When two or more vertebrae in the spine are fused together it’s a considerable undertaking. Though such a procedure may be necessary to reduce pain and improve balance. The surgery is referred to as spinal fusion, usually cervical or lumbar for back and neck pain. When this fusion takes place, there will no longer be any movement between those two vertebrae. This procedure helps with balance and coordination, to reduce pain, and to prevent the spine from further deterioration.
The need for a spinal fusion can be the result of a genetic issue or the aging process. It can be health resulted, such as Scoliosis. The problem can result from a herniated disc or some type of trauma that puts too much strain on the vertebrae in the spine. The vertebrae may be in the lumbar region or the cervical area.
The L5-S1 area of the spine is the most common for such fusing to take place. This part of the spine is involved in your range of motion. It is close to the middle area of the spine and has a curved design. The design of it and the motion it offers means more strain tends to be placed on this part of the spine than others.
WHAT IS SPINAL FUSION SURGERY?
A full assessment is conducted to determine if a candidate is healthy enough for spinal fusion surgery. This procedure is only considered when the damage continues to progress or the patient is struggling with severe pain. There are risks involved with such surgery, and the benefits of it have to be more than the potential risks.
The area of the spine has to be prepped before the surgery begins. The hair may need to be trimmed along the spine of the upper vertebrae will be fused together. Certain soap that contains antiseptics needs to be used. A sample of your nose tissue will be taken to ensure there aren’t any harmful bacteria in there that could lead to an infection after the procedure.
This procedure involves the patient being put under anesthesia. The surgeon will place artificial materials that mimic bone between the vertebras. There are instances where real bone material from the patient is used. This is referred to as a bone graft.
The materials are held in place with various hardware. This may include screws, rods, and metal plates. The design to hold them in place depends on the number of vertebrae involved and the wear of them. As the healing takes place, the spinal fusion area will be one solid piece instead of individual ones.
The procedure starts with the incision, and every effort is made to make it as small as possible. The more vertebrae involved in the procedure, the longer that incision has to be. The actual process of fusing the vertebrae can be done with several methods. It depends on the facility, the surgeon, and the needs of the patient. The goal is to do what is best to promote healing of the spine.
SPINAL FUSION RECOVERY
Most patients remain in the hospital for the first few days after this surgical procedure. If everything is going well they can finish the recovery at home. There can be pain around the spine and surrounding areas for the first couple of days. Pain medication is given to help control it. The recovery time for spinal fusion varies for each patient.
It requires plenty of rest and not lifting or bending for the first few weeks. The healing process for the body is similar to what takes place when a broken bone heals. Wearing a brace may be recommended by your spine surgeon to help limit movements during the healing process. It can take several months for the fusion to be completed healed.
Most patients will start going to physical therapy after the first week of healing. This helps them gain mobility and strength. You may be given exercises to complete at home too. You may have to take time off work or work with restrictions in place.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT AFTER A SPINAL FUSION?
Most patients find the spinal fusion reduces or eliminates the pain they experienced before. It helps them have a better quality of life and it helps them with their balance. Your doctor can give you the anticipated outcome based on the reason for the spinal fusion surgery and other factors. Be patient and give your body time to heal. Not following instructions during recovery can prevent the fusion from working as it should.
It is important to understand the other parts of the spine often take on additional pressure due to this fusion. This can increase the risk of lower back pain developing in other areas in the future. Strive to eat well, take part in daily exercise, and shed extra pounds to reduce that risk. You may have to change career paths if your job is physically hard on the back and spine.
SPINAL FUSION COMPLICATIONS
While most spinal fusions go as planned, there are common problems. Your surgeon should go over the risk with you. Such concerns include:
- Blood clots
- Damage to spinal nerves or blood vessels
- Excessive or prolonged bleeding
- Pain at the location where the bone is grafted from
- Slow healing of the incision
ALTERNATIVES TO SPINAL FUSION SURGERY
Not everyone is healthy enough for this type of surgery. Some patients don’t want to go through the procedure due to the risks. Others can’t afford it or take so much time off work for the recovery. Whatever the reason is for not pursuing spinal fusion surgery, there are some alternatives to consider.
Laser spine surgery is one of these alternatives. It involves a needle inserted into areas of the lumbar disc region. A laser is pushed through the needle, and heat propagating through the insertion helps reduce the pain and inflammation around the discs. The heat evaporates a portion the herniating disc causing the nerve pressure to decompress and guarding the disc from herniated again in the future.
Acupuncture is also an option. This involves many small, thin needles being inserted into specific areas of the spine. Many patients say they feel less pressure and pain after just a couple of treatments. They continue to go back at regular intervals to stay feeling as good as they can without the surgical procedure.