A spinal fusion uses minimally invasive techniques to join two or more vertebrae of the spine. Once healed, this fusion eliminates the pain caused by abnormal motion within the vertebrae themselves. For patients, this results in immediate pain relief once healing is complete in most cases.
Spinal fusions are used to relieve symptoms relating to many back conditions including: scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis and even fractures of the spine.
There are several different approaches that may be used to complete a spinal fusion, depending on the section of the spine in question and the surgeon’s preferences. The anterior approach involves an incision in the abdomen, whereas the posterior approach is completed from the patient’s back. A lateral approach from the side may also be used to complete the procedure.
Fusions will often limit spinal flexibility where the surgery is performed, but since most fusions involve very small segments of the spine, motion is not limited by a large amount.
All spinal fusion procedures involve making a small incision and using a bone graft to combine the vertebrae of the spine. This graft can be taken from the patient’s pelvis (autograft), harvested from cadaver bone (allograft) or manufactured (synthetic bone graft). Once the graft is in place, a biological response must be set up to cause the bone graft to grow between the two vertebral elements to complete the fusion.
With this surgery from one of the board certified spine surgeons at Orlando Orthopaedic Center, patients typically go home within 2-4 days with recovery lasting one to three months. A majority of patients treated at Orlando Orthopaedic Center report a significant improvement in their condition.
Who is a Candidate for Spinal Fusion Surgery?
Candidates for spinal fusion may have varying spinal conditions and symptoms. Ideal candidates for spinal fusion, however, should have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Chronic pain in the back or lower back that is either dull, deep, radiating, shooting, throbbing, or sharp
- Sciatica pain that radiates from the back down to the buttocks, thighs, calves, feet or toes
- Weakness or numbness in the lower extremities
- Trouble standing, walking or sitting due to stiffness or extreme pain
- History of attempting conservative methods of treatment that was unsuccessful in healing the spinal condition and helping the pain
All risks and benefits of spine surgery should be considered before making a decision. The spine surgeon will discuss all available options and treatments.
What to Expect Following a Spinal Fusion Surgery
Following surgery, the healing process may take several months before the patient is completely rehabilitated. During this time, it’s imperative the spine is kept in proper alignment. To help stabilize the spine, surgeons will often use metallic screws, rods and plates. Patients will use external bracing, like a back brace, to help facilitate healing.
Although healing takes several months, the fusion process may last six to 12 months following surgery. Limiting heavy activity and performing physical therapy may also help speed the process. Even though healing can take several months, symptoms gradually improve within the timeline. As patients regain strength, they will be able to slowly increase activity level.
It is imperative that patients complete physical therapy as designated by a spine surgeon to help ensure the best possible outcome from a spinal fusion procedure.
Results of Spinal Fusion Surgery
A spinal fusion surgery is successful in relieving back pain in a majority of patients. As a general rule of thumb, spinal fusion surgery can benefit those with acute or severe back pain.