4 Facts About Spinal Fusion

4 Facts About Spinal Fusion

Chances are you know someone who has complained about a sore back. Some 16 million adults have to limit their daily activities due to chronic back pain. If the problem becomes debilitating, spinal fusion is the most common treatment available to them.

Spinal fusion is just what it sounds like: a procedure that involves linking adjoining vertebrae in the problem area of your spine. During a spinal fusion, two or more vertebrae are permanently fused together, eliminating motion between them. It is often done with the use of a bone graft or metal hardware to stabilize the spine. The procedure is generally safe and has a high success rate.

As with any other back surgery, it would only be recommended if your symptoms haven’t been relieved by nonsurgical treatments such as medications and physical therapy.

1. Spinal Fusion Is Common

More than 300,000 lumbar spinal fusions are performed in the United States every year. Patients turn to this procedure to relieve the symptoms of many common back problems, including herniated discs, scoliosis, and even infections. Thanks to advancing technology in recent years, more patients who require the procedure are opting for minimally invasive options to reduce their recovery times and chances of complications.

One reason it works is because it involves techniques designed to mimic the normal healing process of broken bones. During the surgery, the surgeon places bone or a bonelike material in the space between two vertebrae. Metal plates, screws or rods are oftentimes used to hold the vertebrae together so they can heal into a single, solid unit.

2. It Treats Many Different Conditions

A variety of conditions and ailments can require repairing or stabilizing vertebrae through fusion. Sometimes spinal fusion is performed on a patient as part of a larger surgical procedure. At MidAmerica Orthopaedics, the surgery may be recommended to a patient as a treatment for a number of different spinal conditions, such as:

  • Chronic back pain: As mentioned earlier, spinal fusion surgery can be used to strengthen the spine at weak points to treat chronic back pain.
  • Facet arthropathy: Facet joints are located in the posterior of the spine. Facet arthropathy is a degenerative condition that can cause a lot of pain in parts of the spine. In some cases, treatment includes fusing the affected vertebrae into one piece to keep the facet joints from moving and irritating the spinal column.
  • Spondylolisthesis: This is a condition in which a vertebra slides forward over the bone below it.A spinal fusion surgery can reposition a slipped vertebra and lift the bone off a nerve root or the spinal cord. 

3. Bone Graft Is Used

Spinal fusion involves techniques designed to mimic the normal healing process of broken bones. Typically, a bone graft or bonelike material is used to fuse the vertebrae together during surgery. The material may come either from a bone bank or from your own body – often the pelvis. The graft stimulates healing by increasing bone production.

Nowadays, there are more artificial options available for bone graft material. However, if your own bone is used, the surgeon will likely make an incision above your pelvic bone, remove a small portion of it and then close the incision. This might sound scary, but the incision and the graft amount removed would both be very small. Your doctor will be able to answer any questions you have about which type of bone graft you would need.

4. Recovery Timed Is Needed After Spinal Fusion

If you undergo a minimally invasive spinal fusion, you will likely be home in two or three days. At that point, the healing process is just beginning.

It can take months to fully recover from a spinal fusion, although your comfort level will probably improve much faster. While it is a generally safe procedure, it is very important to follow recovery guidelines in order to make a full and healthy recovery.

Once you’re back at home, the fused area of your spine must be kept in proper alignment. You will receive medical instructions on how to sit, stand, walk, and move properly. Following your physician’s instructions will be crucial to achieving a full recovery. You will likely have to:

  • Avoid strenuous activities. Doing too much too soon could compromise your healing process.
  • Practice any doctor-prescribed exercises or physical therapy.
  • Prepare to have at-home assistance to help you with everyday activities while you recover.
  • Keep follow-up appointments with your doctor.
  • Put off returning to work until you are properly healed.

If spinal fusion might be part of your treatment plan, contact the

Minimally Invasive Spine Clinic at MidAmerica Orthopaedics and set up an appointment to find out more about your options.

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