Are you experiencing chronic back pain? Have you tried back braces, physical therapy, massage, and other conservative options but still experience significant pain? If you’ve answered yes, your back pain may be caused by a more serious condition than muscle strain and you may be a candidate for lumbar spinal fusion. If your doctor has recommended lumbar fusion, this article can help you to make an informed decision about your treatment.
What is Lumbar Spinal Fusion?
Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure performed to permanently connect several vertebrae in your spine together. Lumbar fusion refers to connecting vertebrae in your lower back. The purpose of spinal fusion is to improve stability within the area and treat any underlying conditions that are causing pain and inflammation to the area.
Why Do You Need To Fuse the Vertebrae?
In cases where spinal fusion is recommended, the pain is caused by motion between your vertebrae. This motion may cause the surrounding nerves, ligaments, and muscles to stretch and strain, resulting in pain. If motion between your vertebrae is the cause of your pain, then fusion surgery may be recommended.
During this procedure, bone grafts are used to help fuse vertebrae and secured in place with metal plates, screws, or rods until the graft heals. The surgery is known as a fusion because as the graft heals it joints the two vertebrae into a single, solid bone. Once fused, they will limit the movement of the vertebrae and alleviate pain, but should not decrease the patient’s range of motion. Your doctor will discuss the impact this procedure may have on your lifestyle during your initial consultation.
This procedure may also be recommended to patients who suffer from spinal deformities, herniated disks, degenerative disk disease, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, fractured vertebrae, injury, infection, or have tumors along the spine.
When Should You Consider Lumbar Fusion?
Your doctor will work with you to treat your back pain with conservative and minimally invasive options first. Surgery should not be considered lightly, and only once all other treatment options have been exhausted. To confirm this treatment option is right for you, your doctor will run a series of tests, review your medical history, conduct a physical examination, and utilize diagnostic imaging such as x-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Different Approaches to Lumbar Fusion
Depending on your condition and cause of pain, your surgeon may choose from several approaches. An anterior approach involves making an incision in the lower abdomen while a posterior approach is performed from the back. In some cases, a lateral approach may also be best, where your surgeon accesses your spine from an incision on your side.
Following your surgery, your doctor may want to monitor you for several days. Pain, swelling, and discomfort are common after surgery but can be managed with medication. It is important during the initial days of recovery you check your incision for signs of infection.
It will take several months for your bones to heal and fuse. A back brace may be prescribed to help keep your spine in proper alignment. Your doctor will provide instructions on how to move, walk, sit, and stand safely during recovery.
During the initial few weeks, we recommend only light activities. At the 6 week mark, it is common for patients to begin physical therapy to improve muscle strength, mobility, and range of motion.
At The American Neurospine Institute, we believe in a strong doctor-patient relationship and pride ourselves on ensuring patient comfort from the moment you step into our office. Together, we will help you on your journey towards a pain-free life. For more information on lumbar fusion or to schedule an appointment, contact our office today at (972) 806-1188.