Spinal pain can have many causes, and spinal instability can be a contributor to your ongoing back pain. A spinal fusion may help to realign your spinal column.
Overall, the stability of your spine is dependent upon the combined function of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones that make up the spinal column. Sometimes, because of abnormalities involving one or several of these components, the spinal column becomes unstable. In these cases, stability can be provided through the use of bone grafts which fuse the spine into a stable position. This is known as a spinal fusion.
Your doctor will use spinal instrumentation to place a set of rods, hooks or screws into the spine in order to provide immediate stability until the bone graft fuses. If you experience instability, your doctor may fuse adjacent vertebrae. Matchstick-sized pieces of bone may be used as bone grafts on the facets, or, hockey puck-shaped plugs of bone may be placed between your vertebrae. Over time, your bones and bone grafts grow into a single unit, stabilizing the vertebrae at that point of the spine, and providing the structure your spinal column needs for overall health.
As with any surgery, the risks of spinal fusion can be significant. It’s important to discuss potential risks with your doctor.
The risks of spinal fusion surgery include:
- Damage to the spinal nerves
- Unsuccessful treatment that can result in persistent post-surgery pain potentially requiring future surgery
- Cerebrospinal fluid leak
There are also general risks of any surgery which include:
- Blood clots
- Blood loss
- Heart attack
- A reaction to medication
Recovery from spinal fusion surgery will involve at least three to four days in the hospital, where you will be given medication to manage your pain. Before you leave the hospital, you will be given detailed instructions on the proper care for your back including posture, how to sit, how to stand and how to walk. Some patients may require additional time at a rehabilitation facility where extra physical therapy will be provided.
Once home, you will need to keep your surgical incision clean and dry. You will be given specific bathing instructions, and stitches or staples will be removed during a follow-up appointment. Notify your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Swelling or redness at the incision site
- Numbness in your legs, buttocks or back
- Loss of bladder or bowel control