Ask The Expert: What Is A Spinal Fusion?

Authored by: Dr. Colin Haines

Your physician has mentioned you might need a spinal fusion — what does that mean?

Many people still have a perceived notion that a spinal fusion surgery is an open-back surgery, with a long recovery time and pain after surgery. This is no longer true! Virginia Spine Institute’s advanced technology with minimally invasive surgeries have reduced recovery time and post-operative pain for spinal fusions.

What is a Spinal Fusion?

A fusion simply means getting one bone to grow into the other. Most commonly, this involves removing part of the disc, or the shock absorber, and replacing it with an implant that promotes bone growth. The devices that spine surgeons place in the body simply speed up the bony healing. Once the bone has completely grown into the other, then a complete fusion has occurred.

Why Would You Have a Spinal Fusion?

One of the main reasons for a patient to have a spinal fusion is because there is abnormal motion of the spine. Spondylolisthesis, or forward slippage of one vertebra over another, can result in back pain and nerve pressure which results in sciatica (radiating pain, tingling, and numbness down the leg). Fusions hold the spine in a proper position, and take the pressure off the nerve.

second reason for a spinal fusion is abnormal spinal posture, such as scoliosis. When the spine has a curve, or is hunched forward too far, it can result in tremendous back and leg pain. Fusions straighten the spine and hold it in a better position, which takes the pain away.

third common reason is to treat painful discs. Disc degeneration and resulting pain is very common. A spinal fusion removes the bad disc and eliminate the painful motion.

Are All Spinal Fusions the Same?

Importantly, not all fusions are the same! Traditional fusions involve large incisions in the back and lots of muscle cutting. That approach allows for surgeons to reach the spine, but in a more invasive manner! Fortunately, there are more advanced surgical methods that are less invasive. Muscle spreading surgeries allow direct access to the discs, and are able to achieve fusion without cutting any muscle! What that means for you is a faster recovery with less immediate pain, and quicker return to the life you want!

How Important is the Recovery Time After a Spinal Fusion?

Spinal fusions require time for the bones to completely weld together, similar to a broken bone healing in a cast. Aggressive movements including bending and twisting during this critical time can prevent the spinal fusion from healing correctly, thereby decreasing the chances of a successful surgery.

The old days of long term pain after fusions shouldn’t exist anymore. Our Spinal Specialists at Virginia Spine Institute develop and implement the latest surgical techniques, while using the most advanced technology to perform minimally invasive spinal fusions. By using better technology and surgical approaches, a pain-free life should be right around the corner!

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