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Spinal Fusion Surgery: What You Should Know

Many back pain sufferers worry about chronic back pain that may require surgery as there is often a greater risk associated with surgery. Unfortunately there are some back problems that cannot be fixed by alternative back pain treatments such as massage or physical therapy. Spinal fusion is an example of one such surgery.

What Is Spinal Fusion?

A spinal fusion surgery is just as it sounds; a fusing of two or more vertebra to stop the movement between them. This movement can be quite painful and cause a lot of pressure on the spine. If you have recently suffered from a spinal fracture or injury, an unstable spine due to a recent infection, scoliosis or spondylolisthesis, you may be a candidate for spinal fusion surgery.

It is rare that spinal fusion is performed on its own as this can be a 3 or 4 hour procedure. Often the surgeon will recommend this surgery with a foraminotomy or to treat spinal stenosis. Just about any condition that causes spinal instability may require a spinal fusion.

What To Expect

The method the surgeon uses to complete the surgery will depend on what materials you choose, or which ones the surgeon feels will provide you with the fastest recovery time. One method fuses the vertebra using a metal implant or a synthetic bone substitute that fuses them together until the new bone begins to grow.

The other method uses an allograft, also known as a bone bank or bone is taken from the pelvic bone to forge a bridge between the injured bones until the new bone begins to grow in its place. 


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There are several types of spinal fusion surgery’s including:

• Anterior spinal fusion: this procedure is done from the front and back

• Anterior lumbar interbody fusion: this procedure is done from the front and includes removing disc between vertebrae and inserting bone into the space now available between the two vertebrae.

• Posterolateral gutter fusion: done through the back

• Posterior lumbar interbody fusion: done from the back. This procedure includes removing the disc between two vertebrae and inserting bone into the space created between to the two vertebrae.

As with any other surgery, there are risks associated with spinal fusion. These risks often correspond with type of procedure, age, overall health and diagnosis. Some of these risks include pain at the graft site, which is often due to a soreness or swelling. The swelling or aching should pass in time. Nerve injury is a risk to be considered, as well. There may also be infection, graft rejection, failure of the fusion process and deep blood clots that may lead to pulmonary embolism.

If the surgery is a success the patient should expect to stay in the hospital for a few days after the spinal fusion procedure. There are cases when your doctor may recommend you wear a back brace during recovery. Bed rest is not all that necessary for recovery and there may be rehabilitation which can include swimming, bike riding and walking.

Be sure to exhaust all other alternatives before resorting to spinal fusion surgery. Although spinal fusion surgery is common, it is also very expensive and is controversial with no guarantee of treatment success. There have been studies that have shown no clear difference between intensive rehabilitation treatment for chronic back pain and spinal fusion surgery. Ask your doctor if spinal fusion surgery is absolutely necessary for you. If you would like any more information regarding spinal fusion surgery please feel free to check out www.losethebackpain.com.

Filed Under: Spine
Written By: Updated:

Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFTPain Relief Expert, Post Rehab Specialist.

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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