The spine is the core of the human body. If you suffer from severe spine pain, you’ll have to do whatever it takes to recover as quickly as you can.

Sometimes, surgery tends to be a necessity for many people who put off their spinal issues for considerable amounts of time. One form of this surgery is spinal fusion.

Older woman with back pain

What happens during spinal fusion surgery?

Spinal fusion is a welding process that essentially fuses vertebrae together into a single bone. Doctors will recommend this type of surgery when they know exactly where the source of your pain is. Spinal fusion may be used to treat:

  1. Spinal stenosis
  2. Degenerative disk disease
  3. Spondylolisthesis
  4. Scoliosis
  5. Tumor
  6. Infection

Spinal fusion eliminates motion between vertebrae, ultimately alleviating the pain. With that, there will be a slight loss of spinal flexibility, which is a minor trade-off for an extremely necessary procedure.

How does spinal fusion surgery work?

The doctor will approach your spine from either the front or the back and insert a bone graft in between the vertebrae. This facilitates the fusion.

Bone grafts help the vertebrae heal together into one bone, and there are several different artificial bone graft materials that are widely used today including:

  1. Demineralized bone matrices (DBMs), which are cadaver bones with the calcium removed. This causes the bone to be changed into a gel-like substance, and DBMs are used many times with other grafts.
  2. Other synthetic bone-forming proteins that help with spinal fusion are called bone morphogenetic proteins. These are FDA-approved only under certain circumstances.
  3. Another common bone graft material is ceramics, which have a similar shape and consistency to real bone.

How long is the recovery process after this surgery?

Following the bone grafting and spinal fusion procedure, immobilization is crucial to let the fusion happen and to allow the spine to properly align. Even afterwards, we usually recommend just light activity, like walking.

Every surgery will result in some pain, and that’s why it’s crucial to continually work with your doctor post-surgery to successfully facilitate the healing process.

Medication is sometimes a controversial aspect of the recovery, as opioids are commonly used to help manage pain. The public health issues in the United States with opioids are a crucial epidemic, and alternative medications have become widely used in recent years.

Needless to say, this entire process requires a lot of endurance from the patient and trust in your doctor. That’s why, when you are in the initial planning of a spinal fusion surgery, you are going to want to do your research and find the best doctor for you.

Dr. Todd Kuether is one of the most knowledgable and experienced neurosurgeons based in Portland, Oregon. If you have any questions or concerns at all you should reach out to his office through this contact form.