What Is Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that permanently joins two or more vertebrae in your spine, preventing motion between them.

Contrary to what the name implies, the spine is not fused during a spinal fusion procedure. Instead, your surgeon inserts bone or a bone-like substance between two spinal vertebrae. The bone graft or substitute stimulates bone growth between the adjacent vertebrae, replicating the natural repairing process of fractured bones. Metal plates, screws, and rods may be used to keep the vertebrae together until the bone heals and fuses into a single solid unit.

Who Needs Spinal Surgery?

Prior to considering surgery, your doctor may recommend physical therapy, at-home exercises, medication, or spinal injections. If these treatment options do not work, this surgery may be the best course of action. Your doctor may recommend spinal fusion to treat:

1. Spinal Deformities

Spinal fusion can help repair spinal abnormalities such as sideways curvature or scoliosis.

2. Instability or Weakening of the Spine

If there is uneven or excessive mobility between two or more vertebrae, your spine may become unstable. This is a common side effect of severe spine arthritis. In such circumstances, spinal fusion can be used to restore spinal stability.

3. Disk Herniation

After removing a damaged or herniated disk, spinal fusion may be done to stabilize the spine.

How Long Does Spinal Fusion Surgery Take?

The length of spinal fusion surgery depends on your specific situation, including the extent of repair and how many vertebrae are fused. Surgery length also varies by the type of disease that has affected your spine. Depending on your circumstances, surgery could take as little as three hours, or as long as seven.

What To Expect After Spinal Fusion Surgery

Following the surgery, a two to three-day hospital stay is commonly required. Depending on the location and extent of your surgery, you may suffer some pain and discomfort, but the pain is usually effectively controlled with medication.

During recovery, some people wear a brace that restricts their movement. In addition to wearing a brace, physical therapy can teach you how to move, sit, stand, and walk so your spine remains properly positioned.

With proper post-surgery care, the vertebrae should grow into a single bone within three to six months, rendering the spine immobile at the fusion point.

When Can I Travel After Spinal Fusion Surgery?

In the first six weeks after surgery, patients should avoid automobile rides longer than 20–30 minutes. Similarly, post-surgery air travel should be limited as much as possible.

These precautions are necessary to reduce the danger of deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolus, lessen back pain which may be exacerbated when sitting, and allow time for healing and physical therapy treatments.

After six weeks of recovery, long trips in a car should be broken up with regular stops to get out and move around for several minutes. Traveling with extra legroom and standing up every 20–30 minutes is also recommended.

Talk to a doctor about the best options to manage your back pain – schedule an appointment today!