Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure most commonly used to alleviate pain in vertebrae (small bones of the back). Spine pain can be caused by various spinal conditions, including degenerative disk disease, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, fracture, and more. Spinal fusion is typically recommended when a precise source of pain (i.e., specific vertebrae) can be identified using imaging tests such as x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs.
During spinal fusion, bone grafts (or small pieces of bone) are placed between two or more vertebrae. The bone graft fuses with the bone of the adjacent vertebra/s, and when this is complete, one solid bone has been formed.
To perform a spinal fusion procedure, there must be a way for two or more vertebrae to connect. Historically, surgeons have used bone grafts acquired from the patient's hip (called an autograft) in performing spinal fusions. However, this can lengthen surgery time and could lead to increased pain after the procedure. Today, there are both natural and artificial options for bone grafts.
Depending upon the nature and location of the pain, various approaches are used to assist and relieve such conditions. For example, some spinal fusions may be performed using anterior instruments that reach through a lower abdominal incision, while others may be performed using lateral instruments that come from behind. For instance, we may also implement posterior relief procedures from the back end with vertebroplasty being employed to restore collapsed vertebral bodies.
After surgery, it takes a few months for the fusion process to be completed. To help the process along, many patients will need support from plates, screws, and rods to hold vertebrae together while bone grows between them. In many cases, patients may also need to wear a brace to keep the spine from moving and protect their internal hardware from any stress or strain on their bodies.
During this initial recovery period, patients are taught how to move and reposition their bodies appropriately. They're also given specific instructions on how to sit, stand and walk around so that they can continue living life almost as they did before their injury. Over time, doctors help them increase their activity levels so that they can enjoy a full recovery!
Spinal fusion relieves pain by preventing motion and movement. Because the vertebrae heal together into a single solid bone, spinal fusion eliminates motion between vertebrae. The procedure also prevents the stretching of tissues and nerves that surround those vertebrae.
Fusion surgery may also compromise some motion efficiency and range, but most surgeries successfully limit motion minimalistically because most spine procedures involve only small segments of the spine.
The spine is the structural foundation of our body. Without it, we wouldn't be able to maintain healthy movement, and without healthy activity, we wouldn't be able to maintain a balance between physical and psychological health. That's why with so many factors to consider when undergoing spinal fusion surgery performed, it's best to sit down with a specialist at Princeton Orthopaedic Associates to understand your options thoroughly.