Lumbar Fusion Surgery
What is Lumbar Fusion?
Spinal fusion is surgery to permanently connect two or more vertebrae in your spine, eliminating motion between them.
Spinal fusion involves techniques designed to mimic the normal healing process of broken bones. During spinal fusion, your surgeon places bone or a bonelike material within the space between two spinal vertebrae. Metal plates, screws and rods may be used to hold the vertebrae together, so they can heal into one solid unit.
Why is Lumbar Fusion Done?
Spinal fusion permanently connects two or more vertebrae in your spine to improve stability, correct a deformity or reduce pain. Your doctor may recommend spinal fusion to treat:
Deformities of the spine. Spinal fusion can help correct spinal deformities, such as a sideways curvature of the spine (scoliosis).
Spinal weakness or instability. Your spine may become unstable if there’s abnormal or excessive motion between two vertebrae. This is a common side effect of severe arthritis in the spine. Spinal fusion can be used to restore spinal stability in such cases.
Herniated disk. Spinal fusion may be used to stabilize the spine after removal of a damaged (herniated) disk.
Risks of Lumbar Fusion
Spinal fusion is generally a safe procedure. But as with any surgery, spinal fusion carries the potential risk of complications.
Potential complications include:
- Poor wound healing
- Blood clots
- Injury to blood vessels or nerves in and around the spine
- Pain at the site from which the bone graft is taken
Lower back surgery for reducing pain
Lumbar fusion surgery can help resolve pain in the lower back and spine. However, spinal fusion is a major surgical procedure, so you should discuss all the details with your doctor before considering the surgery. There are nonsurgical options and non-invasive procedures that may be worth looking into such a laser spine surgery. If lumbar fusion is a consideration, there is a noticeable reduction in pain after the surgery. People looking to get spinal fusion done usually have tried physical therapy and other nonsurgical measures, but still maintain the debilitating back pain.
How long does spinal fusion surgery take?
Spinal fusion surgery is unique to the patient being operated on since there are so many variables that go into any surgery. Your doctor will discuss how long the surgery will take for you beforehand. To get a general idea of how long the spinal fusion procedure may take it can be as little as 2 hours, or up to 6 hours depending on the number of vertebrae being fused. The level of degeneration of the vertebrae, and whether or not nerves are pinched also effect the length of surgery.
Fused Vertebrae in Your Spine
When fusing two vertebrae in your spine this will naturally take a while to heal. The bone graft is set between the two vertebrae and screws and rods may be used to keep the graft in place while it heals or “fuses” the two vertebrae together. Due to the nature of spinal fusion the range of motion in your back might be reduced, and bending during the healing process is advised against.
Are there permanent restrictions after spinal fusion?
Spinal vertebrae being fused sounds like it will be very restrictive to your range of motion, since the two vertebrae don’t move independently any more. So you might be asking yourself “What happens if I bend after spinal fusion?” The answer to that is it is recommended you avoid excessive bending after a lumbar fusion surgery. One bend likely won’t ruin a spinal fusion procedure, but you should avoid bending or putting any excess strain on your back for 3-6 months after the surgery so everything will heal properly. When you begin light exercise it’s best to do so under the guide of a physical therapist who specializes in spinal recovery. You can undertake more strenuous activities after 6 months of light exercise and healing.
The level of restriction you experience depends on the type of fusion you receive. Because in a lumbar fusion you are essentially losing the motion of a joint you may have a slight reduction in your range of motion. Though with single level spinal fusion this may not be noticeable. Even with multiple level spinal fusions you can still exercise and be active. With each extra level of fusion though, you will lose more range of motion, and bending forward and backward will be slightly different because of the loss of the flexibility of those joints.