Spinal fusion is a medical procedure where two (or more) vertebrae are joined together. I`m sure some of you might be wondering why would anyone want to fuse two vertebrae together, won`t that reduce the flexibility and range of motion in the spine…

This is why the doctor must access the risks, pro`s and con`s and make the final decision on whether or not the patient should go through with the procedure.

Reasons For Doing Fusion Surgeryillustration of surgery

In some cases this procedure is best thing a doctor can do for his patient, and those cases are:

  • Fracture or any other severe injury to the spine
  • Degenerative changes on the spine
  • A herniated disc
  • Scoliosis or over-pronounced kyphosis or lordosis (spinal curves)
  • When vertebrae slips out of its anatomical position
  • Infections and tumors in the spine which are causing instability and disbalance

As you can see, these are all serious conditions where the structural integrity of the spine is in danger and spinal fusion is the only way to stabilize the situation and help the spine retain its natural position.

Surgery Risks

Every surgery has its risks. They are usually minimal, if the doctor is competent and the hospital is well equipped, but they are still present.

Those are:

  • The risk of infection – patient is in a risk of an infection regardless of the surgery he/she undergoes, and this type of surgery is no different
  • Nerve damage – this is especially a risk for fusion surgeries in the neck area. The damaged nerve can lead to pain, lack of sensitivity, weakness etc.
  • The risk of blood clots forming – is also a risk present in any other surgery and not exclusively limited to SF
  • Cardiovascular problems

The Surgery Itself

The surgery will normally last 3-4 hours, and the patient will be under a general anesthesia.

The surgeon will often use a graft, part of a bone taken from some other part of your body, a bone from the “bone bank” or use a synthetic material, and position it between the vertebrae.

He will, also, fixed those vertebrae in place using screws, rods or cages, making sure they remain still until the bones are fully healed.

Preparation For The Procedure

Preparation largely depends on your current lifestyle. You should stop smoking, drinking alcohol and take care of yourself so you don’t catch a flu or a fever before you undergo the surgery.

The main thing is, basically, communicating with your doctors, make sure you tell them what medication you are using so that they can see if it will interfere with the procedure or hinder the healing process; and of course tell them about your concerns, fears and ask them question regarding the procedure, they will tell you everything you want to know.

Alternatives


There are a few alternatives, but they depend on the current state of the patient and the reasons for the spinal fusion surgery in the first place.

  • IDET – IDET stands for Intradiscal electrothermal coagulation, and the procedure is done if the cause of patient`s pain is a herniated disc. The procedure involves driving a needle into the intervertebral disc, heating it up and, in theory, the heat closes up the collagen fibers, sealing up the cracks in the disc walls. This surgery is no longer covered by most insurance companies, though
  • Replacement surgery using artificial discs – this procedure is still highly risky and the artificial disc can wear and tear over time, requiring a replacement surgery which is very expensive and very dangerous
  • Disc regeneration – this procedure is still in its early stages of examination and it showed successful in studies on animals, but there is still a long way to go before it will be done on humans

Recovery

The spinal fusion surgery recovery usually lasts several months, since that is how long it will take for the bones to heal and fuse together.

Of course, surgeon should inform the patients how to properly take care of themselves after the surgery and to let them know that, if they spot any signs of infection, inform their doctor. Those signs are:

  • Fever and high temperature
  • Sudden, shaking chills
  • Localized swelling, change in color and tenderness

References:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002968.htm

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/

http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/

2 COMMENTS

  1. It must also be noted that “fusion” in any area of the spine affects the fuction of the whole spine. In some cases, this may even affect the sacral-pelvic region. Fusion creates a solid mass in a very delicate chain of parts that are meant to work together for movement, stability and even, shock-absorption. This mass creates weight that must be accounted for in the system of the whole. This weight is carried by the vertebrae and fascia below the fusion, and compensated for by the muscles that rule movement and posture of the compromised area. This promises to eventual “Pandora’s Box” of other trouble and pain which is why so many back surgeries, in general, are residual failures in fixing a problem. Fusion should ALWAYS be a last resort. Please make a note of this. Namaste. 🙂

    • I agree with you 100% Stacey. This is a serious and potentially dangerous procedure and I`ve stated at the beginning of the article that the doctor must weight in the pro`s and con`s before making the final decision.

      I should have made it more clear and prominent though, thanks for the heads up! Enjoy your day 🙂

      Igor

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