Surgery is typically reserved for extreme cases—either it is necessary to improve the health of an individual or it will benefit them tremendously in some aesthetic or physical way. For those with traumatic back injuries or chronic back pain, surgery sometimes becomes the only logical option for repair and relief.
When the spine is not structurally sound, the rest of the body suffers. It is, after all, the primary support system that holds you erect and allows for movement. Essentially, the spine ties the body together. When the foundation is not solid, nerve pain often arises, movement becomes exceptionally difficult, and the risk of further injury increases dramatically.
To rectify structural integrity, your doctor may recommend that two or more of your vertebrae be fused via spinal fusion surgery. This will prevent movement between the two bones, disallowing excess flexion and reducing injury risk while potentially relieving chronic pain caused by nerve irritation.
Here’s what you need to know about the preparation, the procedure, and the recovery from spinal fusion surgery.
While the applications for spinal fusion surgeries range from repairing broken vertebrae to correcting abnormal curvatures in the spine (such as those caused by scoliosis), the preparation for the procedure is relatively standard. Like any surgery, communication with your doctor is the most important aspect of preparation.
Being open and ensuring an understanding of both sides’ expectations is key. For example, you will need to inform your doctor of any medications you may be taking. They may ask you to stop taking the medication the day before. Every procedure has different dynamics, so be sure to communicate well and respond accordingly; this can’t be stressed enough. Last, make sure you get to the surgery center on time!
All surgery is scary, but with the advances in medicine, medical technology, and specialized training, there has never been a safer time to undergo a potentially life-changing operation than right now. For a spinal fusion surgery, a small incision will be made either on the back or front of the body directly above the area of the spine or neck that will be operated on and fused.
Next, the surgeon will use a bone graft, either taken from another area of your body (typically the pelvis) or a donor, an artificial bone substitute, or some form of lattice work (this could be wiring or screws)—sometimes they will use a combination of two methods.
With any surgery, there is a chance of complication. From infection to injury to the nerves in close proximity to the spine, there are complications that could arise during or after a spinal fusion surgery. For most, however, surgery and recovery will go smoothly if the correct steps are followed. Immediately following the procedure, you will likely have a hospital stay of about 4 days. Here, any pain you have will be professionally managed by medication.
Upon being released from the hospital, your physical rehabilitation will begin. The time for recovery will be different for everyone, but it often takes several months to a year to learn how to move properly with the new lack of flexibility in your spine. You will also have to avoid bending over, lifting heavy objects, or twisting excessively – especially for the first six months. Often, a brace of some sort will be utilized to help stabilize the area and aid you as you learn how to hold your posture.
Spinal Fusion and You: Considerations
While surgery can never be taken lightly, especially when dealing with such an integral bodily structure, the potential benefits are often worth it for someone considering spinal fusion surgery. The road to recovery is a long one, but with the proper determination and persistence, as well as acute attention to your doctor’s guidance, you may be able to function normally and without pain in less than a year—a much better outcome than living with chronic back pain and high risk of injury for the remainder of your life.
With that being said, be sure to utilize due diligence and consider your options. Dr. Anant Kumar not only has the background and experience that rivals anyone but will consider your non-invasive options to ensure you’re taking the best path for you.