Under the correct circumstances, spinal fusion surgery can be a very helpful tool to help patients who suffer from disc issues or back to get back a better quality of life. This type of operation has been in use for years, and there are many benefits that come with it, along with considerations you should think about when you’re deciding whether or not this is the right choice for you. We’ll take a closer look at all of these things below, and you can use it to decide if you should talk about spinal fusion surgery with your doctor.
What is Spinal Fusion Surgery?
This surgery will permanently connect two or more vertebrae in your spine. The goal is to eliminate motion between these two vertebrae. Surgeons who perform this surgery utilize techniques that mimic your body’s natural healing process when you break a bone.
Your surgeon will place a bone-line material or a bone inside the space between your two problem vertebrae. They can also add rods, screws, or metal plates to hold the vertebrae in one place, so they heal as a solid unit. They do this surgery for a few reasons, including:
- Herniated Disk – If your surgeon has to remove a herniated or damaged disk, they may use spinal fusion to stabilize your whole spine.
- Spine Deformities – This surgery can help you correct any spinal deformities you may have, like scoliosis.
- Spinal Instability or Weakness – If there is excessive or abnormal movement between two of your vertebrae, it can cause your spine to become unstable. It’s common with severe arthritis for this to happen, and the surgery will restore your spine’s stability.
Conservative Care for Back Issues
Before most surgeons will sign off on spinal fusion surgery, you’ll have to try several different conservative care routines first. No matter if it’s chronic back pain or new pain issues, your doctor may recommend:
- Apply Heat or Ice – If an acute or early stage of back pain, ice will help ease inflammation and numb the pain in the injured tissues. After a day or two, applying heat can help reduce stiffness and encourage blood flow to the injured area.
- Stretch and Strengthen – As any intense pain levels start to go down, start doing gentle stretching or strengthening exercises. As your physical therapist or doctor to recommend stretches and strength-building exercises you can do at home.
- Stay or Get Physically Active – Short stretches of sitting or bed rest can be helpful during the acute pain phase. However, extended resting isn’t helpful. Keep moving as much as you can because movement will help keep everything functioning.
- Take Pain Relievers as Needed – There are several over-the-counter pain medications you can take to help reduce inflammation and ease your pain levels. Tylenol or Acetaminophen is easy on your stomach, but it won’t reduce inflammation levels. Naproxen or Aleve, aspirin, or ibuprofen like Motrin or Advil are other anti-inflammatory pain relievers.
- Wait – A lot of the time; your back pain will slowly get better over time by itself. However, it’s still a good idea to see a doctor if your symptoms get worse.
Benefits of Spinal Fusion Surgery
There are several benefits that come with having this surgery. We won’t cover them all here, but we’ll outline the biggest ones below for you to help you decide if it’s the right choice for your situation.
1. Pain Relief
Arguably, one of the biggest benefits of spinal fusion surgery is pain relief. Maybe you’ve gone through more traditional pain relief measures and conservative care with unsatisfactory results. If so, this surgery can help you get relief so you can improve your everyday
2. Treats a Range of Spinal Conditions
Surgery will most likely not be the first treatment method recommended for your back or spine issues. However, it can be very beneficial to help treat a range of conditions when conventional treatment fails. This type of surgery can help address problems relating to spinal stenosis, shifted discs, scoliosis, and vertebral fractures.
3. Returns Stability
If you’re someone who has an unstable spine, your doctor may recommend surgery as one way to address it. Anyone who has an unstable spine can feel discomfort or pain, and it can also elevate your risk of experiencing soft tissue compression or fractures. Having this surgery can help to stabilize and strengthen your spine.
4. Improve Quality of Life
If you have a shifted disc in your back, it can make everyday activities too painful for you to do. This surgery can help you return to doing physical activities that you haven’t been able to do when your spine hurts. In turn, this can boost your independence and allow you to improve your quality of life.
5. Higher Success Rates
Your success rate with your spinal fusion operation will heavily depend on why your doctor recommended the surgery in the first place. However, the good news is, this surgery has a very high success rate attached to it. This reduces the chances of you having to go in for a second surgery.
Recovering from having spinal fusion surgery can take weeks. You could spend days after the surgery in the hospital, and bone healing may not start until you hit the six-week mark. During this time, you’ll have very restricted movement. If you have a physically demanding job, you may not be able to go back for four to six months.
You have to consider your particular condition. With spine instability or a fracture, the surgeon has to find the area where they should fuse it. With generalized back pain, it can be more difficult for your surgeon to pinpoint the exact area to fuse. This increases your risk that you could have surgery that doesn’t fix your pain.