What is Spinal Fusion?
Spinal fusion is a procedure used to weld together two or more vertebrae in the spine using graft material and often hardware. The procedure may be paired with others procedures or performed alone, depending on the patient’s condition. For example, a laminectomy might be performed in conjunction with the spinal fusion if compression is occurring in the spine.
Who Needs Spinal Fusion?
Vertebrae are the 33 cylinder shaped bones in the spinal column that work together to protect the spinal cord and nerve roots while supporting the body’s weight. Each vertebra is composed of several structures which allow the vertebrae to move in relation to each other, but only to a certain degree. Deformity, degeneration, and injuries in the spine may cause instability if one of the structures is damaged.
Spinal fusion is used to correct this instability. Several conditions may benefit from spinal fusion, including scoliosis, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, trauma, injury and more. Symptoms vary between these conditions, but pain, weakness, or mobility issues that are unresponsive to conservative treatment may indicate the need for a spinal fusion.
What are the steps in Spinal Fusion?
The steps in this procedure depend on where in the spine the procedure is needed and which technique the surgeon is using. If the surgeon is approaching from the side, it is called a lateral approach. If the procedure is being performed from the front of the body, it is an anterior approach. A posterior approach is when the procedure is performed from the back. The procedure might be performed traditionally or using a minimally invasive technique. Minimally invasive spinal fusion is performed through smaller incisions in order to facilitate faster recovery. Regardless of the exact type of procedure, the surgeon will make use of a bone graft. This is the material that causes the fusion by stimulating bone growth in the area it is placed. If the material being used for the graft is being harvested from the patient receiving the spinal fusion, the graft is called an autograft. If it is harvested from a donor, it is called an allograft. Artificial bone graft material may also be used. Where the graft is placed depends on the exact procedure being performed, but usually it is placed in a cleared space between the affected vertebrae or on the sides of the vertebrae. Surgical screws, rods, or other instrumentation may be placed to keep the vertebrae from shifting during the healing process.
Recovery time from a spinal fusion varies depending on the procedure performed. Your doctor will likely request you refrain from strenuous physical activities at first. You may also be prescribed physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises.
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