One might argue that pain is a part of life — a way that your body informs you of an underlying problem. And so, you’ll schedule an appointment with your doctor, get some medication prescribed, and the pain gradually fades away with time. But for people suffering from chronic back pain, this is not usually the case. Conditions such as herniated discs, osteoarthritis, and spinal stenosis are not easily remedied by drugs and might end up causing life-long suffering.
The first course of action will usually be non-surgical measures like core strengthening and physiotherapy, but if all these prove futile, your doctor will recommend surgery. Spinal fusion is one such procedure, commonly offered as a treatment for spinal stenosis. If you are thinking about going through with it, here is a quick rundown of what spinal fusion entails and why you might need it for your condition.
Understanding Spinal Stenosis
You see, our spine is made up of a stack of bones called vertebrae. Each vertebra is separated by discs that cushion the bones from rubbing against each other. The vertebrae are hollow, allowing the spinal cord and nerves to run through. In between the vertebrae you’ll also find spaces that nerves use to exit the spinal canal. They are called the neural foramen.
Now, spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs when the neural foramen becomes too narrow. In turn, this causes pressure on the nerves, causing chronic pain. If this occurs in the lower back, it can affect the static nerves which go all the way down to the leg. You might experience sharp pain, tingling, or numbness in your leg or buttock.
So, When Do You Need Spinal Fusion?
As you’ve seen spinal stenosis is caused when the neural foramen narrows down. However, this only happens when there is a deformity or instability in your spine. Now, spinal fusion aims at correcting this deformity by permanently connecting two or more vertebrae within your spine. By so doing, it stops any motion happening between the vertebrae that might cause instability. You need spinal fusion if you have:
- Deformities in your spine — This includes any outright irregularities in the structure of your spine, such as a sideway curvature (scoliosis). Spinal fusion will help correct it back to its original shape.
- Instability or weakness in your spine — The spine might also become unstable due to excessive motion happening between two vertebrae. It is commonly caused by severe spinal arthritis. Spinal fusion, in this case, helps restore your spine’s original stability
- Herniated disc — Spinal fusion can also be a follow procedure after the removal of a herniated disc (damaged disc). It helps stabilize the spine.
How The Fusion Surgery is Done
The most common spinal fusion procedure involves a combination of 1-2-level fusion and decompression. It can be broken down to a few steps:
- Your doctor will first do an x-ray of your spine as you stand up to see the position of your bones. They’ll also do an MRI, so you get to see the nerves and soft tissues more clearly. This should help determine if you are a good candidate for the surgery
- Then the surgeon will proceed to do the main surgery. They’ll usually insert a small bone graft in between the two affected vertebrae. This should stimulate them to grow together.
- Finally, the surgeon will place rods and screws to hold the vertebrae in place as the bones fuse. This should take anywhere between one year and six months.
The surgery itself is pretty straightforward. And you should be able to walk a day or two after the surgery. It will take about 4-6 weeks to return to your normal activities, although full recovery will take much longer. Also, like other surgeries, it might have side effects like infection, blood clots, and bleeding, but these are rare.
When living with chronic pain, every waking moment is torture. You are constantly looking for that sweet spot where the pain is a little less severe. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can alleviate all this with a simple spinal fusion procedure. It is mostly recommended for fractures and deformities, but it is equally effective as a treatment for non-specific back pain.
If you are experiencing any of the mention symptoms or think that you need a spinal fusion, don’t hesitate to contact us. At Southeast Pain & Spine Care, we specialize in everything spine. We are readily equipped with the tools and expertise to analyze your particular condition and provide the treatment that you need.