Back pain isn’t unusual. In fact, 31 million Americans are suffering from it. When medications and physical therapies don’t work, you’re left with a condition that keeps you from enjoying a pain-free life.
Thankfully, there are other options outside of your local pharmacy. A spinal fusion is a surgery that can help relieve and even eliminate your pain.
Find out all the risks and benefits of spinal fusions for back pain relief by reading our helpful guide.
What is a Spinal Fusion?
A spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that focuses on reconnecting one or more vertebrae. The fusing of the vertebrae keeps them from moving out of place, which is a well-known cause of back pain and discomfort.
Spinal fusion surgery can help alleviate back pain because you will no longer be able to overstretch nerves, muscles, and ligaments afterward.
10 Facts About Spinal Fusions for Back Pain Relief
Think you might be a candidate for a spinal fusion? Check out our list of facts about the procedure before you schedule a consultation.
Your Doctor’s Experience
Spinal fusion surgery is a very serious procedure that is typically performed by an orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon.
Because of how extensive it is, the doctors usually have a full surgical team with them. Before any surgery, it’s important to speak with your doctor about their experience.
Ask them how often they perform the surgery and what their success rate is.
Conditions Spinal Fusion Can Treat
If you regularly experience excruciating back pain, you know it can limit one’s mobility and quality of life. Although a spinal fusion isn’t for everyone, it can help your pain if you have:
- Spine infection
- Broken bones in the spine
- Scoliosis (abnormal spine curvature)
- Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrow spinal canal)
- Degenerative disc disease
If you haven’t seen results from medication, physical therapy, or even steroid injections, a spinal fusion might be just what you need for pain relief.
The Surgical Process
You should always talk to your doctor to find out how a surgical procedure will be performed. This can help ease any anxieties you may have about the process. It’s also an excellent way to know that you’re in good hands.
There are two different approaches your surgeon can take during your spinal fusion. During an anterior lumbar interbody fusion, your doctor will enter through your stomach. While during a posterior fusion, they will enter from behind.
Once you’re open on the table, your muscles are gently moved aside to create a clear view of your spine. At this time, the doctor will remove the damaged disc that’s causing you pain.
There are a few materials that can be put in place to prevent the movement that caused your pain.
- Screws or rods
- Pieces of bone (graft) from your hip or pelvis
- Bone from a donor (donor graft)
- Morphogenetic protein (a substance that inspires bone growth)
This surgery can last several hours. You should have a friend or family member available to take you home after.
How to Prepare
Your doctor will begin preparing you the week prior to your spinal fusion. Your medical exam will include x-rays and possible blood tests.
Talk to your surgeon about medications that may or may not cause problems. For example, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and clopidogrel should typically be avoided before surgery.
You also want to make sure things will be as easy and comfortable as possible for yourself when you return to your home after surgery because you won’t be able to bend.
Raising your toilet seats, buying a shower chair, and having someone around to help you with daily tasks is also a good idea.
Complications and Risks
Common complications that can come from a spinal fusion include bleeding, clotting, infection, and additional pain.
Less common, more severe complications can include:
- Nerve injury
- Pseudoarthrosis (caused by a failed fusion)
- Your body rejecting a donor graft
If you are experiencing excessive swelling or drainage at the wound site, a fever, or chills after surgery, let your doctor know right away. These are signs of an infection.
Spinal Fusion Can’t Heal the Entire Spine
If you have or develop further trauma or another condition in your spine, your fusion won’t necessarily help that new damage. A spinal fusion will only address specific areas that are causing you pain.
After your spinal fusion, you might be sent home right away if your surgeon can do it as a minimally invasive. For more complicated fusions, you may stay under doctor care overnight or up to a week.
However, other factors can affect how long it will be before you return home. Your fitness level, other health conditions, and healing will be major determiners.
You will meet with a physical therapist who will help you regain everyday movements like; getting out of bed, walking, and getting in and out of a chair safely.
Before you’re sent home, your doctor will do additional x-rays. This will help them see how the fusion is doing.
When you’re sent home after surgery, there will still be plenty of healing for your body to do. It any take anywhere from 6 months to a year before things are back to normal.
After about 10 days or so, your stitches will be removed. Then, your follow-up appointments will need to be scheduled.
They tend to be every few weeks early on and then every several months. Recovery from your spinal fusion shouldn’t be taken lightly.
If you twist, bend, or lift heavy objects, you can cause yourself a serious injury or a permanent disability. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with chores during your recovery.
Candidacy for Spinal Fusion
Even if you have scoliosis or another one of the conditions a spinal fusion can treat, there are factors that can make this surgery less practical for you.
The success of your spinal fusion will be lowered if you:
Smoke- Smoking impairs your body’s ability to properly heal.
Have arthritis in your back-Your bones may not be able to fuse properly.
Are obese-Obesity increases risks of infection and can slow the healing process.
Talk to your doctor about risks that pertain to your lifestyle or preexisting conditions during your consultation.
Possible Non-Surgical Options
If your doctor advises you against the surgery for any reason, you don’t have to live with your pain forever. It’s possible that a spinal decompression, IDET (Intradiscal electrothermal coagulation), disc regeneration, physical therapy, or posterior dynamic stabilization.
Our experienced surgical, physical therapy and chiropractic teams are trusted by patients from all over. We specialize in giving patients relief from back pain and conditions of the spine.
Contact us today to begin your treatment in spinal fusions for back pain relief.