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Spinal Fusion: A Surgical Solution When Movement is Painful

What is Spinal Fusion?

Spinal fusion is surgery to permanently join together two or more vertebrae in your spine so that there is no movement between them. It also can prevent the stretching of nerves and surrounding ligaments and muscles. This surgery is often an option when motion is the source of pain. The theory is that if these painful vertebrae do not move, they will not hurt.

How does Spinal Fusion Occur?

Surgeons use grafts such as bone to fuse the bones together permanently. It is essentially a “welding” process so that the painful vertebrae are fused together so that they heal into a single solid bone. There are a number of different ways to fuse vertebrae together. Strips of bone graft material may be placed over the back portion of the spine, or bone graft material may be placed between the vertebrae. Alternatively, special cages could be placed between the vertebrae and subsequently stuffed with bone graft material.

The surgeon can receive the graft from various sources. Your graft could come from another part of your body, usually around the pelvic bone. A graft can be obtained from a bone bank, or a synthetic bone substitute could also be used.

The vertebrae are often fused together with rods, screws, cages, or plates. These are used by the surgeon to ensure that the vertebrae do not move until your bone graft fully heals.

Spinal Fusions can be minimally invasive. Minimally invasive lumbar spinal fusion uses smaller incisions and causes less damage to the surrounding tissues during surgery. For example, minimally invasive lumbar fusion through the abdomen uses four small incisions ½ inch in length. Then, a fiber optic viewing camera is used. Fusion with screws and rods can be performed through the back using several 1-2 inch incisions. In these cases, a series of increasingly large dilators are inserted through the incisions to spread the muscles apart. Once the muscles have been moved away, the screws and rods can be placed through the dilator tubes.

Spinal fusion can relieve several symptoms of many different back conditions, such as:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Spinal Stenosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Fracture
  • Infection
  • Tumor

All surgeries have risks such as blood clots, breathing problems, infection, blood loss, heart attack or stroke.

Risks of Spinal Surgery are as follows:

  • Infection in the wound or vertebral bones
  • Damage to a spinal nerve, causing weakness, pain, loss of sensation, problems with bowels or bladder
  • The vertebrae above and below the fusion are likely to wear away, leading to complications later on.

The fusion will take away some spinal flexibility, but most spinal fusions only affect small segments of the spine and do not limit motion drastically.

Rehabilitation after a Spinal Fusion

The process of recovery after a spinal fusion takes time. It might be several months before the bone is solid, although the patient’s comfort level will usually improve much faster than that. During this time of healing, the fused spine must be kept in proper alignment. Therefore, one must learn how to move properly, reposition, sit, stand, and walk. Right after an operation, doctors may restrict movement to light activity such as walking. As strength is regained, activity levels can slowly increase.

Back pain conditions caused by motor vehicle accidents or slip and falls can often lead to the need for Spinal Fusion surgery. If you have been recommended for Spinal Fusion surgery, or simply feel that your pain will not subside following a motor vehicle collision or slip and fall injury, contact one of the experienced attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today at (727)451-6900.