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Spinal Fusion

Our neurosurgeons strive to address your spine health issues using minimally invasive methods. However, if these methods are not effective, spinal fusion surgery may be recommended. Spinal fusion is a treatment option designed to ease chronic back pain and enhance spinal stability.

During this procedure, a surgeon connects two or more vertebrae using bone grafts, rods, screws, or cages to form a solid bone mass. Fusing a spine in this way can effectively treat conditions like degenerative disc disease or spondylolisthesis, but as with all surgeries, there are some potential risks and limitations. Patients should have a detailed discussion with one of our spine experts to determine whether surgical intervention is right for them.

What is a Spinal Fusion?

Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure in which two or more vertebrae in the spine are permanently connected to create stability in the spinal column and reduce pain. This surgery is typically recommended for individuals who have degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, or a spinal fracture.

During spinal fusion surgery, your surgeon will remove the damaged disc or bone in between the vertebrae and place a bone graft or synthetic material in its place. The bone graft helps stimulate new bone growth and eventually fuses the adjacent vertebrae. In some cases, metal screws, rods, or plates may be used to hold the vertebrae in place during the healing process.

When this procedure is undertaken in the lower back, it is also referred to as lumbar fusion.

Conditions Treated with Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion surgery is a procedure that is commonly used to treat several conditions related to various spinal problems. This surgical technique involves fusing two or more vertebrae to stabilize the spine and reduce pain.

Some of the conditions that may be treated using spinal fusion surgery include:

  • Degenerative Disc Disease: This condition occurs when the discs between the vertebrae wear down over time, leading to pain and reduced mobility. Spinal fusion surgery can help alleviate this pain by stabilizing the affected area of the spine.
  • Spinal Fractures: Fractures in the vertebrae can result from injury or trauma, causing instability throughout the back and pain. Spinal fusion surgery may be necessary to repair these fractures and restore stability to the spine.
  • Herniated Discs: When the soft inner core of a spinal disc pushes through its outer shell, it’s known as a herniated disc or slipped disc. It causes pressure on nearby nerves and results in pain and/or weakness in the back, arms, or legs. Where less invasive treatments have proven insufficient, spinal fusion surgery may be recommended in conjunction with other procedures to alleviate symptoms associated with herniated discs.
  • Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis is characterized by narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on nerves and lead to symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and weakness in the extremities. In some cases, spinal fusion can decompress the affected nerves and relieve the aggravating problems caused by this condition.
  • Scoliosis: Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that can cause back pain and postural abnormalities. In some cases, spinal fusion surgery may be recommended to correct severe cases of scoliosis and improve spinal alignment.

Spinal Fusion Overview

Spinal fusion surgery is a common procedure used to treat conditions that cause instability in the spine or pain caused by damaged spinal nerves. It involves joining two or more vertebrae together using bone grafts, screws, and rods to create a stable structure. There are several reasons why someone may need spinal fusion surgery. This includes degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, fractures, or tumors. These conditions can cause pain, weakness, numbness, and difficulty with mobility.

The surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia and may take several hours to complete. During the procedure, the surgeon will make an incision in the back or neck to access the spine. They will then remove any damaged discs or bone spurs bone in between the vertebrae and place a bone graft or synthetic material in its place. The bone graft helps stimulate new bone growth and eventually fuses the adjacent vertebrae. In some cases, metal screws, rods, or plates may be used to hold the vertebrae in place during the healing process.

Surgical fusion of spinal vertebrae can be performed through traditional open surgery or minimally invasive techniques. Minimally invasive spinal fusion involves smaller incisions, less muscle damage, and quicker recovery times compared to traditional open surgery.

Recovery from Spinal Fusion

Recovery from spinal fusion surgery can vary depending on the individual and the extent of the procedure. Patients may need to stay in the hospital for a few days following surgery and will likely require physical therapy to help strengthen muscles around the spine and improve mobility.

It is also important to follow post-operative instructions carefully to promote proper healing and prevent complications.

While the surgery can provide relief from pain and improve mobility for many people, the recovery process can be challenging and require patience and dedication. Here are some important things to know about recovering from spinal fusion surgery:

  • Immediately following surgery, you may experience pain and discomfort as your body heals. Your healthcare team will recommend medication to manage your pain and help you feel more comfortable.
  • It’s important to follow your surgeon’s post-operative instructions carefully. This may include restrictions on certain activities, such as lifting heavy objects or bending at the waist. By following these guidelines, you can help promote proper healing of the surgical site.
  • Physical therapy is often recommended after spinal fusion surgery to help improve strength and flexibility in the muscles supporting your spine. Your physical therapist will work with you to develop a personalized exercise program that meets your specific needs and goals.
  • It’s normal to feel fatigued during the recovery process, so be sure to listen to your body and rest when needed. Avoid overexerting yourself and give your body time to recover fully before returning to your normal activities.
  • Stay in communication with your healthcare team throughout the recovery process. If you have any concerns or questions about your progress, don’t hesitate to reach out for support.

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with spinal surgery including infection, blood clots, nerve damage, and failure of the fusion to heal properly. It’s important for patients to discuss these risks with their surgeon when considering spinal fusion surgery. Overall, spinal fusion can be an effective treatment option for individuals suffering from chronic back pain or instability in their spine. By providing stability and support to the affected area, this procedure is an excellent option for improving the quality of life and alleviating symptoms for many patients.

Contact us to schedule an appointment with a PBSSM neurosurgeon at one of our clinics located throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania to find the best solution for your spinal problems.

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