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Spinal Fusion Surgery

What is spinal fusion?

Vertebrae are interlocking bones of the spine. When two or more of them are surgically fused using a small bone graft, it is known as spinal fusion. When the bone heals after spinal fusion surgery, it becomes one solid bone. It is also known as vertebral interbody fusion or arthrodesis.

Uses of spinal fusion

Spinal fusion surgery removes the mobility of the treated vertebrae. Although it might reduce spine flexibility, it treats spinal disorders with painful movements.

Spinal fusion is done in the following spinal disorders:

  • Scoliosis
  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Kyphosis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Fractured vertebrae
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Tumours

Diagnosed with scoliosis?

Individuals with unnatural spine curves are diagnosed with scoliosis. The ailment progresses and worsens over time. Moreover, the rate of progression varies and is difficult to predict.

Scoliosis is of the following four types based on its severity:

  • Mild scoliosis
  • Moderate scoliosis
  • Severe scoliosis
  • Very-severe scoliosis

 

A spine surgeon will advise the following treatment to the patients based on the severity of symptoms and possible cause of the disease:

  • Mild cases: Treatment will focus on preventing the disease from progressing.
  • Moderate cases: Treatment includes traditional spine bracing, such as the Boston brace, to prevent the spine from becoming more curved.
  • Severe to Very-severe cases: Spinal fusion surgery is the most effective treatment option.

Spinal fusion surgery: What is it?

When two or more adjacent vertebrae are surgically bonded to create a solid and stable bone structure, the procedure is known as spinal fusion surgery. The main objective is to prevent further disease progression.

The surgeon prepares a small bone graft or a fragment from the other bones of the body, commonly the hip bone. It is then inserted in between the most tilted and affected vertebrae. The surgery can be performed at all levels of vertebrae. However, it is most commonly used for lumbar vertebrae.

Once recovered from the surgery, it will help patients perform everyday activities with a normal to a limited range of movements and flexibility.

Spinal fusion surgery complications

Just like any other surgery, patients have the potential risk of developing the following complications:

  • Pain at the site of bone graft
  • Poor wound healing
  • Damage to blood vessels and nerves
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Formation of blood clots
  • Excess blood lost during surgery
  • Loss of spinal flexibility and range of movement
  • Muscular pain
  • Spine more prone to damages or injuries
  • Psychological impact on the patient
  • Less appealing cosmetic results
  • Reduced quality of life

 

Patients are advised to avoid sudden movements, take ample rest, and consume proper nutrients after the surgery. If a person is experiencing the following signs and symptoms, they must immediately consult the doctor:

  • Swelling at the incision site
  • Tenderness and redness at the wound site
  • Discharge from the wound
  • Fever above 100.4 F
  • Reopening of wound

How, when, and why should spinal fusions be considered?

Spinal fusion surgery is considered for spinal disorders with painful movements. It includes scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, tumours, and spinal weakness.

When patients complain of back pain, the surgeon will ask for imaging tests and exams to diagnose the medical condition. After a diagnosis, the surgeon will decide, based on the judgment and test results, whether spinal fusion will be effective for the patient or not. If the cause of back pain is unclear, spinal fusion surgery won't help. Spinal fusion surgery also depends upon the patient's age, condition severity, overall health, curvature site, and the number of vertebrae involved.

Surgery is performed under general anaesthesia. The surgeon will prepare the bone graft, either synthetic bone or a fragment of the person's bone. The graft will be inserted between the affected vertebrae.

The surgeon will use plates, screws, or rods to keep the spine from moving. The surgery may last several hours, and full recovery may take three to six months, based on the person's health and age.

Non-surgical treatment options for scoliosis

Surgical treatments are invasive and involve a risk of complications. It is also not suitable for all patients. So, there are some non-surgical treatment options for scoliosis.

Non-surgical treatments aim to reduce surgical-level curves and increase core strength. They support and stabilise the spine with the help of surrounding muscles.

It is an integrative approach that involves the combination of the following care approaches:

  • Chiropractic care
  • Home exercises as per individual's needs
  • Corrective bracing
  • In-office therapies

 

Non-surgical treatments are beneficial for patients with mild to moderate scoliosis.

Choosing physicians you can trust

A spinal fusion surgery's success depends upon a surgeon's judgment. They will decide whether it is effective for the patient or not. Moreover, the result of the spinal fusion surgery is not guaranteed, and the complications can impact the quality of life.

One should always go for a certified and well-experienced neurosurgeon. It will help the patient to discuss the possibility of surgery, explore other treatment options, understand the potential complications of the surgery, and have a speedy recovery from back pain.

Conclusion

Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure involving the fusion of tilted vertebrae to prevent backache. The consulting neurosurgeon will decide the course of treatment based on the cause of the disease, the person's symptoms, and the severity of the disease. The invasive procedure risks developing complications that might impact the patient's quality of life. It is best to explore non-surgical treatment options first, as per the doctor's advice.

FAQs

Is spinal fusion a serious surgery?

Yes, it is major surgery. Although the procedure is safe, it takes several hours and has a risk of developing complications.

What is the recovery time for spinal fusion surgery?

Healing from spinal fusion surgery might take up to six months.

Can you live a normal life after spinal fusion?

Yes, you can resume normal life after the recovery from spinal fusion surgery.

How painful is spinal fusion recovery?

After the surgery, you will need pain medications. You can expect extreme pain for up to six weeks that will gradually decline.

Are spinal fusions worth it?

It is effective for spinal deformities, fractures, and spine instability.

Can you bend after spinal fusion?

You can fully bend, lift, and twist after about six months of the surgery, as per the doctor's advice