Surgeries that Change Lives: When Is a Spinal Fusion Necessary to Perform?

Spinal fusion surgery is known to be an extensive surgery that is performed to connect more than one disc to the spine which has caused resistance between them and has eliminated the movement between them.

Spinal fusion also involves different techniques that are designed in such a way as to make the healing process as normal as possible for broken bones.

When is a spinal fusion necessary? The most alarming aspect of why spinal fusion surgery is needed; is that sometimes the pain does not go away even after the non-surgical treatment. The patient still experiences substantial pain even after heavy medications that had been prescribed before the need for surgery.

There are a lot of reasons when is a spinal fusion necessary and cannot be ignored. One of the most occurring reasons for a spine fusion is that the fused vertebrae or the discs have become loose making the fusion irrelevant and worsening the condition of the patient to a higher degree.

When is a spinal fusion necessary?

When is a spinal fusion necessary

A spinal fusion surgery becomes imminent when other low back techniques do not reduce or eliminate the pain endured by the patient. This can lead to lumbar spine fusion surgery.

Lumbar spine fusion surgery occurs for two main reasons which are:

  • Lumbar spinal fusion surgery is known to be a highly extensive surgery that has a very long healing time that is a minimum of 3 months and can go all the way to 18 months.
  • The spine fusion will change the biomechanics of the lower back of a person permanently. This can also increase the stress placed on the joints especially the non-fused discs of the lower spine which might lead to a permanent degeneration of the spine if not treated timely.

The lumbar spinal fusion surgery is normally not recommended to the patient till it is the last resort in the case. As the patient needs to have a history of non-surgical care for at least 12 months before undergoing this kind of extensive surgery.

Symptoms to look out for in spinal fusion surgery

As mentioned above, spinal fusion surgery is known to be treating the back pain of a patient which is caused by the degenerative vertebrae of the changes in the alignment of the discs which need to be treated as early as possible else it might result in the degeneration of the spine.

Before undergoing the extensive procedure of spinal fusion surgery, it is important for the surgeon to monitor the symptoms of the degeneration of the non-fused discs of the lower back. The symptoms can be:

  • Muscular strain
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunctionality
  • Facet osteoarthritis

While monitoring the symptoms and the lower back health of a patient, if a surgeon notices that there has been no improvement by the treatment which is nonsurgical then the patient needs to be considered for the extensive procedure of spinal fusion surgery.

It is important to note that a whole tabular treatment is a mandatory requirement to be undergone before the surgery.

A surgeon needs to be hundred percent sure that the surgery is the only option to reduce the pain of the patient by fusing the degenerating discs of the spine.

Determining whether spinal fusion surgery is needed or not?

MRI scans help the surgeons in determining and diagnosing degenerative discs problem. Sometimes, the MRI scans show that normal aging has caused the painful degenerating discs earlier than the normal process. This is called aging. The surgeon needs to differentiate between the aging discs and the painful degenerating discs.

Symptoms to look out for in spinal fusion surgery

 Sometimes it gets difficult because the degenerative discs continue to cause pain in the lower back.

Some of the characteristics that can be identified of a painful disc from the MRI scan are:

  • Endplate erosion – this is the kind of erosion that occurs on the outer, top, and bottom of the painful disc.
  • The collapse of the disc space i.e, the discs start to get flatter and shorter in size.
  • Edematous changes on the modic body of the lower spine. The MRI will show the irritable movement of the bone marrow and this is a clear indicator of a painful disc.

If a painful disc is still undetermined by the MRI scan then a spinal surgeon can opt for a CT discogram. This is an extensive version of MRI. The discogram is known to be a pain provocation test that is mainly designed to determine the painful discs. A dye is injected into the disc space that will cause pain to the patient; this intensity of pain will further decide whether the disc is an aging or a painful disc.

Spinal fusion surgery recovery

Once the surgeon has performed this extensive surgery, be prepared for a long healing process. Usually, it will take about 4 to 5 weeks for an average person to start getting back to their day-to-day activities like studying, light housework, cooking, etc. Still, it might take more than a year for complete recovery in some cases.

The worst pain after the surgery will subside on its own maximum by 4 to 6 weeks of surgery. It is expected that the pain will decrease on its own by the end of the first month but in some rare cases, the pain can last up to 6 months.

Final thoughts

As mentioned in the article, the healing process after spinal fusion surgery is slow and requires a lot of patience. It might take months or even a year for the discs and the bones to heal and fuse themselves together so that they can start functioning normally on their own. Intensive care is required after surgery such as wearing a brace and physical therapy in a few cases.

The spinal fusion will stabilize the spine and the lower back and also eliminate the chances of slipped discs in elderly age. It is termed a last resort surgery and is performed by the surgeon when non-surgical treatments fail to reduce or eliminate the pain being endured by the patients.