Spinal Fusion: An Overview
More than 80 percent of people in the United States are affected by back pain. Back injuries are often the result of vehicle or trucking collisions, sports, slips and falls. It is true that some back injuries will not require surgery, but surgery such as spinal fusion will sometimes be the last resort for the patient to get relief from constant pain.
What is spinal fusion?
Spinal fusion is a surgery that permanently connects two or more vertebrae in your spine to improve stability or reduce pain. The surgery uses techniques that are designed to mimic the healing process of broken bones.
The greatest challenge in spinal fusion is determining where the pain arises. Thorough patient history, diagnostic studies and a physical exam will all be evaluated to help in the process.
Since the mechanics of the back will be forever changed, medical professionals recommend making sure the surgery is necessary before proceeding. Most doctors will attempt to treat a spinal condition with medicine, physical therapy and other treatment before discussing spinal fusion surgery. Patients will undergo X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to determine what is causing the pain.
Why get spinal fusion?
The goal of this surgery is to prevent back pain while stopping the movement between the two bones. Once the bones are fused, they will no longer have the same movement they used to. Restricting movement keeps the patient from stretching nearby nerves, ligaments and muscles that have caused the discomfort.
The following spine problems can be treated with spinal fusion:
Herniated disc. After the removal of a herniated disc, spinal fusion surgery may be the answer as the spine will need stabilization.
Vertebral fractures. Broken vertebrae that are the result of a traumatic event such as a trucking accident may heal without treatment. However, if the broken vertebrae are causing your spinal column to be unstable, it may be necessary to have spinal fusion surgery.
Scoliosis. Patients who have Scoliosis may undergo spinal fusion surgery to fuse the vertebrae so the spine cannot bend and to correct the deformity.
What should I expect during spinal fusion surgery?
You will be put under general anesthesia so that you will be unconscious during the procedure. A surgeon will perform your spinal fusion surgery in one of the following two ways:
• Anterior lumbar interbody fusion: The disc is fused by approaching the spine through the abdomen. The surgeon will make a three to five-inch incision on the left side of the abdomen, and move the abdominal muscles to the side. Both the back muscles and nerves will not be disturbed when undergoing an anterior lumbar interbody fusion.
• Posterior lumbar interbody fusion: The disc is fused by approaching the spin through the lower back. The surgeon will make a three to six-inch incision in the midline of the back. The left and right lower back muscles will get stripped off the lamina on both sides followed by the removal of the lamina to allow visualization of the nerve roots. The nerve roots will then get pulled back, and the surgeon will remove the disc material. The surgeon will then insert a cage made of allograft bone into the disc space.
The bone graft used in spinal fusion surgery will not form a fusion at the time of the surgery. Instead, the bone graft is used to allow the body to grow new bone which will fuse a section of the spine together, creating one long bone. Plates, screws or rods may be used to attach the spine and provide added stability.
If the joint is not the cause of the pain, the surgery will not be successful even if the procedure was impeccable. It is vital that your doctor is certain that the pain is originating in the segment of the spine that is fused together.
Recovering from spinal fusion
The patient’s overall health and medical conditions will be a factor in how long they will stay in the hospital after surgery. Most patients will stay in the hospital for four days after the surgery. Before being released from the hospital, the doctor will order x-rays to make sure the fusion is doing ok.
The stitches will be removed ten days after surgery, and there will be several follow up appointments. It will take commitment and dedication to continue physical therapy to recover from the back surgery. It is important to your recovery to avoid twisting, bending and heavy lifting. It may take anywhere from six months to a year for the patient’s back to fully heal. Because you will require assistance to perform everyday routine tasks, it is important to have a support system around you.
Is spinal fusion safe?
Although spinal fusion is typically a safe procedure, it does carry the potential risks of complications including:
Risks from anesthesia
Pseudoarthrosis (when the pain returns after a few months)
After spinal fusion surgery, the vertebrae surrounding the fused portion will receive added stress and strain which can increase the rate at which those areas of the spine degenerate.
Warning signs of a post-surgery infection
Just like with any other surgical procedure, there will be a chance of infection after undergoing spinal fusion. Inform your doctor if you notice any of the following signs to rule out an infection.
A lot of swelling, redness or drainage by your wound
Fever over 100 degrees F
How The Carlson Law Firm can help
If you or a loved one sustained a back injury due to the negligence of another, it is in your best interest to consult with a Neck and Back Injury Lawyer. You might be entitled to compensation for past and future medical bills, pain, suffering and more. Here at The Carlson Law Firm, we have been representing and pursuing maximum compensation for injured clients for over 40 years. We will take over the burden of filing complex paperwork and deal with the insurance company while you take the time to recover.
Contact The Carlson Law Firm for a free case evaluation. We care, we can help.
- Written by Adriana Torres