Are you considering a spinal fusion? A surgeon may recommend spinal fusion to relieve pain and restore a person’s ability to perform day-to-day activities. Only you and your doctor can decide if this operation is right for you.

A spinal fusion uses bone grafts to stabilize the vertebrae.How Does a Spinal Fusion Work?

Spinal fusions stabilize the spine. During surgery, vertebrae are fused with a bone graft. The affected vertebrae heal into a single unit. In addition to relieving pain, a fusion prevents abnormal movement of the bones. It may prevent nerves, ligaments and muscles from stretching.

There are several variations of the surgery. No matter which type of procedure is chosen, they all have a few things in common:

– Bone is grafted to problem vertebrae.

– After surgery, the bone graft grows and connects the vertebrae.

– The fusion stops the vertebrae movement that caused pain.

What Conditions Can Be Treated With Spinal Fusion?

Various conditions can be improved with a spinal fusion. If you have pain in the lower back, a doctor will attempt to determine the source of the condition. Your doctor may order an imaging test such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI scan.

Some of the conditions treated by a spinal fusion are:

– Fractures

– Degenerative disc diseases

– Infections

– Tumors

– Spinal Stenosis – abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal

– Scoliosis – abnormal curvature of the spine

What Types of Procedures Are Available?

Surgery may be open, or it may be minimally invasive. A surgeon may perform the operation through an incision in the abdomen, in the side of the body, or in the back. Minimally invasive procedures involve smaller incisions and shorter recovery times.

A bone graft is required in all types of spinal fusions. During the graft, small pieces of bone are placed between the vertebrae. The bone for the graft may be taken from the patient’s hip or from a cadaver bone. Manufactured or artificial materials are sometimes used instead of bone.

What Does Recovery Involve?

Recovery time varies depending on the type of procedure and a patient’s health. The graft may take several months to grow. While healing, the spine needs to be immobilized. Some patients wear a back brace. Internal devices may be used to keep the graft in place. For instance, plates, rods or screws may be implanted. A doctor may recommend physical therapy to teach safer ways of moving during recovery and beyond.

What Are the Complications From Spinal Fusion?

Spinal fusion is not a new type of surgery. Many decades of experience have tested the effectiveness and safety of the treatment. Still, before any surgery, it’s important to discuss the potential complications of the procedure. Here are some of the possible side effects of a spinal fusion:

Loss of flexibility – This is true for most patients, though the loss is considered minor.

Infection – As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection.

Pain at the surgery site – Some patients have experienced pain where the bones were grafted.

Recurring symptoms – The original symptoms may recur after surgery.

Nerve damage – During the operation, patients? nerves or blood vessels may be damaged.

Blood clots – Blood clots in the legs may form.

Dr. Kuether specializes in minimally invasive spinal surgery. If you are experiencing back pain, call us to discuss your treatment options.