Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that involves fusing either one or several of the spinal vertebrae so that they are no longer able to move independently. During the surgery, doctors place bone grafts around the spine. As the body heals, the grafts fuse together over a period of several months. There are a number of variations of this type of lower back surgery that include laser spine surgery, and the variety of surgery that a person receives will depend on the source of their pain.
What Types of Conditions Can Spinal Fusion Treat?
This procedure can be used to alleviate lower back pain and heal a number of serious conditions related to the spine. It can be particularly helpful in treating scoliosis and broken or fractured vertebrae. It is also one of the most frequently used surgical procedures in treating spinal stenosis that causes pain in the lower back and legs. Spondylolisthesis can also be treated using spinal fusion. This is a condition that occurs when a small fracture creates a space that lets one of the vertebrae move forward onto another.
The procedure is also frequently used in cervical disc herniations. When this occurs, the cervical disc is removed entirely, and spinal fusion is used to replace the bone that has been extracted. However, this type of spinal fusion is almost always used only when the herniation occurs in the neck and not in the lumbar region.
In addition, the surgery is sometimes used in situations where people experience intense pain in their spine without any clearly identifiable instability in the vertebrae. However, this is generally only used as a last resort in treating spinal pain as the operation’s success depends entirely on identifying the source of the vertebral fracture. Without knowing exactly where the pain is coming from, surgeons have a much lower chance of being able to treat a patient successfully. In fact, this practice is controversial in the medical community, and the majority of doctors would usually recommend other treatment options instead.
There are a number of risk factors and side effects associated with spinal fusion, and they can vary widely depending on the kind of operation that is performed, the reason why they are having the surgery, their general health and their age. Risks that stem from spinal fusion include infection, graft rejection and blood clotting that may ultimately lead to pulmonary embolism. In addition, metal implants can break after the surgery, and the bones may fail to fuse. It is also possible to experience both of these issues in combination. Individuals may also have pain in the area where the bone was grafted.
When is Spinal Fusion Surgery a Bad Idea?
People should never consider spinal fusion for back pain that does not stem from issues with the vertebrae. The procedure has become increasingly popular amongst some spine surgeons in recent years basically because it is very lucrative for them to perform. However, there are many less invasive ways to treat back pain that is not related to the vertebrae, and people should always consider alternatives to spinal fusion when they are seeking relief.
What to Consider Before Spinal Fusion Surgery
Spinal fusion surgery is a major operation, and it is important that individuals get all of the information that they can before they decide to undergo the procedure. This includes learning about other types of therapeutic options that can help to eliminate the root causes of their back pain. In addition, they should make sure that their surgeon has extensive experience in performing these operations. There are often reviews available that can give people a better idea of how skilled and competent a particular surgeon is at performing spinal fusions.
Individuals should also keep in mind that the pain people generally experience after spinal fusion is more intense immediately following the procedure than with other types of lumbar surgery. However, patients are usually given medication to help reduce the pain that they feel, and the discomfort does not last for a particularly long time.
Rehabilitation and Recovery
The process of rehabilitation after spinal fusion surgery can be rather lengthy and will vary depending on the type of procedure that is performed. Individuals will generally have to wear a back brace for a period of time that their doctor specifies. They will also have to perform certain types of exercise such as swimming, riding a stationary bike and walking on a regular basis in order to fully recover from the surgery. Individuals will generally begin to see significant bone healing about three or four months after their procedure, but it can take a long period of time before they regain full function and are free from any associated pain. People generally find that life after spinal fusion is much more enjoyable than it was when they were living with constant back pain. However, a person’s age, the physical demands that come along with their occupation and the number of vertebrae that have been fused play a major role in how long it takes them to recover fully.
Before surgery, individuals should always talk to their medical provider about the costs that will be incurred. Surgery is expensive, and the amount that the patient will end up paying depends highly on their insurance. In addition, the type of surgery performed is a major factor in how much people end up paying. In general, back fusion surgery tends to be rather expensive. Individuals who undergo spinal fusion will also need to stay in the hospital for several days after the surgery is performed so that they can be properly monitored, and this can substantially add to the medical bills incurred. People should also be aware that they will need to take time off of work after their surgery, and the amount of time that they will need to be off of work depends on how physically active their job requires them to be, their age and how extensive the procedure is.
Spinal fusion surgery definitely works in situations where it is appropriate. However, it is not a solution that people should consider for typical back pain. Rather, it is a procedure that is intended to correct spinal abnormalities and can both provide relief for the pain that they cause and help individuals lead more active and healthy lives.