What is lumbar fusion surgery?
Lumbar fusion surgery is a type of back surgery used to resolve chronic pain or restore stability in the spine. The spine is made up of three segments – the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper back), and lumbar spine (lower back). During the surgery, two spinal bones (vertebrae) are connected together. When the two bones heal, they become one solid unit, making them stronger or reducing pain.
This surgery may be performed to address several conditions:
Generally, non-surgical approaches are considered first for these conditions. Lumbar fusion surgery may be chosen as a treatment when other options are not successful and there is a clear source of pain seen on imaging like x-rays, CT, or MRI.
There are multiple techniques a surgeon may use to perform a lumbar fusion. These include posterior lumbar interbody fusion, transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, and anterior lumbar interbody fusion. In all of these procedures, the soft material between the vertebrae, called the intervertebral disc, is removed. Bone grafts are then placed in between the two vertebrae. As they heal together, the two vertebrae join with the bone grafts to become one solid bone.
Bone grafts can come from the patient’s own body – usually the pelvis. They can also come from a bone bank. In certain situations, a synthetic substance may be used instead of bone grafts. Metal plates and screws may be added to provide additional stability while the bone grafts heal.
Recovery and Rehabilitation
Lumbar fusion surgery typically requires a short hospital stay immediately following the procedure. After that, patients begin the rehabilitation process at home. It can take several months for the surgery to heal fully and reach its maximum strength. A back brace may be recommended to help protect the back and make it more comfortable to move.
Usually, standing and walking are encouraged the first day after surgery. Bending and twisting the back and lifting anything heavy will need to be avoided. Your doctor will likely recommend certain exercises you can perform at home. You may also be prescribed physical therapy sessions during your recovery.
All surgeries have some risks associated with them, which may include infection, bleeding, pain, nerve damage, and blood clots. Patients may also experience a recurrence of symptoms. Also, lumbar fusion does not prevent back pain or problems from occurring at other places along the spine.
If you have had surgery and are experiencing drainage from the incision or have a fever or chills, it is important to go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
How long does pain last after surgery?
Pain from the surgical procedure usually improves around 4 weeks after surgery. Full recovery and improvement of pain from the original condition may take 3-6 months.
How much mobility is lost with lumbar fusion?
Because only two vertebrae are fused together, most people don’t notice any significant changes in their mobility. In fact, because they have less back pain, they may find they are able to move more freely.
Mobility loss is also affected by which vertebrae are fused together. For example, when the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae are fused, there is more mobility loss because these two vertebrae are responsible for more movement.
If you think lumbar fusion surgery may be right for you, schedule a consultation visit today.