Who Needs Spinal Fusion Surgery & How Does It Work?

Who Needs Spinal Fusion Surgery & How Does It Work?

Spine surgery may sound like a big deal, but living with arm or leg pain for the rest of your life is a bigger deal. In fact, certain procedures, such as decompression and spinal fusion surgery, have become so common and successful, that the concept of having back surgery is no longer overwhelming for patients. For those who have surgery through Rothman Institute’s top orthopedic program, the hope for a healthy, active future is just a simple procedure away. 

Of course, patients should work with their physicians first to determine whether a non-operative treatment option may provide the solution to the condition. If attempts at more conservative treatments fail, the option of having decompression and spinal fusion surgery should be considered. This kind of procedure can take place in the cervical area of the spine, or it can be done on the lower back area, which is called the lumbar region. Based on each patient's particular case, the surgeon will determine whether the procedure would be best approached from an incision in the front (anterior) or back (posterior) of the body.
Who Needs Spinal Fusion Surgery?
Anyone with chronic pain due to spondylosis, scoliosis, fracture or disc degeneration could benefit from the decompression and fusion of spinal vertebrae. Once a period of bracing has been attempted, the patient and doctor should assess whether that, combined with stretching and strengthening exercises will solve the problem without surgery. If these conservative treatments are not believed to be sufficient and the patient needs relief from debilitating arm or leg pain, a spinal decompression and fusion procedure may be recommended.  A fusion is generally only performed in the setting of instability or deformity.
How Does This Procedure Work?
Depending on what condition is being treated and which approach (anterior or posterior) the surgeon takes, the procedure will look different from case to case. However, the end goal is that the decompression performed during the surgery relieves the nerve roots and or spinal cord of the pressure caused by the underlying pathology. When a fusion is performed, during recovery from surgery, the spinal segment around the previously damaged area will fuse together, creating a stronger, more stable section of the spine. Here’s how that takes place:
1. Clean Out the Damaged Area
Once the incision is made and the surgeon navigates through or around any muscles, nerves or tissue that are in the surrounding area, he or she will remove the affected disc and any associated damaged and compressive tissue.
2. Carefully Place New Bone Implant or BMP
In certain cases, a bone graft from the patients’ own body (usually pelvis autograft) may be used. However, the majority of decompression and fusion surgeries utilize an allograft (donor bone), Patients can also ask their physicians about the possibility of using a bone morphogenic protein, or a BMP. 
3. Add Any Needed Hardware
Interestingly enough, the actual “fusing” is not done during the spinal fusion surgery. That process takes place naturally during the post-surgery recovery phase as the new bone material and surrounding, healthy vertebrae consolidate into one, stable piece. For that reason, cages, rods, screws or hooks are sometimes used to hold the graft or BMP in place to ensure proper alignment of the spine during the healing phase.
4. Conclude Surgery & Prepare for Recovery
When the new bone and any necessary hardware is in place, the surgeon will carefully replace any muscles, nerves or other tissue that were moved to the side during surgery and then close the incision. The patient will be given specific follow-up care instructions and a post-op visit will be scheduled, during which the success of the spine fusion will be determined.
If you’re looking for a trusted leader in decompression and spinal fusion surgery, look no further than your local branch of Rothman Institute. Our physicians are spine specialists and have actually helped to pioneer much of the latest methodology and technology associated with cutting-edge, orthopedic procedures. Call us today at 1-800-321-9999 to schedule an appointment!

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