you are suffering with a condition that affects the lower spine, which is preventing you from carrying out normal day to day activities, a lumbar fusion may be necessary to alleviate painful symptoms. It can also be useful if other treatments have failed to work successfully. Recovery from lumbar fusion surgery can take time, patience, and commitment, but it can offer relief from symptoms, allowing you to return to your normal activities with little or no pain.
Why Have A Lumbar Fusion?
A lumbar fusion involves joining together two or more vertebrae (small spinal bones) in the lower back to stabilize the spine, eliminate movement between the vertebrae, and prevent back pain. Most fusion surgeries affect only a small area, meaning any loss in range of motion is limited. It is often required for degenerative disc disease, which can cause the shock absorbing discs in between the vertebrae to wear down, collapse, and pinch nerves, or spondylolisthesis, which causes one bone of the spine to slip over another. It may also be required for a number of other spinal conditions, including scoliosis, spinal stenosis, a spinal fracture, and spinal tumors or infections.
What Is Involved?
The surgery is performed under general anesthesia. In this procedure, the surgeon gains access via an incision in the back, either directly above or to the side of the spine. A bone graft from your pelvis or a synthetic graft is used to fuse two or more vertebrae together. This eliminates painful motion and facilitates bone growth between the adjacent vertebrae to form a single block of bone. Surgical hardware, such as screws and rods, secure the vertebrae together and allow the bone grafts to heal.
The Recovery Process
After a lumbar fusion, a drainage tube may be placed to help remove fluid from the surgical area, which is usually kept in place for one to two days. A hospital stay of 2-4 days is often required following surgery, and you may need to wear a rigid brace to support your spine while it heals. Pain medication may also be required.
Keeping the spine aligned is paramount following fusion surgery to reduce the risk of injury or disruption to the healing process. Physical and occupational therapy is recommended while you are still in hospital to teach you how to get out of bed, use a chair, and walk correctly. A walker and other assisted devices may be required initially. Before returning home, a spinal X-ray is usually required to assess the fusion, and you will require regular follow-up appointments to check the fusion is healing successfully.
Upon returning home, you may need help from a loved one to do certain tasks, such as chores, shopping, and preparing meals during the first few days or weeks. If you do not have help at hand, talk to your doctor about possible alternative arrangements. Certain activities will be restricted, such as bending, lifting, twisting movements, and driving.
Rehabilitation can take time following a lumbar fusion, but regular physical therapy can help to speed up the recovery process. The main goal is to get you back to the point where you can perform normal, everyday activities without difficulty or pain. A physical therapist will work with you through all phases of healing, starting initially with treatments to help reduce pain and moving on to exercises to strengthen your lower back and improve your endurance and mobility.
The recovery process is different for everyone and will depend on the extent of the surgery along with other factors, such as overall fitness and health. Your surgeon can advise you what to expect. Generally, it can take up to 12-18 months to fully recover from a lumbar fusion, as the bone continues to mature and solidify. Returning to certain activities too soon can delay recovery as it can cause injury or damage to the healing vertebrae.
A lumbar fusion may not be appropriate for every candidate, and as with all surgical procedures, there are risks associated with a spinal fusion, but complications are rare. Many patients make a full recovery and are able to return to their normal activities with ease.
Lumbar Fusion Surgery in Rochester Hills, Bad Axes, and Lapeer, Michigan
If you have ongoing pain in your lower spine, talk to Ahlgren Spine. Our board-certified and fellowship-trained spinal surgeon Dr. Bradley D. Ahlgren provides comprehensive lumbar (lower back) spine treatments for many painful and immobilizing conditions. To learn more about our services, contact us today at (248) 215-8080 and schedule a one-on-one consultation with Dr. Ahlgren or use our appointment request form to arrange your visit.