The spine is one of the main structural components of the human body. An issue with it has ramifications that affect movement throughout the body such as: standing up, supporting posture, walking, and maintaining balance. It also serves another crucial role; it protects the spinal cord, which serves as a link between the brain and the rest of the body. Therefore, a spine injury can severely limit range of motion and have a significant impact on one’s quality of life.
But when is surgery a good option? Taking into account the risks and recovery time, when is back surgery a good idea? Specifically, what do you need to know about spinal fusion surgery?
Overview of Spinal Fusion Surgery
In order to understand spinal fusion surgery, here’s a refresher on the anatomy of the spine. It is composed of vertebrae running the entire length of the spine, with seven located in the neck (cervical vertebrae), twelve located in the upper back (thoracic vertebrae), and five in the lower back (lumbar vertebrae).
In between each vertebra, there is a soft disc composed of cartilage. Each disc is named after the vertebra above it. For example, the disc located under the fifth cervical vertebrae is called C5 (“C“ indicating cervical, and the number “5” for its number, in descending order).
If any of these discs become ruptured or wear down, the vertebrae will press against each other, causing back pain. When this occurs, the vertebra may also pinch nerves, inducing pain that radiates along the length of the nerve, possibly affecting the buttocks or the legs.
When these issues result in chronic pain or limit a person’s range of motion, a doctor may recommend spinal fusion surgery. This procedure fuses together two or more vertebrae to eliminate motion between them. By creating one solid bone, stability of the spine is restored. During the surgery, pressure will be released from affected nerves, thus reducing pain.
Purpose of Spinal Fusion Surgery
Spine surgery isn’t a cure-all for back issues. As with any surgery, it’s considered as a last resort, when conservative treatment hasn’t yielded results.
Surgeons will conduct imaging tests, such as CT, MRI, and/or X-Ray to examine the condition of the spine and to determine whether surgery would be a good option. The procedure can relieve symptoms of many different problems, including:
- Herniated disc
- Spinal stenosis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Fractured vertebra
- Spine deformity
What to Expect for Spinal Fusion Surgery
Prior to surgery, the incision site will be cleaned with antiseptic. Then, general anesthesia will be administered, so you will be asleep during the surgery. Different surgeons have different approaches to this surgery. However, the common denominator includes an incision at the site of the issue. This would be the neck for cervical vertebra, the upper back for thoracic vertebra, or the lower back for lumbar vertebra.
The surgeon will graft bone, usually from the pelvis (therefore, you’ll have two incisions). The doctor will then place the bone graft in between the injured vertebrae and secure it with screws. Modern technology allows for the incisions to be small, lowering the risk of blood loss and infection.
After surgery, you would typically remain hospitalized for a couple of days. When you’re ready to go home, your doctor will give you instructions on home care during the recovery period.
Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery Time
It’s normal to feel pain right after surgery. Therefore, your doctor will prescribe medication to help alleviate it. Also, it’s important to be aware of the fact that it may take several months before the fused vertebrae fully heal and become one single, solid bone. Your doctor will give specific instructions as to how to sit, stand, sleep, walk, and articulate other motions properly. Although full recovery takes time, you should feel an improvement over how you felt prior to surgery fairly quickly.
The doctor will likely prescribe physical therapy for up to three months post-surgery.
Spinal Fusion Surgery Success Rate
About 68% of patients who’ve had spinal fusion surgery in the United States report improvements in back pain. For people who experienced pain radiating down their leg, 76% felt an improvement in symptoms after surgery.
Risks and Complications of Spinal Fusion Surgery
Any kind of surgery includes risks. However, spinal fusion surgeries have been performed successfully for decades. That said, potential complications from spinal fusion surgery include:
- Infection. Signs of infection include fever, chills, and puss at the surgery site.
- Pseudarthrosis. This is the medical term for an unsuccessful fusion when the vertebrae fail to bond together.
- Blood clots. In order to prevent blood clots, pay attention to pain or swelling of the ankles or feet, tenderness, and redness along the legs, shortness of breath, coughing, or sudden chest pain. If any of these signs are present, see a doctor immediately.
- Recurring symptoms. This would most likely be due to a degenerative condition, such as arthritis.
Request an Appointment at The Orthopedic Clinic Today
At The Orthopedic Clinic, we want you to live your life in full motion. If you’re experiencing recurring back problems, let us help you. We’ll tailor a treatment plan that’s best for your lifestyle and get you back to doing the things you love.
Call us at (386) 255-4596 to schedule an appointment.