Neck or back pain of any kind can be extremely debilitating, and can affect many different aspects of your life, including sleep, performing tasks at work, driving, and exercising, among others.
One technique that may help eliminate back pain is called spinal fusion, a procedure in which a surgeon permanently connects two or more vertebrae in your spine.
The purpose of connecting these vertebrae is to reduce movement between them, which can help to alleviate pain from conditions such as herniated discs, broken vertebrae, spinal deformities, and general weakness and instability. To find out if spinal fusion is the best minimally invasive choice to remedy your spinal discomfort, contact Elite Spine & Orthopedics for a consultation at (855) 77-SPINE.
How Spinal Fusion Surgery Works
In order to get the vertebrae to fuse, the surgeon may need to use a bone graft, which typically consists of small pieces of bone matter that are placed in between the vertebrae that are being fused. Bone grafts help promote bone production, and foster bone growth in the correct place.
Surgeons obtain bone grafts in different ways, either by taking bone from another part of the patient’s body (an autograft), typically the hip, or by using a synthetic substitute.
The surgeon may also fix the vertebrae together using rods, screws, plates, or cages, which help to keep the bone graft in place while healing. After surgery, the body begins this healing process naturally, and new bone is formed that will connect the two vertebrae together. This typically takes about three to six months.
Spinal fusion is a common procedure and is generally considered very safe. However, undergoing surgery in general takes some recovery time, and it is something that any patient’s body needs to adjust to.
As with any surgery, there are complications that could occur, including infection, poor healing, blood clots, pain, or excessive bleeding. It is never 100% certain how someone’s body will react to any surgery, which is important to keep in mind when considering if this is the best option for the symptoms being experienced.
Recovering from spinal fusion surgery is not an overnight process. It takes time, patience, and adequate attention in order to recover smoothly, and how fast you recover depends at least in part in how closely you follow your doctor’s directions. Back pain will most likely not go away immediately, and it can be hard for surgeons to predict how much relief surgery will give their patients, as each case is different.
It is important to let pain be the guide as to how quickly you can get back into daily life activities, and patience is absolutely key. The good news is that most people find that spinal fusion is an effective and minimally invasive treatment for their back problems when they have been diagnosed correctly.
Types of Spinal Fusion Surgery:
Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion
If you struggle with back or leg pain due to disc problems in your spine, you might worry that the surgery options are painful and complicated. However, a lateral lumbar interbody fusion is a common and minimally invasive technique that can treat back pain stemming from various pathologies including degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, and spondylolisthesis.
This safe and effective procedure belongs to a group of treatments called spinal fusion surgeries, which involve synthesizing two or more of the tiny, interlocking bones called vertebrae that form your spinal column. In particular, lateral interbody fusion focuses on fusing bones of the lumbar spine, which is the region of the lower back where the spine begins to curve inward in the direction of the abdomen.
Essentially, it is the process of welding together the bones in the lower back to decrease pain created by the joints and discs. However, unlike other techniques, the surgeon could access the intervertebral space in a direct, lateral manner that equates to less invasiveness than alternatives such as posterior lumbar interbody fusion and anterior lumbar interbody fusion with instrumentation.
To learn more about the lateral lumbar interbody fusion procedure, visit our FAQs.
SI Joint Fusion
When your sacroiliac joints begin to dysfunction, you might begin to experience lower back or leg pain. One of the treatments available to you is SI joint fusion, which is a minimally invasive surgery that helps you overcome the pain associated with sacroiliac joint disruptions and degenerative sacroiliitis.
How SI Joint Fusion Works
The sacroiliac joints are located between the sacrum, the triangular bone that supports the spine from the bottom and the ilium bones of the pelvis located on either side of it. Using SI joint fusion, surgeons graft together the sacrum and the ilium to eliminate any movement of the sacroiliac joint between them.
In some cases, both of the sacroiliac joints will need to be fused and stabilized. In these situations, the patient will be asked to recover from the first surgery before moving on to the second that fuses the second joint. Regardless, the result is the stabilization of the pelvis and sacroiliac joints, which ideally leads to a reduction in pain.
To learn whether you might consider this procedure, read more in our FAQs.
ALIF Or Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion
The American Academy of Pain Medicine reports that back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under the age of 45, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that lower back pain is the most common source of chronic pain.
For those suffering from lower back pain, many treatment options are available, including nonsurgical treatments that may include steroid injections, anti-inflammatory medications, pain medication, and physical therapy. For those with severe pain or dysfunction whose symptoms are not relieved through noninvasive methods, spine surgery may be necessary.
One surgical method for treatment of lower back pain exacerbated by motion is anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF), a type of spinal fusion surgery.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) describes spinal fusion as a “welding” process intended to fuse painful vertebra together into a single bone, eliminating painful motion and supporting the spine.
Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is one approach to spinal fusion. During this procedure, a surgeon accesses the lumbar spine through an incision in the abdomen. An anterior approach may be preferable to a posterior (from the back) approach for several reasons, says the AAOS:
• to avoid multiple surgeries in the same site for patients with previous posterior back surgeries
• to allow better access to the intervertebral disc
• to provide the surgeon with the ability to allow a more natural sway to the spine
• to allow for quicker recovery
During the ALIF procedure, the surgeon will remove the painful, bulging, or degenerated intervertebral disc and place an implant, known as a spacer or cage, into the vertebra to restore the space. The implant contains bone graft material which will, in time, fuse the two vertebrae into a single unit.
In many cases, those who undergo spinal fusion experience a significant reduction of pain within weeks of surgery. To learn more about ALIF or other spinal fusion techniques, request a consultation at (855) 77-SPINE.