Could Spinal Fusion be right for you?
Chronic back pain can be debilitating and frustrating. That’s especially true if treatments like physical therapy, back braces and medication haven’t brought the relief you need.
At Heartland Regional Medical Group, our board-certified spine surgeon specializes in spinal fusion (also called arthrodesis), a procedure that joins two or more vertebrae in the neck or back to stop movement between them. This can help strengthen the spine and significantly reduce symptoms.
Why would I need fusion surgery?
Your doctor may recommend fusion surgery to treat a variety of conditions affecting the spine, usually when more conservative therapies haven’t worked. It is often used for persistent back, hip or leg pain caused by:
- Arthritis, an inflammation of the joints that can also affect the joints between vertebrae in the spine
- Congenital back deformities (present at birth)
- Degenerative disc disease, a breakdown of the cushioning between vertebrae which can cause compression of the spinal cord and nerves
- Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine
- Spinal infections
- Spinal instability due to deterioration of muscles, ligaments and discs that support the spine
- Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal that causes pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
- Spinal tumors
- Spondylolisthesis, which is displacement of one vertebra over the one below it
- Vertebral fractures
Spinal fusion may be done by itself or along with surgery to remove bone and tissue that are narrowing the spinal canal and squeezing the spinal cord and/or nerves.
The procedure is very common, but as with any major surgery there are benefits and risks. Your surgeon at Heartland Regional Medical Group will carefully talk through it all so you can make the best decision for your health and life.
How the Procedure Works
Spinal fusion usually last several hours under general or spinal anesthesia. Your surgeon places a bone graft to join your vertebrae, using your own bone, donated bone or synthetic (man-made) material. Screws, rods or metal plates may also be used. Your body heals and grows new bone around the graft over several months to permanently fuse the vertebrae.
Depending on your unique needs, spinal fusion can either be done with a just a few small incisions or with a larger, open incision. Our spine surgeon can often use a minimally invasive approach, which involves tiny instruments and an arthroscope with a small camera to guide your doctor during surgery. Surgical tools are threaded around muscles and tissues, which can help prevent damage to nerves and promote faster healing.
Open surgery may be a safer or more effective method for certain patients. Together, you and your doctor can decide which approach is best for you.
Recovery and Follow Up
A hospital stay of three to four days is usually required as we monitor your recovery. You may need to wear a back brace for several weeks after surgery. Your surgeon will also likely refer you directly to one of our physical therapists who will create a personalized rehabilitation plan. You’ll learn how to move in ways to help protect your spine and prevent future problems, including strengthening exercises and using proper body mechanics. Your team will also help you know when you are ready to return to work and a more active lifestyle.