Pain can be an unfortunate part of life. It’s the way that your body signals an underlying problem. So you schedule an appointment with your doctor, get 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 may not be easily treated by medication and could end up causing life-long suffering.
The first course of treatment for back pain should usually be non-surgical measures, like core strengthening and physiotherapy. Your doctor may recommend surgery if conservative treatments and injections fail to alleviate the pain. A spinal fusion is one such procedure commonly offered as a treatment for spinal stenosis with instability or degeneration. If you are thinking of undergoing spinal fusion surgery, here is a basic review of what spinal fusion entails and why it may be indicated.
Understanding Spinal Stenosis
Your spine consists of a stack of bones called vertebrae. Each vertebra is separated by discs that cushion the bones from rubbing against each other. The vertebrae have a hollow column, 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.
Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs when the space around the spinal nerves becomes too narrow. In turn, this causes pressure on the nerves and can cause pain and weakness in the arms or legs. You might experience sharp pain, tingling, or numbness in your leg or buttock.
So, When Do You Need Spinal Fusion?
Spinal fusion aims at correcting instability or deformity by permanently connecting two or more vertebrae within your spine. By so doing, it stops any motion between the vertebrae that might cause instability. A spinal fusion may be necessary if you have:
• Deformities in your spine — This includes outright irregularities in the structure of your spine, such as a sideways 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 between two vertebrae. It is most commonly caused by severe spinal arthritis or stress fractures in your spinal region. Spinal fusion, in this case, helps restore your spine’s original stability.
• Degenerative disc — Spinal fusion can also be a follow-up procedure after removing a painful or degenerative disc. It helps stabilize the spine in the previously damaged area.
How The Fusion Surgery is Accomplished
The most common spinal fusion procedure involves a combination of one or two-level fusion and decompression. This procedure can be broken down into a few steps:
• Your doctor will first do an x-ray of your spine to see the position of your bones. An imaging study, such as an MRI or CAT scan will be done to see the nerves and soft tissues more clearly. This should help determine if you are a good candidate for the surgery.
• If a spinal fusion is necessary, the surgeon will typically remove any structures that are causing pressure on the spinal nerves and then insert a small bone graft in between the two affected vertebrae, which stimulate the bones to grow together.
• The surgeon may place rods and screws to hold the vertebrae in place as the bones fuse. This should take anywhere between 3 to 6 months.
Recovery can take up to 6 months, but you will be able to walk a day after the surgery. It will take about 4-6 weeks to return to your normal activities, although full recovery can take longer. Also, like other surgeries, side effects include infection, blood clots, and bleeding, but these are rare.
When living with chronic pain, every waking moment can be miserable. You are constantly looking for that one position where the pain is a little less severe. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Surgery can be recommended for fractures and deformities, and there are treatment options for degenerative changes and back or neck pain.
If you are experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms or you have been told you need a spinal fusion, don’t hesitate to contact us. At First State Spine, we specialize in everything spine. We are readily equipped with the tools and expertise to analyze your particular condition and provide the treatment you need.