Here’s What You Need to Know about Spinal Fusion Surgery

Here’s What You Need to Know about Spinal Fusion Surgery

Surgery is always a final resort when all other treatments fail to bear fruit. Spinal fusion surgery is recommended by doctors and medical specialists only after they have tried other treatment options. Let’s find out more about this procedure.

What is spinal fusion surgery?
It is a surgical technique that joins or fuses two or more vertebrae to restrict the movement between them. It is a neuro-orthopedic surgical procedure. It is usually recommended to reduce or eliminate spinal cord pressure and the resultant pain caused by worn out cartilage between the vertebrae. A patient may have to undergo surgery to decompress a pinched nerve-root or to stabilize a joint that causes pain.

This surgery can help to heal spinal fractures and broken or damaged vertebrae that make the spine unstable. People undergo surgery if they have conditions like spinal weakness or deformity, herniated disks, spondylolisthesis, and other such ailments.

Spinal tumor and degenerative spinal conditions are other situations where this surgery can be beneficial. It is a common surgical procedure, and statistics show that nearly 488,000 spinal fusion surgeries were performed in the country in 2011.

Are you a candidate for this procedure?
It is vital to identify and locate the exact cause of back pain before opting for surgery. There are cases where herniated disks may show up on a scan or X-ray, but the real cause of the back pain may lay elsewhere. At such times, undergoing surgery to fix the herniated disk might not solve the problem.

A typical result is the FBSS (Failed Back Surgery Syndrome) in which the pain remains even after surgery. The most common reason for this is an incorrect diagnosis. Selecting the right surgeon is also crucial. A lot of surgeons can carry out the spine fusion surgery, so it’s important to know whether the surgeon you pick has specific expertise, experience, and training.

Carry out some research in advance, and keep yourself well-informed about the techniques, risks, and procedures. Don’t be afraid or intimidated to ask as many questions as you want. Additionally, don’t shy away from taking a second or third opinion before opting for the surgery.

The spinal fusion surgery explained
Several surgical techniques are available, and your surgical team will do a thorough investigation before selecting the appropriate one. These methods include different fusion techniques at various levels of the spine such as the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar region.

The spine is decompressed, and a bone-graft (natural or synthetic) is inserted into the gap between the vertebrae to fuse them. The surgeon may use various tools like plates, screws, or rods to give additional support.

Surgical technique
A patient first receives general anesthesia. Based on the vertebrae being fused, an incision is made either in the back or neck and on the side of the spine. Sometimes, surgeons may make an incision at the abdomen or throat level to access the spine. If a bone graft is being used, an incision over the pelvic region allows the surgeon to remove a small piece of bone from the hip.

You can also receive a graft from a donor after a tissue match. You can opt for a graft made with synthetic materials too. The graft is placed in the gap between the vertebrae, and it is held together with screws so that the bones fuse. The surgery can take anywhere between 3-4 hours.

You need to stay at the hospital for two or three days. At home, if you notice redness, swelling, drainage from the wound, fever or other such signs, you must consult a doctor as these may be symptoms of an infection. It will take the graft a few months to fuse completely. Meanwhile, you may have to wear a brace and follow the doctor’s orders as far as physiotherapy is concerned.

Spinal fusion surgery is the last resort for various conditions. It gives patient enormous relief from pain, but it may not take away all of the pain. Surgeons may not be able to predict how your body will recoup after the surgery, and whether this procedure will completely eradicate all your back problems. You might need to make some lifestyle changes, lose weight, and adopt a healthy exercise regime after the surgery.

Since the procedure is carried out under the influence of general anesthesia, there are associated risks. As with any surgery, bleeding, clots, infections, and reactions to medications can occur. Obese people and those with chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes face a higher risk during any surgical procedure. In rare cases, inadvertent damage to nerves can result in weakness of limbs, loss of bladder control, frequent headaches, and a lot more.

The vertebrae above and below the fused ones may take on extra pressure. Thus, they may get weak or damaged. As a result, you may have to undergo more surgeries to deal with such problems.

Spinal fusion surgery is a major operation intended to repair or correct spinal problems. It is a common procedure and carries its own set of risks and benefits. For best results, it’s crucial to get an accurate diagnosis and select the right surgeon.

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