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Spinal Fusion Surgery - What To Expect?

MBBS, MS - Orthopaedics, Fellowship in Shoulder Surgery
Orthopedist, Gurgaon  •  14 years experience
Spinal Fusion Surgery - What To Expect?

Spinal fusion is a surgery in which two or more vertebrae in the vertebral column or back are fused or joined to treat a slew of spinal problems and diseases, which cause debilitating back pain. This surgery helps to remove bone and tissue that are narrowing the spinal canal, squeezing the spinal cord and nerves, reducing pain and improving function.

There are many different causes of back pain like injury, poor posture, age, osteoarthritis, herniation of disc between two vertebrae, degenerative disc disease, narrowing of spine called stenosis, and spondylosis or lessening of space between the vertebrae- most of these can be treated using spinal fusion.

All of these causes put tremendous pressure on the vertebrae and pinch spinal nerves that pass through the back and radiate out into the arms, legs and torso. Apart from the pain, patients experience nerve and muscle weakness and irreversible damage affecting normal life.

Spinal fusion started off as just a treatment for fractures but now it has become the surgery of choice for a number of spine problems. Though it can be done anywhere in the spine, it is very effective when done in the lower part of the spine called lumbar spinal fusion or arthrodesis.

Spinal fusion is done by forming a direct bony connection between the vertebrae surrounding the painful discs, the cushioning between the vertebrae. Pain is stopped by stopping the motion of the painful discs.

There are different methods of spinal fusion each with its own advantages and limitations.

Techniques include fusion approached from the front, the back, or both of the vertebral column. Sometimes surgeons decide to use intervertebral cages or metal screws to provide internal structural support while the bone fuses. These cages may be placed between the vertebrae and packed with bone graft material taken from the patient or constructed out of synthetic materials.

What to expect?
Spinal fusion is not a risk-free procedure. It is a major surgery lasting several hours and carrying a number of risks like-

  1. Failure of the vertebral fusion and breaking of metal implants
  2. The vertebrae above and below the fusion can wear away aggravating problems
  3. Blood clots may be formed that can travel to lungs causing embolism
  4. Injury to spinal nerves causing permanent weakness in legs and problem with bladder and bowel function
  5. Infections and blood loss
  6. Heart attack or stroke during surgery

The patient has to be kept in hospital for a couple of days for post-operative care after which he will have to undergo rehabilitation for months. Hence, one should really think before going for spinal fusion. And when it is recommended, seek a second opinion before making a decision. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult an Orthopedist.

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