Spinal fusion is a surgery in which a diseased or damaged spinal disc is removed and the spinal bones (vertebrae) above and below it are fastened together in the hopes that they will fuse into one solid bone. Spinal fusion is a good option for people who need spinal disc surgery but are not candidates for artificial disc replacement. Because it takes time for the spinal bones to fuse together, it may take as long as six months (or more) to fully recover from spinal fusion surgery.
Spinal fusion is used to treat:
Are there any risks to spinal fusions?
Up to four weeks before your spinal fusion surgery, make an appointment with your primary care doctor for medical clearance. This is a health assessment that will include bloodwork, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and possibly a chest X-ray. Some of your medications may need to be stopped up to two weeks prior to surgery while others should be taken up to and including the day of your surgery. Remember to ask your doctor or surgeon how to manage your medications before surgery.
You should not eat or drink anything from midnight onward on the day of your spinal fusion surgery. Make sure to arrange transportation from the surgical center (you will not be allowed to drive yourself home). It is also best to stock up on groceries, medications, and other supplies before surgery so you will not need to shop afterward.
Spinal fusion can be performed in many different ways. Both cervical and lumbar fusion can be performed using an anterior approach (i.e., from the front of the spine) or a posterior approach (i.e., from the back of the spine). That said, most people who have spinal fusions have an anterior fusion in the cervical spine. In the lumbar spine it’s mixed depending on the problem being repaired. A general description of the spinal fusion procedure is provided below:
For full recovery, the spinal bones need to fuse completely after spinal fusion surgery. This process can take months. During spinal fusion recovery, you will need to restrict certain activities for certain lengths of time. For instance, you should not drive, lift anything heavier than 5 or 10 pounds, or engage in sexual activity for the first one to two weeks after surgery, i.e., until your receive approval from your surgeon, usually at the first follow-up appointment. Walking is okay—even encouraged—but don’t engage in any exercise that makes you sweat or breathe so heavily you can’t have a conversation.
One of the best ways to recover from spinal fusion is to work with a physical therapist. Your physical therapist can help you get around safely while helping you to build strength and stamina. Try to get proper nutrition (good calories, vitamins, minerals, fluids) and avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Artificial disc replacement, also known as intervertebral disc arthroplasty, total disc replacement, or spine arthroplasty, is a spine surgery procedure to replace a diseased or damaged intervertebral disc with an artificial joint. A qualified spine surgeon removes the problem disc and places a metal or metal-and-plastic mechanical device between the vertebrae (individual bones of the spine).
The goal of artificial disc replacement is to relieve chronic back pain. Artificial disc replacement is an excellent alternative to spinal fusion surgery for certain patients. The artificial disc allows the spine to have much greater mobility than can be achieved with spinal fusion surgery.
Get in touch with Dr. Lanman
Dr. Lanman is a board-certified neurosurgeon, fellowship-trained in spine surgery. He has performed hundreds of spinal fusion surgeries in his 30-year career. Most of the patients Dr. Lanman sees do not need surgery but benefit from conservative management, injections, physical therapy, or other non-surgical treatments. However, when you need an artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion surgery, Dr. Lanman has the skill and expertise to expertly perform the procedure.