Back and neck pain can often make it difficult to perform daily activities. To curb this issue, doctors often prescribe treatments like medicines and physical therapy. If these remedies fail, then surgical approaches like spinal fusion are generally advised. Getting surgery is never a small decision to make. You should always check the qualifications and experience of the spine surgeon before receiving treatment.
Also, it is something that should not be decided without the proper information. Here we have discussed the different aspects of spinal fusion for your understanding:
Overview of Spinal Fusion
Spinal fusion can be simply defined as a “welding process” in which small bones of the spine called vertebrae are fused together. This helps in eliminating painful motion and restoring the stability of the spine. However, to recommend this surgery, it is crucial that your spine surgeon can precisely identify the source of your pain. Also, your surgeon will use various parameters to determine if you are a suitable candidate for spinal fusion.
The concept is that if the painful vertebrae are not allowed to move, then they should not be painful anymore.
When is Spinal Fusion Required?
Usually, a spinal fusion is recommended as a solution for the following problems:
- Degenerative disc diseases – This is basically the wear and tear of the spinal disc that can lead to pain and instability.
- Spinal stenosis– This occurs when the spaces in your spine begin to narrow. It can push on your nerve roots and spinal cord leading to back pain.
- Spondylolisthesis– Usually associated with lower back pain, it occurs when one of the vertebrae slips out of its place and onto the vertebra present below it.
- Scoliosis– Mostly found in adolescents, it is the sideways curvature of the spine.
- Infection or fractured vertebra
What is the Procedure of Spinal Fusion?
1. Before Spine Fusion Surgery
To prepare yourself for a spinal fusion, you can follow the given steps:
- Carefully check the certification of your surgeon as well as the accreditation of the hospital where you are undergoing the operation. The hospital should have a well-established team for performing spinal fusion. Since this is a major procedure, it is imperative you receive the best possible care.
- Share the details of the medicines you are taking with your spine surgeon as he/she may advise you to stop taking some medications that can interfere with the surgery.
- You should also stop smoking and drinking as these can slow down your recovery after the operation.
- If you have diseases like heart conditions or diabetes, your surgeon will advise you to consult with your regular doctor before the procedure.
- It is vital that you inform the surgeon about the diseases or illnesses that you may have.
2. During Spine Fusion Surgery
- Spinal fusion is performed under general anesthesia and you will be unconscious during the operation. Thus, making spine fusion surgery painless for you.
The procedure can be broken down into the following steps:
- The surgeon makes an incision to access the vertebrae that have to be fused. This incision can be made in one of the following locations: your neck, abdomen, either side of the spine, back above the spine, or the throat. In the case of a minimally invasive spinal fusion, your surgeon makes a smaller incision as compared to traditional surgery. This leads to lesser pain post-surgery and faster recovery.
- The surgeon will then use a bone graft to provide the necessary environment for the fusion of the two vertebrae. The bone graft doesn’t fuse or join the bones of the spine immediately. Instead, it provides an environment or a scaffold for stimulating the growth of the new bone. When this new bone grows and eventually solidifies then fusion occurs. Initially, instruments like rods and screws can be used for stabilization after the operation. However, it is the healing of the bone that actually welds the vertebrae and creates long-term stability.
The bone graft can be of two types: bone graft substitutes and real bone. In the case of an autograft, the bone graft is obtained from the patient’s own bone. Whereas in an allograft, a cadaver bone is used.
If the surgeon uses your own bone, then an incision will be made above the pelvic bone to remove a small portion of it. Then, he/she will close the incision.
For fusing the vertebrae permanently, the spine surgeon will put the bone graft material in between the vertebrae. Then, the surgeon will use rods, screws, or plates to hold the vertebrae together. This is known as internal fixation and helps to hold the spine still. Thus, providing a stable environment for successful healing.
3. After Spine Fusion Surgery
It is important that after the spine fusion surgery, you follow the steps recommended by your doctor for proper recovery. Usually, minimally invasive spine fusion provides much faster recovery than a traditional one. But, with regular physical therapy and taking care of your health, you can recover quickly from a spinal fusion.
After the surgery, you can expect to stay in the hospital for about 2-3 days before being discharged. Once released, you should be careful about the following warning signs of infection and blood clots:
- Wound drainage
- Pain in the calf
- Swelling in the ankle, foot, or calf
A blood clot can travel from the bloodstream to the lungs which can lead to symptoms like shortness of breath or sudden chest pain. It is important to seek immediate medical help if these signs arise.
Avail Spinal Fusion Surgery Across the World
Spinal fusion can help you finally let go of the back pain that has been affecting your life. You should also discuss alternative approaches for your problems, if possible, before jumping in to get this surgery. In case, you are unable to visit the doctor in person, you can also avail online consultation. Properly understanding the procedure and discussing the benefits and risks of spine fusion surgery with your surgeon will help you make an informed decision. If you decide to get a spinal fusion surgery, you should ensure that you are getting it done by an experienced spine surgeon at a well-recognized hospital.
This is because you deserve the best care for your spine health!