Spinal fusion is surgery that permanently connects two or more vertebrae together in your spine. It strengthens and stabilizes that segment of the spine and prevents any movement between them. It is recommended when motion is the source of pain in that part of your spine. Spinal fusion surgery may be recommended to treat conditions such as spinal weakness or instability, herniated (ruptured) or degenerative discs, or deformities in the spine such as scoliosis.
As with all surgical procedures, there are risks associated with a spinal fusion, but complications are rare, and the surgeon will discuss any risks with you before the procedure. The surgeon will also take specific measures to avoid any potential problems and reduce your risks as much as possible.
The surgery is performed in a hospital under general anesthesia and usually requires a 2-3 day hospital stay following the procedure, depending on the extent of the surgery as well as your overall health. Since most fusion surgeries affect only a small area of the spine, any loss in range of motion is typically limited.
Depending where the damaged vertebrae are, the surgeon will gain access via an incision either directly above the spine, on the side of the spine, or through the abdomen or throat. The incision will be made depending on where the surgeon will have the easiest access to the damaged area.
Bone or synthetic grafts will be used to fuse the damaged vertebrae together. Grafts made from synthetic substances can help to promote bone growth and speed up the fusion process. If the bone graft used to fuse the vertebrae comes from your own body, it is usually from the pelvis. The surgeon will remove the bone graft by making an incision above the pelvic bone, where the graft will be taken. The bone or synthetic graft will be placed between the damaged vertebrae and is usually held in place by a small metal plate, screws, and rods.
It may take several months for the graft and vertebrae to heal and fuse together successfully to form one solid piece of bone. Depending on the extent and location of the fusion surgery, some pain and discomfort is to be expected, but this can usually be controlled effectively with medications. A brace may also be recommended short term to keep the spine aligned correctly.
Following the surgery, you will need rest to let your body heal. After some time, your surgeon may recommend physical therapy to help strengthen your back and give you better mobility.
Risks and Complications
Spinal fusion surgery is generally a very safe procedure, and advances in minimally invasive techniques have allowed fusions to be performed using smaller incisions, causing less trauma and reducing risks further. However, as with all forms of surgery, there is the potential risk of complications. Some people have a bigger risk of certain complications than others. Experienced and highly qualified surgeons will know how to prevent many complications from happening. Some possible complications include:
- Pseudarthrosis – a condition in which there isn’t sufficient bone formation, and fusion fails to work. It may require a second surgical procedure.
- Failure to relieve back pain symptoms.
- Damage to blood vessels and/or nerves in and around the spine. Major nerve damage can cause loss of strength or sensation to the legs, loss of bladder or bowel control, and ejaculation problems in men, but this is extremely rare.
- Pain or infection from the site where the bone graft is taken.
- Poor wound healing
- Blood clots
- Anesthetic complications
Spinal Fusion Surgery in Greater Detroit
If you would like more information about spinal fusion surgery and whether it may be right for you, please call Ahlgren Spine today. We would love to help you find relief from your spinal pain. To make an appointment, please call us at 248-215-8080. We look forward to serving you!