What is Spinal Fusion (Spine Surgery)?
Spinal fusion is a surgical technique used to combine two or more vertebrae. This spine procedure is used primarily to eliminate the pain caused by abnormal motion of the vertebrae by immobilizing the vertebrae themselves.
Why is Spinal Fusion done?
Spinal fusion is done most commonly in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine, but it is also used to treat cervical and thoracic problems. Patients requiring spinal fusion have either neurological deficits or severe pain which has not responded to conservative treatment.
Conditions requiring spinal fusion may be:
- degenerative disc disease
- discogenic pain
- spinal tumor
- vertebral fracture
- other degenerative spinal conditions
- any condition that causes instability of the spine
How is it done?
In most cases, the fusion is augmented by a process called fixation, meaning the placement of metallic screws (pedicle screws often made from titanium), rods or plates, or cages to stabilize the vertebra to facilitate bone fusion. The fusion process typically takes 6-12 months after surgery. During this time external bracing (orthotics) may be required. External factors such as smoking, osteoporosis, certain medications, and heavy activity can prolong or even prevent the fusion process. If fusion does not occur, patients may require re-operation.
Risks & Complications
Injury to the spinal cord is rare, resulting in less than one per cent of all cases. However, as with any spine surgery, there are risks, including the possibility of:
- Bleeding occurring after surgery
- Infection requiring antibiotics
- Instrumentation problems- loosening of instruments after surgery
- Blood Clots
- Anesthetic Complications
Alternatives to spine surgery
The surgeon may discuss alternative approaches to spinal fusion such as weight loss and use of medication to relieve pain. Physical therapy and orthopedic braces may aid in decompressing or mobilizing the spine using non-invasive or mechanical techniques.
After the surgery some may experience back pain and will have to use a brace. Surgery in adults tends to be lengthier and also recovery seems to be longer than in children.
The surgeon will make the final determination of each patient’s eligibility for this back surgery after an examination and consultation with the patient.
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