Lumbar Fusion Surgery Relieves Lower-back and Leg Pain

Patient Story

Legal secretary Gloria Johnson, 63, has had painful osteoarthritis for more than 20 years, but she is free from lower-back and leg pain today, thanks to lumbar fusion surgery by Dr. Foroohar and orthopedic surgeon Richard Mannion, MD.

“I went into the hospital on a Wednesday and was home Friday evening,” she recalls. “Six days later, I was back at work.

“Dr. Foroohar told me, ‘Not everybody is going to be like you,’” Gloria laughs.

A friend refers Gloria to Dr. Foroohar

“I first went to Dr. Foroohar several years ago on the recommendation of a friend who was being treated for a brain tumor,” Gloria recalls. “She told me, ‘You should call my doctor—she's really good.’ So I called Dr. Foroohar and went to see her.

“Back then, I had terrible pain running down my arm,” says Gloria. “I had gone to a local doctor and hadn't gotten any relief. It got to the point where I just couldn't stand the pain.

“One thing I really like about Dr. Foroohar is that she considers surgery as the last resort,” Gloria explains. “She tries to do everything she can possibly do prior to having to say, ‘I think our only alternative is surgery.’”

On Dr. Foroohar's recommendation, Gloria had a cortisone injection and underwent a course of physical therapy—but her pain persisted. Then Gloria had an anterior cervical discectomy with fusion and her pain disappeared. “It was like day and night,” she recalls. “I was fine; I went home the next day and have never had another problem with it.”

Arthritis leads to degenerative disc disease

“My mother had arthritis,” says Gloria. “My sister has it, and I started developing symptoms in my early 40s. Arthritis has a tendency to break the discs down and weaken them, so a couple of years after my cervical fusion surgery, I had a problem with my lower back. My right leg was going numb and I had pain running down my leg. My first thought was, ‘I've got to go back and see Dr. Foroohar.’”

Tests reveal lumbar spine disorders

To help diagnose Gloria's lower-back and leg pain, Dr. Foroohar ordered an MRI of her lower spine. “The MRI revealed lumbar stenosis, meaning pinching of the nerves in her lumbar spine caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal,” Dr. Foroohar explains. “This is what was causing Gloria's back and leg pain, along with numbness.”

“Gloria also had spondylolisthesis, a condition where a spinal vertebra slips forward over the one below it,” adds Dr. Foroohar. “She was born with a condition called a pars defect, which meant that the back of her vertebrae had never fully fused together properly. This is what led to the vertebra in her lower back slipping forward.”

Conservative treatments were not enough

Again, Gloria tried conservative pain-relief measures. “She underwent a trial of medication, physical therapy and lumbar injection with no relief,” Dr. Foroohar recalls. “Flexion and extension standing lumbar x-rays confirmed mechanical instability in her lower back—the result of her pars defect. Gloria also had an EMG, which confirmed lumbar nerve root irritation.

Because Gloria had more than one spinal condition, she needed more than one type of procedure to correct the cause of her pain and numbness. “I explained to Gloria that her surgery would involve both laminectomy to free the nerves and lumbar spinal fusion to correct the spondylolisthesis and stabilize the spine,” says Dr. Foroohar.

‘I'd never heard of a neurosurgeon operating with an orthopedic surgeon’

“When Dr. Foroohar mentioned lumbar fusion surgery, she told me, ‘I always work in partnership with an orthopedic surgeon for this procedure. I take care of the nerve part of it, and Dr. Richard Mannion takes care of the actual hardware that goes into the back,’” Gloria recalls.

“I guess I really didn't know anything about lumbar spinal fusion surgery until it affected me,” Gloria admits. “Dr. Foroohar is really good at showing you on her spine model exactly where they're going to put the pieces and what the surgery is going to entail. Honestly, I don't think I've ever been more informed.”

Gloria also met with Dr. Mannion prior to surgery. “Dr. Foroohar wanted me to go see him in his office, and I did,” she recalls. “He's really a knowledgeable person, and I had a chance to ask him about what I could expect after spinal fusion. I wanted to know, would I still be able to bend over? Dr. Mannion answered all my questions.”

Home in 2 days; back at work in 6

Gloria had lumbar fusion surgery on a Wednesday, went home on Friday—and was back at work six days later. “They got the problem fixed,” she says.

Each patient's recovery from surgery is unique; Gloria bounced back quickly, but was very careful about her activities. “I wanted to go back to work,” she recalls. “I needed to go back, so I went back. But that's all I did—I went back to work, I sat at my computer, I did my job, I went home. I didn't do anything else.

“I don't have any trouble sitting,” says Gloria. “I don't have any trouble doing my job whatsoever. I have a 10-pound weight-lifting limit—which is about the weight of a gallon of milk.

“I feel great now! And I mind my manners,” she laughs. “I do only what I'm supposed to do.”

Gloria has had to make some adjustments to avoid future problems with her arthritis. “Dr. Foroohar doesn't want me to be doing a great deal of bending,” she explains. “I like to garden, and bending over pulling weeds is a no-no. I can do a little bit, but then I have to stop, so I'm better off to sit down and do it. You do find other ways to do things,” she laughs.

“My insurance took care of the surgery,” says Gloria. “I never had to pay a cent. It was absolutely wonderful.

“I've recommended Dr. Foroohar to at least 10 people,” Gloria adds, “and no one has come away saying she's anything less than what I said she was. Dr. Foroohar is just great when you've got a back problem.”