Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
What is Spinal Fusion Surgery?
This is a corrective surgery that is used for all problems concerning the spine. Your spinal cord is made from several bones called vertebrae which help to make sure that you maintain an erect posture. During your lifetime you put a lot of pressure on your spine which in time can make your spine susceptible to various ailments and injuries. When you have injuries to your spine it can lead to many painful conditions and can affect your quality of life. There are some injuries that can affect your mobility and range from limited mobility to no mobility at all. When this happens your physician may send you to a specialist that deals in problems of the spine to see what treatments can be done. Often times the only way to fix these problems is by having spinal fusion surgery, which is considered major surgery.
When you have spinal fusion surgery it is done by inserting pieces of bone between your vertebrae. These pieces of bones are either gotten from an external source or from the patient themselves. Before the surgeon can use your bones you will have to be found fit in order to provide the bones for the surgery. If you can provide the bones then you will need to undergo an additional surgery to extract the bone graft from your hip. During the spinal fusion surgery these pieces of bone are inserted in your spine where they are needed. At times there will be several small pieces of bone that are needed but at other times one single large piece will be all that is needed. In order to secure the bone in place you may have to wear a brace.
Some of the spinal injuries and problems that spinal fusion surgery will be used on can include:
- Injuries to your spinal vertebrae
- Degeneration and protrusion of the cushioning discs that are between your vertebrae. They are often referred to as a herniated or slipped disc.
- Having an abnormal curvature of your spine such as typhoid or scoliosis
- Having an unstable or weak spine that is caused by tumors or infections.
When you have this procedure the surgeon will use general anesthetic. This is so you will not be awake during the surgery. There are many different techniques that surgeons can use to do this surgery. Depending on where the vertebrae fusion is located and why you are having this surgery will help the surgeon know which technique to use.
The procedure will generally involve:
In order to be able to get to your vertebrae that are going to be fused your surgeon will make a surgical incision in your back. There are three locations the surgeon can use. The incision will be made on one side of the spine or the other, in your throat or abdomen to make it easier for the surgeon to reach the front of the spine, or make an incision in your back directly over the spine. Once the incision is made the blood vessels and muscles are gently pushed away from your spine so the surgeon can see your spine clearly.
Preparation for the bone graft
As mentioned these bone grafts being used are going to be either come your pelvis area or from the bone bank. If the surgeon is using your own bones the incision will be above the pelvic bone so they can remove what they need and then they will close that incision.
When the surgeon is ready to fuse your vertebrae permanently together the surgeon will put the material being used for the bone graft between the vertebrae that will be fused together. The vertebrae will be held together while the bone graft heals with metal plates, screws, or rods.
Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery Time
This is a very complicated surgery and it can take four to six months to recover from spine surgery you are still going to have a lifetime of care. How long the recovery time will actually take is based on several factors like the recovery of compressed nerves as well as the muscle condition in your spine region and the rate of maturation of fusion mass. In non-smokers the maturation of fusion mass is rapid because the nicotine in cigarettes inhibits the fusion of bone mass. It is important that if you smoke that you quit for at least six months before you have the surgery.
After having the surgery there is a chance that the surgeon may make you immobile for weeks and could even be months. Before you have the surgery it is important that you ask your surgeon how long you will be immobile. After you have the surgery you will have to stay in the hospital for four to six day and then, depending on your condition, you may be able to go home. It is advisable that you continue your aerobic and cardiovascular exercise routine after you come home from the hospital. You should start to notice considerable improvement in your pain within three to four months and within six to eight months you should be able to get back to your normal routine.
The chances of having a complete recovery are not very high but you will be able to experience consideration reduction in your back and legs. In their pre-surgery symptoms they experienced approximately eighty percent improvement. The other twenty percent may need to have their condition evaluated further.