What You Should Know About Having Spinal Fusion Surgery

If you've had an injury to your spine that's made it unstable or fractured, it's probably giving you a lot of pain. The pain occurs because portions of your spine move independently of each other and they can pinch nerves and tissues when they are out of alignment. Your doctor may suggest a spinal fusion to correct the problem and decrease your pain. Here's a quick overview of this medical procedure.

Fusing Your Spine With A Bone Graft

A spinal fusion involves grafting bone to the unstable parts of the spine to hold them in place and cause them to move as a single unit. The bone used for the graft may come from a bone bank or it can be taken from your hipbone. The doctor may even decide to use artificial bone. The bone is attached with a metal plate and screws to hold it in place while it fuses with your spine. Once your spine has healed, it will be held in proper alignment and be prevented from shifting in that area. The end result should be less pain as you go through your daily activities. 

How The Procedure Is Done

A spinal fusion is an inpatient surgery (from professionals such as Highlands Neurosurgery, P.C.), and you can expect to stay in the hospital for a few days depending on your overall health and rate of recovery. The doctor will make an incision over your spine and work on it from the back, or the incision can be made over your abdomen so the doctor can work on your spine through the front. If you'll donate bone from your hip, it is removed at the same time you have the fusion operation. Once the bone graft is in place, the incision is closed. Since this is an invasive surgery, you can expect some pain and discomfort when you wake up. You will probably need pain medication for a few days.

The Recovery Process

Recovering from spinal fusion surgery is a long process. It could take several weeks to several months depending on your age, general health, and the extent of your back problems. You'll work closely with a physical therapist to find the perfect balance of rest and exercise that speeds your recovery. Your doctor will want you up and moving as soon as possible after your surgery. You'll need to learn how to walk, sit, and get out of bed without straining your spine. You may even need to wear a brace for a while to help stabilize your back.

While it's important to avoid twisting and jarring your spine, you don't want to avoid activity altogether. Gentle stretching exercises relieve tension in your back. Strengthening exercises make your trunk muscles stronger, so stress is relieved from your spine. Exercise also increases blood flow and oxygenation in your back, so healing is faster. 

The key is to start with slow, gentle exercises as recommended by your physical therapist. You'll increase the intensity of your workouts as the weeks progress and your spine becomes more stable. One thing to keep in mind is that a spinal fusion changes the way your spine works. The area of the graft is rigid, and this places more stress on your spine directly above and below the graft. For that reason, you may have to permanently limit your participation in contact sports and high impact activities such as jogging.