I signed up for main group way back when it was a start up. I have not been active until now. I first posted in the main discussion area and was notified I should post here! Any one out there with a spinal/back fusion? I had a PLIF at the S1 L5 position of the back.

I am recovering from a major back surgery and wondered if there were any others out there willing to talk about recovery and re learning to work around the fact that you can't bend at that joint anymore.(the joint is just above your plumbers crack) I am in my 7th week and still waiting for the bones to fuse so I am not doing anything other than lay in a recliner, walk, do PT and take meds. Its going to take 6 to 8 months for the bone healing but I should be able to handbuild in a month or 2 if my partner helps me. No lifting, bending, twisting.


This section added by George Lewter to facilitate closing of original discussion.

Reply by Andrea Brown

Hi Lana,

I've just joined and the first thing I saw was your post.  Welcome to the club. I have L4- S1 fused.  Mine was done in October last year. I was going crazy by the 6th week and was starting to get back to the pottery. Have you had cat scan done yet? By late November I was back to doing it all. Wedging, throwing, picking up buckets of glaze. Everything. At that stage I was told by neurosurgeon that I could work for about 2 hours at a time and rest for 20mins or so. I don't want to say that you should be doing it the same way.  I still have problems but this has been my 3rd surgery on the same area, and no the reason is not that I've done anything wrong.  The first was the initial fusion 10 years ago, the second was 2 months later when a sliver of the vertebrae chipped off and was pressing on nerves I couldn't walk!  Now the third was a herniated disc which was pressing on the sciatic nerve.  I've always had a weak back.  Best advice - walk lots and then some more, it really does help get the healing going. Get yourself to a good biokineticist. They will help stretch your muscle which have been shortened by the surgery, and they will give you stretching exercises to continue with on a daily basis. I still have pain, mostly due to the weakness on my left side, but the pain is manageable and it does not affect my potting too much. When it's bad enough I take painkillers and rest a bit more. I find that I work from early morning until around 3pm, then I lie down for the rest of the day. 

My best wishes for a speedy recovery, and please don't hesitate to talk if you need to.

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Replies to This Discussion

I am sorry you had to go through this, I have never had much back problems so I can't help you much.  If you throw on a electric wheel you may have to try some different height stools even relearn to throw.  I am lucky I do mostly handbuilding and a little throwing.  My MS has messed with my arms and legs and I can't use my kick wheel any longer.  Since my arms don't have the fine motor skills I need for throwing anymore I'm not sure if it's worth putting a motor on it.  I can still throw small bowls and cylinders for a short time and then my legs give out.  You learn to work with what you have got in motor skills and co-ordination.   Wishing you luck.   Denice

I'm recovering from my latest surgeries, one on my hand and one on my foot.  I have fusions on all of my toes and one of my fingers and it does take a long time to heal.  There are throwers who've had back injuries and find standing to throw really helpful.  I do handbuild and have pain from scoliosis but am still working with one hand and the thumb and forefinger of my left hand.  As my hands are clawed It's not a great deal different than the way I normally work, although  not gernerally with a sock on one hand.  Something that helps me in a very big way is finding the right tools.  I'll never be a production potter but I bought a really good used slab roller a few years ago which quickly became my favourite tool and changed my pottery practice.  Another item I can't work without is a really good chair that supports my back.  When I blew a castor on mine a while ago, I had to use a replacement chair for a while and my back became very painful.  Almost as soon as I got my chair back the pain went away. As you get back into working with clay I think you'll find that you can adapt to a different way of doing things and may find some exciting new ways of making things happen.  I hope this helps and as back problems are almost an occupational hazard for potters there should be lots of great advice out there.

Thanks for all the support and tips from Denice, Kathy and new joining potter Andrea. I know about chairs I used to be a drafter and technical illustrator. A good chair can make all the difference in back soreness. Now I am am a computer tech that sits a lot because  much of my work is on the phone or at a des answering emails or remoting into customers computers..

I have been throwing and hand building off and on for about 30 years, always had a day job. I know that there will have to be some adjustments when I am cleared to return to my work as an IT specialist in 3 weeks and when I am cleared for some light pottery. In a year I am told I should be able to go full tilt as pottery. Which until I retire is only after work and weekends:)

I was hoping there are some PLIF folks in this form that can tell me when they returned to making pots and some of the ways that they got around the fused joint in their back. What they go cleared for after 2, 4, 6, 8 months. I will still have to use what my doctor tells me. But talking other histories with her might help her guide me.  Maybe even trade tips on professionals that assisted with the transitions during their recovery back to working, with resuming life and of course pottery. There is the state of Washington chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, heller work, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and  probably more. Andrea said a bio kinetic professional helps with alignment after glazing sessions.

Just so others know what a PLIF is and what led up to my surgery here is the story. Maybe it will help someone seek treatment earlier than I did. Maybe it will help with the decision to have the surgery or not.

Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion where diseased tissue is removed and the joint or joints are held together by cages and either rods or plates with screws and infused with proteins for bone growth and some bone tissue from you or a cadaver. In my case the disc was shot between S1 and L5 so they put in a plastic disc to do the shock absorbing. They took bone from the back and toward the top side of the illac crest (part of your pelvic bone) but not where any muscles attach. It takes 6 to 8 months for the bone grafting to heal. In a year most people are back to normal. With new lifting mechanics and on a forever exercise program. From now on the pressure that was at L5 is now on the L4 vertebrae and back muscles when lifting has moved to. Also forever, you have to keep your abdominal core strong to take the pressure off the back muscles to balance the load of lifting. or you will need another similar surgery at another location.

I ruptured a disc about 11 years ago after working standing on cement floors at Costco as a temporary worker. I quit after 5 months and suddenly one morning could not get out of bed. I did lots of PT and it got better. I was never told to continue a abdominal core exercise program for back health because of this injury. Nor was an MRI ever done. I didn't realize this was part of my new issues because this old injury didn't seem connected and the symptoms were different.

The back problem showed up about 6 months ago but it did not act like a back problem at all. It showed up as hip, groin and leg problems. Working with a special Chiropractor that works with soft tissue more than (cracking) adjustments and Physical Therapy professionals I had the symptoms moving from hip flexior muscles burning and having pain when trying to walk or get up from sitting, to IT band, to lower leg to feet, and upper back muscle spasms. I had  work done on Psoas, quadratus lumbar, IT band, ligaments of the hip, trochanter bursitis and groin muscle pain. Every time we got one issue solved it moved to something else. I never ever had pain in the back from throwing. I did sometimes have soreness in the butt where the piriformis muscle runs across the butt to the hip. I also sometimes had hip pain and low back pain so from standing in one place too long. But an MRI showed extensive arthritis damage to the lower foundation of the lumbar vertebrae L5. Requiring stabilization and fusion. The fact that I just turned 65 exerted pressure to have it done while work insurances would give me greater control that being on Medicare. The risk of waiting was that the L5 would eventually collapse doing more damage to the sciatic nerves on both sides potentially leaving me crippled in pain and in a chair for the rest of my life and few surgeons willing to attempt a repair. Also with more age factored in a lessor chance of a good outcome. So I elected to do the surgery! At least 80 percent or more of the PLIF surgeries are successful. I was told the most critical contributor to this outcome is doing all the right things while the bone is growing. That means no lifting, twisting or bending. Sounds easy but twisting is something we do during all kinds of movements without thinking about it.  Especially when doing personal hygiene, brushing your teeth, showering and using the toilet. Hope my story helps someone out there to understand PLIF surgery. I always say knowledge is power. Lana

Lana I hope someone with problems like yours will answer.  My husband is a technical illustrator, draftsman and writer.  He does the books for Chance Mfg. rides and roller coasters.  He also ran the tec pub at J.I. Case tractors and trenchers and did some work for Beech Aircraft. He doesn't consider himself a computer tech but he puts all of his books online.  Denice


A new potter Andrea joined the group and she had a fusion from L4 thru L5 to S1 which is a bigger fusion than mine. And basically in one year she was back to doing everything in pottery. This gave me a big boost.

My surgeon has said in a year you should be back to normal. I am now today at 8 weeks post surgery. I still don't know if the bone graft is healing yet. I see the surgeon May 30 and will have X-rays to check on hardware staying where its supposed to be and hopefully we will see bone signs. I should be released for returning to my IT job.

See Andrea Browns' post was just moved by George up at the top of this discussion, near my first post.

Before going back to school at 53 I was a technical illustrator for the Boeing Company. I had several jobs in 23 years with them before getting laid off at 53. I was a board trained drafter then illustrator then manager of engineers, planners and illustrators. I managed the transition of illustration on Engines moving to being done on computers for the 777. I then rolled back down into the ranks and did digital drawings for the Maintenance Manuals of all Commercial Aircraft for Boeing. I got a two year degree in computers after the layoff in 2003. So now I work in IT at a help desk for  The Evergreen State College. Your husband and I have a few things in common. You and I have a few things in common.

What brand of wheel is your kick wheel? I have never thrown on a kick wheel. Learned on an electric. I have two wheels a Brent C x C and was gifted a 1962 Shimpo Century 21 the model made for the Worlds Fair held in Seattle, WA.

I can image that the MS makes it very difficult. What state are you in? Have you heard about the treatment in the UK that is derived from marijuana? Of course the FDA has not made it legal in the US yet. But I am wondering if its similar to the guys in Colorado (its a TED TALK) that have figured out how to remove the hallucinogenic part of marijuana and are treating sever epilepsy. The results have been amazing. I am in Washington and I could have used marijuana for my pain because it does not inhibit the bone growth. But pain doctor said it's an excelerator and you have to be very very careful with the other drugs and pain meds you might be taking. Since I had not used it before for pain I didn't want to risk using it.

Yes I agree we work with what we have and adapt so we can continue working with clay. I look forward to seeing pictures of everyone's pottery in this forum. I don't have any new stuff in cone 6 but happy to show off some examples of my cone 10 pots. I used to do cone 6 beads, pendants and ceramic forms for jewelry selling at shows around the country. I will post a few of those for you all to see. I did some basic cone 6 glaze making last year and got them fired in gas and electric at the school I work at because I was taking an independent class. I may do more of that during my recovery period. Hands down the John Britt DVD on glaze making is a great way to learn. His book on mid Range Glazes is also very good. But if you are visual and auditory learner John Britts DVD on making and learning to tweak glazes is a great tool. I took a glaze making class in about 92 and have read a lot of books on making glazes but John Britt really demystifies the process.


George got your post moved. He is on top if it. Thanks George.

Andrea thanks for confirming in a year I will be back to doing it all. I hope you will share a few pix of your work soon. Glad to connect with another PLIF. You had a bigger fusion than I did and you made it back to pottery. Very encouraging. Hey at 65 I don't exspect to be totally pain free. I have arthritis in other places in my spine. In fact they did a little clean up up there at L4. To what extent I will find out in a few weeks. My first visit 2 weeks after my surgery is a blur. All the pain meds I was on then had me very stopped down. Since I had to ride in a car 60 miles to see the doctor I am glad I had so many meds on board. I then had to ride back 60 miles. Ouch!

ICE for pain:

For pain I find the soft gel ice packs work wonders and I am in my 8th week today post surgery. Off the opiates and now relying on 1 muscle relaxer Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine)  in the morning and 1 at night. Also a regime of Tylenol 650mg 7am, 12 noon, 7pm, 10pm and 12pm. I am also taking at 7pm 2 capsules  300 mg each of gabapentin. It's used for restless leg, twitching and seizures. My neurosurgeon said it's benign in side effects. I can continue using it for my restless legs in the future. She thought maybe some of leg jerking was caused by the pressure bearing down on the nerves that controlled my legs. And the surgery just might have cured a lot of that, maybe all of it. Time will tell.

Muscle pain and spasms topical treatment:

And the best thing for muscle spasms ever 5mg of lidocaine in the form of a patch you stick on your skin. If you have muscle spasms and muscle pain the aqueous patches are really helpful. There are several types get the aqueous one its sticky stays in place and you can use up to 3 patches for 12 hours. Much better than oral medicine in my experience for my body. Gets right to the muscle and if you have to cut the 3 patches up and place them for multiple muscle groups giving you pain.




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