What is a Spinal Fusion?

Spinal fusion refers to a surgical procedure in which two or more vertebrae are permanently fused in order to eliminate movement between them. Spinal fusions may be necessary following an injury of the spine or in order to decompress the spine and alleviate symptoms of a misaligned or unstable vertebrae. The techniques used to fuse the vertebrae may vary but is done in order to bring stability to a portion of the spine. Spinal fusion does have drawbacks as the vertebrae above and below the spinal fusion will face a greater amount of stress and degeneration as the surgically repaired portion no longer has any form of motion.

Types of Surgery

A spinal fusion procedure is a major procedure generally conducted over several hours and involving intensive recovery. Some common surgical techniques include:

  • Metal plates used to adjoin adjacent vertebrae.
  • Entire vertebrae removed with the remaining vertebrae then infused
  • A disc may be removed prior to fusion
  • Temporary metal plates between two vertebrae as new bone grows
  • Bone can be taken from another part of the body or bone bank and used to bridge the gap between vertebrates creating a fusion. Artificial materials may also be used in this way.

After Surgery

A short hospital stay is common following a spinal fusion procedure. After several days the patient may be released from the hospital but will most likely require a back brace. Physical therapy can then begin shortly after as a large portion of the rehabilitation process.

How Well Will it Work?

Although spinal fusions are a fairly common procedure, there are a large number of risks involved and no guarantee of success. While some individuals have shown dramatic improvement in symptoms others have not seen any improvement. With some studies showing little to no advantage of spinal fusions over traditional non surgical therapy for lower back pain, the procedure remains controversial.

What should I keep in mind?

There are inherent risks, though uncommon, with surgery such as infection, damage to nerves or blood vessels, blood clots, and anesthesia risks.

Further surgeries may also be required if complications occur during recovery. The risks of complications vary with the age and overall health of the patient. A fusion may fail or be damaged in some way. There is also inherent risk of nerve or spinal cord damage when operating in or around the spine. Considering the costs, large amount of controversy surrounding spinal fusions, and risks involved it is highly advised that individuals consider the opinions of multiple medical professionals before making a decision.

Ways to Alleviate Pain From  a Spinal Fusion

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) may be taken to reduce inflammation and pain in the time while still contemplating surgery. Post-surgery a patient should follow their surgeons rehabilitation plan for ways to alleviate pain.

Places to Get Help

Get excellent bone and joint treatment from the top doctors at OrthoArizona – Arizona Orthopaedic Associates.