device or you have a large co payment in order to get it I would say save your money, it turns out that the claims that this device makes are not proven medically or scientifically so I would not recommend it.  The best thing you can do is make sure you do your physical therapy, make a decision to lead an active lifestyle after surgery for example, walking every day.  Exercise will help you recover and rehabilitate more in the long run than expensive devices and or supplements.  Spend time strengthening your core because a strong core will also do more in the long run in managing pain and providing the strength of the muscles around your spine and therefore reducing pain and the chance that you will have further damage to discs in the future, I am  4 years out from surgery now and this is my own advice I am offering and taking.  I am happy to answer questions of anyone currently or having experienced back injury and or surgery so feel free to email me at c.reed.cate99@gmail.com or by posting a comment here, I will respond as quickly as possible.

The newest addition to my recovery from the ALIF surgery is a CMF Spinalogic bone growth stimulator .  It is worn like a belt around my waist for 30 minutes a day.  I will need to wear it for at least the next 6 months.  According to what I have read about it, it creates a magnetic field that apparently increases the rate of new bone growth by 21% vs patients who do not use one.  It is really not hard to fit it into my day, right now I usually put it on after my shower but before I get completely dressed, in fact I am wearing it right now over my bathrobe.  After I return to work, I plan to put it on as soon as I get home.  You simply wrap it around your waist like a belt and there is a circular part that sits right over the discs that you had fused and fasten the Velcro so it fits snugly, then you press and hold the button on the controller which is attached by what looks like an old style phone cord until it beeps. Then it times your session and beeps again after 30 minutes.  That separate piece has a belt clip that attaches to the belt part so you can walk around during the treatment.  The only thing I notice when wearing it is a feeling of warmth on my lower back, there is no pain involved.  It was covered by my insurance company which is BCBS Anthem but they required a prior authorization by my surgeon’s office which took about 2 weeks to complete. I believe it is probably very expensive for people who do not have insurance or whose insurance company doesn’t cover it because I have seen them on Ebay for $200-500. I just got it this week and have not missed a day yet.  The nurse that told me about it told me that I am to bring it with me to my follow up appointment and that they will check the timer unit and it will tell them if I have used it faithfully or not.  Of course as far as I am concerned if I don’t use it I would only be holding up my own recovery and I want to do everything I can to regain my normal activity level so what would be the point of cheating? This is what the device looks like:

So between this, the daily walks for at least 20 min and taking extra calcium supplements I think I am doing all I can to promote the bone growth between the vertebrae that were fused (L4-S1 in my case which are the lowest 2 discs in the lumbar spine).  I have also added a new supplement called Dolomite powder by KAL.  It contains 1100mg/110% of calcium, 2mg/11% iron and 630mg/150% magnesium.  I am mixing 1tsp into OJ and a little milk to make it palatable since its rather chalky, this mixture makes it taste like a creamsicle.  I take this  in addition to the OsCal calcium supplement with D3.  It contains 600iu/150% of vitamin D3 and 500mg/50% of calcium.  The drawback with all this calcium with my pain meds causes Miralax to be a daily supplement as well since these things all cause constipation.  I hope all of this information helps those of you out there going through the same condition as me and I know there are a lot of us.  If we all help by sharing information hopefully we can look forward to a pain free and more active future!  Thanks as usual for reading and please feel free to share your own stories or tips by commenting on this post.





Physical Therapy is even more important than I thought!

I am amazed at how much physical therapy is helping me.  I have to admit I was skeptical about it.  I was feeling pretty good and having people tell me that they couldn’t even tell I had any surgery because my mobility is so good.  However, when the therapist evaluated me she found some problems with my gait (the way I walk) that are easily solved with stretches and exercises.  My hip flexors have shortened because I have been over-compensating when I walk from when I was in pain and now it’s a habit I have to break. 

I have progressed to the point that I now have about 6 different exercises to do every day.  There is the hamstring stretch, the hip flexor stretch and pelvic tilt to strengthen my lower abs.  Two new ones are designed to strengthen my thigh muscles;  using a medium sized ball between my knees with a belt around my ankles I pull my ankles apart and squeeze my knees together at the same time and hold for a count of 10, then put the ball between my ankles and the belt around my knees and this time pull my knees apart and squeeze my ankles together.  It’s important for both of these that your ankles, knees and hips be in perfect alignment.  My thigh muscles are probably going to end up better than they were before so it’s dual purpose exercise just in time for swimsuit weather! J  The other new one is called “the clam” you lie on your side with your knees bent, do a slight pelvic tilt and while pushing the leg that is on the bottom down, you lift the other leg so you look like a clam shell opening.  This one I am supposed to work up to doing 3 sets of 10.  She also taught me a great hip stretch but you need a buddy.  You lie on your side as if you are going to do “the clam” you have someone strong stand sideways in front of you, put the upper leg around their waist so the back of your thigh is against their side, they provide resistance for you to push against, when you push against them it stretches your outer thigh, hip and glutes. 

We are also still working on thinning out my scar through massage, now I am massaging it side to side now, this is kind of graphic and I’m sorry but what I am doing is to “pick it up” and slowly move it back and forth to break up the scar tissue underneath that has been causing all the pain, I do this twice a day morning and night.  I really wish I had known about massaging the scar earlier than this, for anyone reading this who has yet to have surgery, scar massage is safe to do as soon as you are healed so about 6 weeks.  The earlier you start it the less likely it is that you will have adhesions like I did, this is a good preventative treatment for that.

All in all I am continuing to improve although am still on pain medication daily at least for now but it’s not as strong as the one I used to be on and I will continue to try and reduce that at each visit with my pain doctor, Dr. Netherton.  Thanks for reading and if anyone has any questions or comments feel free to post them I am happy to help if I can!

ALIF surgery was worth it in the end! Happy 2013!

I had my last follow up with my spine surgeon Dr Frisch yesterday.  He has referred me to pain management since I still have enough pain to interfere with my life.  My appointment is January 30th so he gave me RX refills to last until then.  I have mixed feelings about that since I had hoped to no longer need pain relief this far after surgery.  In a way it makes me feel like I am not strong enough or do not have enough willpower to push through the pain.  I am sincerely hoping it will not be a long term thing.  I stopped wearing the brace a month ago so my core muscles are getting stronger without the support of the brace.  The scar continues to improve, I was really worried right after because it was a shocking sight to me.  It continues to appear thinner and lighter and I know that is something that will take months to see the final result of.  I am planning to start Mederma scar treatment gel, I worked in dermatology for 10 years and that is the only product that has been proven to work in clinical trials.  I continue to use the spinalogic bone growth stimulator every day.  It the easiest to remember if I do it when I get home from work, it takes 30 minutes to finish.  To my knowledge I will need to do this for 6 months.  I am seriously trying to do everything I can do to promote complete healing so that I can have a better chance at a more pain free life after all is said is done.  He told me yesterday to be patient and that it can take me up to a year to feel the full effect and feel like myself again and that gave me hope.  All in all I feel that having the ALIF surgery was one of the best things I ever did for myself even with the complications I had, it was the only way to have a chance at a future with less pain.  My level is between 3-6 at some point every day which is better than the 8-9 I was for so many years especially this past one.  Also my company changed insurance companies as of 1-1-13 so it was a good thing I did it when I did or I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.  I was lucky to have such a good insurance policy, in the end I only had to pay $1500 total out of pocket this year for everything that was done for me and for that I am grateful.  Here’s to a positive 2013!  Happy New Year!

Improving Quality of Life 6 weeks after Spinal fusion surgery

Every day I feel a little better.  Certainly having had the pulmonary embolism surgical complication slowed my recovery and especially my physical therapy but now that it has almost been a month since that event I can definitely look back and see how far I have come.  2 weeks ago I began walking at least 4 times a week, my record was 45 minutes out in the woods with my dog lily and Brian.  I felt great afterwards but was very sore the next day.  I know that will improve with time.  My stamina is coming back little by little.  This past Friday I accomplished a deep clean on my living and bed rooms as well as both bathrooms.  It felt good to take control of my house again.  My family has been so supportive and they made it so I didn’t have to do anything which at first I really couldn’t.  Brian has a been a real trouper, he did all the cooking, grocery shopping and laundry for more than a month all while working full time and still managing to work on his art.  The kids, especially Sam, who is the only one still living at home, helped out a lot with the cleaning and just daily running of the house.  I am so proud of them in how they stepped up when I really needed them.  Stephanie and Sarah were here spending time with me as often as they could and it was a lot and I know how hard it is for them because they both have full time jobs that are not near where I live.  I don’t know if they realize how much that meant to me.  They were my lifeline and my connection to the outside world and my biggest cheerleaders picking my spirits up whenever I got frustrated or down. I have to keep reminding myself that I am only 6 weeks out from this surgery and only 1 month from the embolism complication.  Patience is not my strong suit 🙂 those who know me can attest to that.  I want to thank all my family and friends who have been keeping constant tabs on me by text and email and calls to see how I am and to just keep me company, truly no one is an island and I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am without all the wonderful support that I have been so fortunate to have.  

My spine surgeon, Dr. Frisch,  gave me the go-ahead to start weaning off of the brace.  I had been wearing it all of my waking hours with hard plastic pieces in the front and back.  He now only wants me to wear it when doing heavy chores and I have removed the hard plastic piece from the front of it.  I am now starting re-build my core muscles which have taken a terrible hit.  My incision is about 6 inches long and runs vertical to the left of my belly button.  The skin around it is no longer numb so I am feeling the first pain from it.  It was numb for nearly a month and that was an eerie feeling to touch it and have the sides of it not feel anything, the actual incision site had pain but the sides felt nothing.

People have asked me over and over if I think it was all worth it and I really do.  The biggest source of my pain before surgery was excruciating pain that eventually ran the length of the side of my right leg.  As soon as a week after surgery I noticed that it was gone and it still is today, so yes, the surgery itself was a success.  I do still have some pain in the middle of my lower back which is probably residual surgical pain caused by the trauma of installing the titanium pieces and the screws that hold them in place but I would rate that pain at a 4 most of the time.  I have some pain in the middle of the back of my left thigh that is caused by my herniated L3 disc that was not repaired in this surgery.  As I said in previous posts, surgeons do not feel comfortable fusing more than 2 levels in a surgery  or to perform surgery at all in a person who has multiple damaged levels of the spine. So my surgeon chose to repair the lowest 2 as they were causing the majority of my pain.  I was actually fortunate to find a surgeon who would even try repairing just 2 out of 3 herniated discs, most doctors over the 16 years since the original injury told me I was not a surgical candidate and would need lifelong pain management.  I will need to learn to live with the pain from L3 so I will not have a completely pain free life but that pain level is anywhere from 4-6 depending on my activity level.  I will probably need to be on some type of pain medicine or at least have it on hand for this pain but all in all my entire quality of life is improved and I know it will continue to get better over time.  I was told to allow 3 months (for me that will be January 19th) for full effect of the surgery and that it may be an entire year before I completely feel like myself again.  With this in mind, I can expect my quality of life to continue to improve over this year and I have found my hope again.  I sincerely thank Dr Richard Frisch and his staff of the Southeastern Spine Institute for taking a chance on me and giving me this chance at a better quality of life.  I hope he knows that through it all, I am sincerely grateful to him.  I also want to give a shout out to his assistant Tina who has tirelessly helped me complete the reams of paperwork required for me to be able to be on short term disability from work.  Just when we think we have sent everything in they want something else, all I have to do is call her and she gets it done for me, Tina, thank you!!!  I am scheduled to go back to work on Monday December 17th and I will be ready for it, actually looking forward to seeing everyone again after all this time.  As always, thanks for reading and please feel free to share information in the comment section about your own experience or any thoughts you have.  TTYL

Post Surgical Setback, Pulmonary Embolism/Infarction

I have had a setback in my recovery from surgery.  Last Sunday I woke up very short of breath.  I really just thought it was because I hadn’t been moving around as much since my surgery.  It kept getting worse and my family kept telling me I needed to go to the hospital but I was really resistant to that idea.  I really didn’t think that 2 weeks after surgery I could still have a complication from it so it didn’t occur to me that it could be anything serious.  Plus, my health has always been excellent so I just assumed that I was fine because I am always fine.  Finally in the mid afternoon I agreed to go to the ER.  It was in the 80’s outside that day and I was freezing as if it were winter but I didn’t know what the significance of that was.  I even got Brian to stop and get me a pumpkin latte on the way to emergency! I am sure I will never live that one down!  We arrived back at East Cooper Hospital where I had my surgery and as soon as I said I had surgery 2 weeks before and felt short of breath the staff sprung into action.  I was taken back immediately and given an x ray and CT scan as well as being placed on oxygen.  My oxygen level was 84 when I arrived which is dangerously low and explained my feeling cold even though it was quite warm outside.  My CT scan of my lungs showed multiple diffuse blood clots called Pulmonary Embolism or blood clots in my lungs.

“Despite diagnostic advances, delays in pulmonary embolism diagnosis are common and represent an important issue.As a cause of sudden death, massive pulmonary embolism is second only to sudden cardiac death. In patients who survive a pulmonary embolism, recurrent embolism and death can be prevented with prompt diagnosis and therapy. Unfortunately, the diagnosis is often missed because patients with pulmonary embolism present with nonspecific signs and symptoms. If left untreated, approximately one third of patients who survive an initial pulmonary embolism die from a subsequent embolic episode”

 source:  http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/300901-overview

This condition can be and frequently is fatal.  The clots can break and go into the blood stream and go to the heart or brain.  I was admitted immediately to the PICU which is the unit one step down from ICU. I am on 2 types of blood thinning drugs, levonox and Coumadin.  The only way to treat these clots is to dissolve them with these medications.  I cannot be discharged until my coumadin level is stabilized and this can take a long time, right now it seems like I will be here until Friday but maybe longer.  This process takes months so I am looking at at least 6 months of treatment with Coumadin.  Today my hospitalist told me that in addition to this condition I have also had a Pulmonary Infarction.     “Pulmonary Infarction is necrosis, or death of lung tissue due to ischemia (lack of blood flow) to that area of the lung.  Most result from a large pulmonary embolism (PE) that blocks or slows the flow of oxygenated blood distal to the blockage.  The clot may be caused from a trauma, post operative, or just after birth. “ 

This means that I will have a damaged section of my right lung for the rest of my life.  This whole thing is very scary to me and my family and friends.  I am not out of the woods yet.  I am not allowed to move around more than to use the bathroom for fear that the clots will break apart and travel to my heart or brain so here I am in bed writing, knitting and talking on the phone.  I am still very short of breath actually more so today than I was yesterday.  Today I woke up and I just feel terrible; achey all over, chilled and just in general yucky.  I will keep you all posted about my progress.  When I saw my ortho surgeon yesterday he said this is a temporary setback as far as my back healing.  I am apparently the first patient to have this complication in his career, he looks very worried every time he comes to see me.  After this crisis is over I can resume my walking therapy and continue to get my mobility back, for now I have to just try and be compliant and just rest and hope that the clots begin to dissolve soon.  Honestly I am afraid that they might not be telling me everything and I get the impression that this is more serious than they are letting on.  I will keep hanging in here and working to get better, TTYL, 🙂 pray for me if you believe!