Is back pain stopping you from enjoying your active lifestyle? It might surprise you to know that nearly 80% of U.S. adults have back pain at some point in their lives, and it’s one of the top reasons people see a doctor, miss work, and wind up on disability. Of course, not every type of back pain requires spinal surgery. While spinal fusion surgery is becoming increasingly common, it is also less invasive and less traumatic for the patient, which means lower risk and faster recovery.
If you’re experiencing back pain that’s affecting your quality of life, spinal fusion surgery might be the answer for you. Let’s take a look at the spinal fusion procedure, recovery, and what it means for getting you back on your feet and enjoying your favorite activities once again.
What is Spinal Fusion?
During a spinal fusion procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision (no more than 2 inches) and joins two or more vertebrae using bone or a bonelike material between the plates. The vertebrae may be held together by metal plates, screws, or rods to eliminate motion, allowing them to heal into one solid unit. Stopping the movement between vertebrae is designed to eliminate certain kinds of pain.
The procedure has three parts:
Incision: Depending on the location of the affected vertebrae, the surgeon makes a small incision in the neck, back, abdomen or throat.
Bone graft preparation: The bone used to fuse the two vertebrae usually comes from your own body, typically the hip bone. The surgeon makes an incision in the pelvic area and shaves small pieces of bone to serve as the graft. If this is not feasible, your graft will come from a donor or bone bank. In some cases, your surgeon may use artificial bone material.
Fusion: Using precise, microscope-guided instruments, the surgeon inserts the bone graft material between two vertebrae, then binds them together with metal fasteners if necessary.
Who Needs Spinal Fusion Surgery?
So, do you think you’re a candidate for spinal fusion surgery? This spinal procedure works best on patients who don’t smoke and live a relatively healthy, active lifestyle. Recovery from spinal fusion will involve physical therapy, so if you’re motivated to pursue recovery with a positive attitude, spinal fusion surgery might be just what you need to get you back to your regular daily, active lifestyle functions as quickly as possible.
Spinal fusion surgery may help if the cause of your back pain is:
- Degenerative disc disease: When the material between your vertebrae degenerates, and space narrows until the bones rub against each other.
- Fracture: A break caused by a traumatic spinal injury.
- Scoliosis: Sideways curvature of the spine.
- Spinal stenosis: When the spaces within your spine narrow. This puts pressure on the spinal nerves and can result in nerve damage.
- Spondylolisthesis: A medical condition where a vertebra slips forward over the vertebra below it.
Tumors: Cancerous growths attached to the spine.
- Osteomyelitis: A rare spinal infection that happens when bacteria, fungi, or viruses invade spinal tissues.
- Arthritis: Spinal weakness or instability is a result of excessive motion between two vertebrae. It’s a common result of severe cases of spinal arthritis.
- Herniated Disc: After herniated disc surgery, spinal fusion is a method used to stabilize the spine.
What to Expect After Spinal Fusion Surgery
Your doctor will keep you in the hospital for about two or three days after surgery to watch for signs of infection, monitor your pain levels, and administer pain medication. The level of post-surgery pain you’ll experience depends on the location of your surgery. If a minimally invasive procedure is possible, you may only experience mild discomfort.
After you leave the hospital, your doctor will tell you to watch the incision area closely for signs of infection:
- Redness, discoloration, swelling, or pain in or around the incision.
- Pus or blood draining out of the wound.
- Chills or shaking.
- Fever spiking over 100.4F.
If you see any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
The healing process can take several months while your bones fuse. You may need to wear a back brace as you recover to keep your spine correctly aligned. Your doctor will likely recommend physical therapy to help you learn the best ways to move, sit, and stand to keep your spine properly aligned.
Does Spinal Fusion Require Physical Therapy?
Typically, physical therapy will begin one week after your spinal fusion procedure. It’s important that you listen to your doctor’s recommendations for post-op treatment, including sticking to a physical therapy regimen.
Physical therapy is an essential part of recovery from any orthopedic procedure. Exercises like short walks, stretches, and stabilizing exercises will help you regain core strength. Completing a successful physical therapy course might take anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks post surgery, but every week spent working on your recovery is another step towards getting you back to enjoying your everyday activities.
How to Mitigate Your Risk of Complications After Spinal Fusion
Every major surgery carries risks, and things don’t always go as planned. You can’t prevent every possible scenario, but you can mitigate your risk of complications by:
- Following your treatment plan and medical advice. Noncompliance with doctor’s orders is common and dangerous. Before and after spinal surgery, you need to follow instructions to the letter, including any dietary and lifestyle restrictions.
- Notifying your doctor immediately of any health changes or signs of infection.
- Taking your medications on time and exactly as directed, including pain medicines.
- Informing all members of your medical team of allergies and other medications or supplements you are taking. During recovery, don’t add over-the-counter supplements or medicines without consulting your doctor first.
Will Spinal Fusion Surgery Eliminate Your Back Pain?
Unfortunately, no one can predict how well spinal fusion surgery will work for you. Studies show that 62% percent of patients see a significant improvement after two years. Your doctor can advise you what to expect based on your spinal injury.
If you’re ready to be rid of back pain, Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital is here to help with your spine, neck, or back issues. Reach out to schedule an appointment to talk to one of our orthopedic specialists today.