Spinal fusion

Overview

Spinal fusion can permanently connect two or more vertebrae in your spine and eliminate any motion between them. Meanwhile, vertebrae are interlocking 33 individual bones that form your spinal column.

In current orthopedics, doctors can use methods designed to mimic the usual healing process of a broken bone. Thus, they can treat conditions in your spine and improve stability. Also, you can have surgery to eliminate certain deformities or stabilize your spine after a damaged disk removal.

Your surgeon uses bone or bonelike materials within the space between two vertebrae to create a connection. Then, you may need metal plates, screws, and rods to hold the vertebrae together. Your bones should heal into one solid unit.

Why It’s Done

Improving stability, reducing pain, or correcting a deformity are the benefits of this procedure.

You may need spinal fusion if you have:

  • Spinal Deformity. Spinal fusion can correct spinal deformities such as a sideways curve of your spine.
  • Weakness or instability. Abnormal or excessive motion between two vertebrae can make your spine unstable. It is a side effect of severe arthritis in the spine. In this case, spinal fusion can secure the balance in your spine and eliminate the side effect.
  • Damaged disk. Surgeons can stabilize your spine after the removal of a damaged disk.

How You Prepare

Before surgery, they may trim the hair over the surgery site and clean the area with a special soap or antiseptic. Also, your surgery team may order a swab sample from your nose to monitor any unhealthy bacteria. Lastly, you should tell your doctor about any medications that you take. They may ask you to stop taking certain medications before surgery.

What You Can Expect

Surgeons use general anesthesia to perform spinal fusion so you will not feel anything. There are a variety of techniques to perform a spinal fusion. Thus, the appropriate technique for you depends on the reason for your surgery and the location of the vertebrae to be fused. In some cases, general health and body shape are important to determine the technique.

Spinal fusion involves the following:

An incision. Your surgeon makes an incision to access the vertebrae in one of three locations:

  • Neck or back, right over your spine
  • Either side of your spine
  • Abdomen or throat, to gain access from the front

Preparing bone graft. Bone grafts may come from a bone bank or from you, usually from your pelvis. If it is your bone, the surgeon makes an incision above your pelvic bone to remove a small portion of it. Then, closes the incision.

Fusion. Your surgeon places the bone graft between your vertebrae to fuse them permanently. Lastly, you may have metal plates, screws, or rods to help hold the vertebrae together while the bone graft heals.

For certain patients, surgeons can use synthetic substances instead of bone grafts. They help to promote bone growth and speed the fusion of the vertebrae.

After Spinal Fusion

Following the surgery, you stay at the hospital for 2-3 days. You may experience some pain and discomfort but medications will help you to manage it.

During home recovery, be mindful of any signs of infection. Such as:

  • Fever higher than 38 C (100.4 F)
  • Redness, tenderness, or swelling
  • Wound drainage
  • Shaking chills

It may take several months for your bones to heal and fuse in your spine. You may need to wear a brace for a time so, your spine stays aligned. Physical therapy will help you learn how to move, sit, stand and walk during your recovery.

Results

Spinal fusion is effective in treating fractures, deformities, or instability in your spine. However, the cause of your back or neck pain may be unclear. In this case, spinal fusion may not be helpful more than nonsurgical treatments.

You should know that spinal fusion relieves your pain but it does not cure arthritis. In other words, it does not prevent back pain that may develop in the future.

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