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Spinal Fusion Surgery: Everything You Need to Know


A spinal fusion refers to a surgical operation that aims to permanently join two or more vertebrae (the small bones that make up the spine). Its main goal is to stop any movement in the affected vertebra by fusing them and making one solid bone. This type of surgery is performed to bring back stability and eliminate back pain for people with spinal conditions.

Read on below to learn more about what happens during a spinal fusion surgery and what to expect after the operation.

What conditions does spinal fusion surgery treat?

Orthopedic specialists usually prescribe conservative treatment options for people diagnosed with spinal conditions. Such methods include medications, physical therapy, and other treatment options like steroid or sacroiliac joint injections.

If these non-surgical methods do not work, your doctor may opt to go with a surgical operation to treat your spinal disorder. A spinal fusion can help eliminate back pain and other symptoms caused by these specific diseases:

  • Spinal stenosis – narrowing of the spinal canal, which compresses the nerves in the area, causing neck or back pain.
  • Spondylolisthesis – occurs when one of the spinal bones (vertebra) slips out of position.
  • Degenerative disc disease – pain in the back caused by a damaged disc.
  • Scoliosis – an abnormal sideways curve in the spine or backbone.
  • Fracture in the spinal column a break in the vertebra, causing small bone fragments to damage the spinal nerves and other structures.
  • Spinal infection – a rare disease wherein a bacteria or virus infiltrates the spinal tissues.
  • Tumor in the spine

Spinal fusion surgery can help reduce the back pain that comes with the conditions mentioned above. Furthermore, this operation also prevents the spinal nerves and surrounding muscles in the area from getting stretched or damaged.

How can you prepare for the procedure?

A week before the surgery, your surgeon will discuss with you the process of a spinal fusion. So, don’t hesitate to ask questions or clarify some things that you don’t understand. Your doctor may also order specific laboratory tests and x-rays before surgery.

Here are some of the things a patient can do before their spinal fusion surgery:

  • The patient should discuss the current medications they are taking and ask if there are medicines they should not take before the procedure and during recovery.
  • A loved one should be present to accompany the patient to and from the orthopedic center.
  • After the surgery, it is normal for the patient to have limited movement since they are still recovering from the operation. So, they should prepare their home by making commonly used items easily reachable.
  • Ask the doctor if there are specific medical assistive devices that can help the patient during their recovery—for example, a folding walker or a long-handled reacher.

How is spinal fusion surgery it performed?

Spinal fusion surgery may be performed in two different regions of the spine, depending on the location of the affected area. It can be in the lumbar spine (lower back) or cervical spine (neck region). 

There are also different approaches to performing this procedure based on your surgeon’s judgment. This includes:

  • Anterior interbody fusion

approaching the spine from the front requires an incision in the lower abdomen for a lumbar fusion or at the front of the neck for a cervical fusion.

  • Posterior fusion 

approaching the spine from the back by making an incision in the middle of the lower back, near the affected vertebra.

  • Lateral spinal fusion 

approaching the spine from the side.

  • Minimally invasive spinal fusion 

 a spinal fusion that only involves a small incision to access the affected spine.

A spinal fusion can take at least three to seven hours, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition. You will also be put under general anesthesia so you won’t feel pain or discomfort during the procedure. The operation usually involves two phases:

Bone grafting

All types of spinal fusions require bone grafting一a procedure wherein a type of bone material will be transplanted into a specific area of the body. This procedure helps promote bone production and enhances the healing process of the fused vertebrae.

So after making an incision, your surgeon will remove the joints between the damaged or painful discs. They will then insert a piece of bone into that space between the vertebrae to be fused. 

The bone used in the grafting process can be harvested from the patient’s own bones, a cadaver bone, or an artificial bone. It will depend on what’s best for the patient’s condition.

Immobilization

Once the discs are connected using a bone graft, your surgeon will then immobilize the area to help the fusion process. They can do this by performing a procedure called internal fixation一surgically attaching screws, rods, or metal plates in the spine to increase the rate of healing and enhance spinal stability.

How long will it take to recover from the procedure?

After the procedure, the patient will most likely spend a few days in the hospital or orthopedic center to recover. The patient may also be connected to a heart monitor, an IV for fluids and antibiotics, and a catheter. During this time, it’s important to keep the back still to allow the spine to heal and recover.

After four days, your doctor can discharge you to continue your recovery at home. They may prescribe painkillers and other medications to help your healing process. They will also teach you proper movements and posture, which you need to do for several months to keep the fused spine in proper alignment.

After ten days, you are required to go back to your doctor so they can remove your stitches. Follow-up appointments are also needed after four weeks, six months, 12 months, and 24 months.

Physical therapy should start six to twelve weeks after the surgery. This can help improve recovery and increase your activity level without compromising your health.

Recovery takes time, commitment, and hard work. It would take at least six months to a year before your back completely heals.

Raleigh orthopedic surgeons

Where to find the best outpatient surgical center that performs spinal fusion surgery?

If you are in dire need of a treatment that will address your back pain or a spinal condition, then you are on the right page. Our Raleigh orthopedic surgeons can help keep you moving to enjoy an active and healthy life.

Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center is both the largest and most modern ambulatory surgery facility in Eastern North Carolina to specialize exclusively in orthopaedics. Our patients receive outstanding patient satisfaction, superior clinical outcomes, and reduced costs. Call Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center at 919-719-3070 for more information.

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.