What is Spinal Fusion Surgery?
For patients with severe back pain from spinal abnormalities, an orthopedic specialist may recommend spinal fusion surgery once all conservative measures have been exhausted. During this procedure, the surgeon fuses two or more vertebrae together to form a stronger, more stable bone mass and reduce pain.
Spinal fusion surgery begins with an incision either in the back, side, or abdomen. To weld the vertebrae together, the surgeon will use either a bone graft from the patient — typically from the pelvis — or donor material. The grafts are then placed between the vertebrae, which are attached by screws, rods, or metal plates.
Which Conditions Does Spinal Fusion Treat?
Individuals with degenerative disc disease, broken vertebrae, or spinal stenosis may benefit from spinal fusion surgery. The procedure may also be used to reverse an unnatural curvature of the spinal column.
Orthopedic specialists classify an abnormal arch of the spine by the angle of curvature, which follows three distinct patterns: scoliosis, in which the spine bends sideways in an S or C formation; kyphosis, a pronounced rounding of the upper back; and lordosis, an inward slant of the spine. Physical therapy and braces may help correct these conditions, but in severe cases, spinal fusion may be recommended.
How Long Does it Take to Recover from Spinal Fusion Surgery?
For spinal fusion surgery, patients are put under general anesthesia, and typically stay in the hospital for two to three days after the procedure. While they recover in the hospital, patients work with a physical therapist to learn how to get in and out of bed without twisting the spine, and then continue building flexibility with gentle stretching.
After discharge, many patients wear a brace to ensure the spine stays properly aligned. Before beginning a physical therapy regimen six weeks to three months after surgery, patients are encouraged to refrain from any strenuous activities, lift heavy objects, or twist the spine. Since this is a major surgery, it may take six months to a year for the back to fully heal.
Physical therapy is an important part of the recovery process. A physical therapist can give patients tips on how to sit, stand, and walk while keeping the newly aligned spine in the right position.
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