Spinal fusion is a type of spinal surgery used to correct problems with the small bones in your spine, called the vertebrae. This procedure addresses back pain or spinal instability by permanently fusing together two or more vertebrae. When the fused vertebrae heal, they form one solid bone. By decreasing the mobility between specific vertebrae, you may reduce the effects of spinal problems that make back movement painful.
Spinal fusion is just one of the surgical options available for people dealing with chronic back pain. Read on for a breakdown of this procedure, including when it’s recommended, what happens during the surgery, and what you can expect during your recovery.
When is spinal fusion surgery recommended?
Spinal fusion surgery is performed to help improve spinal weakness, back pain, or deformities of the spine. By eliminating movement in a specific part of the spine, this surgery may help relieve symptoms of many spinal health conditions. Spinal fusion can be an option for people with:
- Spinal instability
- Arthritis in the spine, such as spinal stenosis
- Herniated disks
- Degenerative disk disease
- Fractured or injured vertebra
- Infections or tumors causing spinal weakness or instability
Before your doctor recommends any type of spinal surgery, they’ll need to pinpoint the source of your back problems. They will do this using a diagnostic imaging test, such as an x-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. If your physician determines that stabilizing two or more vertebrae may improve your symptoms, they may recommend spinal fusion surgery.
What happens during spinal fusion surgery?
There are a few different techniques that surgeons may use to perform a spinal fusion. The details of your surgery will depend on the reason you’re getting the procedure, the location of the vertebrae to be fused, and your overall health.
No matter how your surgeon approaches the procedure, you will be under anesthesia. This means that you’ll be unconscious and won’t feel any pain during the surgery. Generally, spinal fusion surgery consists of three different steps, and it can take around three to four hours.
- First, the surgeon will make one or more incisions in your back, abdomen, or neck. The location of the incisions, as well as their size and number, will depend on your specific situation. This surgery may either be performed laparoscopically — through a series of small incisions — or through one larger incision.
- Next, your surgeon will prepare a bone graft to put between the vertebrae that need to be fused. This bone graft may come from another part of your body, such as your pelvis. It may also come from a bone bank (this is called an allograft). They may also use a synthetic bone graft. If bone is taken from your pelvis, it will be taken at the beginning of this procedure.
- Finally, your surgeon will use the bone graft to fuse two or more vertebrae together permanently. To do this, they’ll place the bone graft between the vertebrae that they want to connect. They may also use metal screws, rods, or plates to stabilize the vertebrae and hold them in place as the bone heals and the vertebrae naturally fuse together.
Note: Sometimes, spinal fusion surgery is performed at the same time as another spinal surgery, such as a foraminotomy or laminectomy. This is usually done to help stabilize the spine after removing a portion of one or more vertebrae. In this case, the spinal fusion will be performed after the first procedure is finished. Your surgeon may use the bone removed from the vertebra as the bone graft in your spinal fusion.
How long does it take to recover from spinal fusion?
Spinal fusion surgeries can be performed as both inpatient and outpatient procedures. The type you get will depend on your doctor’s recommendation, the specific details of your surgery, and your preferences. If you have inpatient surgery, you’ll probably stay at the hospital for three to four days after your procedure. During this time, your medical team will monitor your recovery. If you have outpatient surgery, you’ll go home on the same day as your procedure.
During your recovery, you will go through different stages. Throughout each part of your recovery, it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations. They will give you guidelines on how much physical activity you can handle, as well as how to move your back to keep from disturbing the spinal fusion. Your doctor will likely recommend walking every day to help boost blood flow, speed up wound healing, and decrease muscle soreness after surgery.
About four weeks after your spinal fusion, you should be able to go back to doing simple activities, such as driving or light housework. If your job doesn’t require physical labor, you’ll probably be able to return to work in one to two months. If your job requires physical labor, you may have to wait three to six months or longer to go back.
During your recovery, you should focus on keeping your spinal fusion in place so that your vertebrae can fuse with the bone graft and stabilize. Depending on your age and overall health, it may take up to six months or a year for the fusion to heal completely.
Will your mobility be affected by spinal fusion surgery?
If you’re considering spinal fusion surgery, it’s probably because you’ve already tried other options to manage your symptoms without success. Though the surgery may be necessary, it’s still normal to wonder what your mobility and activity level will look like after your spinal fusion has healed.
Depending on which vertebrae are fused together, the fusion may take away some of your mobility. However, most spinal fusion surgeries only target small portions of the spine. They shouldn’t have too significant of an effect on your ability to bend over, twist, or perform other activities. Before your procedure, you can talk with your doctor about how the fusion may affect your flexibility and the range of motion in your spine.
As you’re searching for the right surgeon to perform your spinal fusion, you should know that your choice may affect the price you pay for your surgery. The healthcare facility, surgeon, and even city in which you have your procedure can all impact how much you ultimately pay for your spinal fusion.
Searching online for a fair price for your spinal fusion surgery can get complicated, but there’s an easier way. New Choice Health’s Patient Assist program can help you take advantage of financing and cash pay discounts to lower the cost of your spinal fusion without decreasing the quality of your care. Use New Choice Health’s Spine Surgery Assist program to find a fair cost for your spinal fusion surgery today.