What is Spinal Fusion?

From WebMD

Spinal fusion is surgery to join two or more vertebrae into one single structure. The goal is to stop movement between the two bones and prevent back pain. Once they’re fused, they no longer move like they used to. This keeps you from stretching nearby nerves, ligaments, and muscles that may have caused discomfort.

Spinal fusion involves techniques designed to mimic the normal healing process of broken bones. During spinal fusion, your surgeon places bone or a bonelike material within the space between two spinal vertebrae. Metal plates, screws and rods may be used to hold the vertebrae together, so they can heal into one solid unit.

Why it’s done

Spinal fusion permanently connects two or more vertebrae in your spine to improve stability, correct a deformity or reduce pain. Your doctor may recommend spinal fusion to treat:

  • Deformities of the spine. Spinal fusion can help correct spinal deformities, such as a sideways curvature of the spine (scoliosis).
  • Spinal weakness or instability. Your spine may become unstable if there’s abnormal or excessive motion between two vertebrae. This is a common side effect of severe arthritis in the spine. Spinal fusion can be used to restore spinal stability in such cases.
  • Herniated disk. Spinal fusion may be used to stabilize the spine after removal of a damaged (herniated) disk.

Who Needs Spinal Fusion?

 

If medicines, physical therapy, and other treatments (like steroid injections) haven’t helped your back pain, this surgery might be an option. Doctors usually only recommend it if they know exactly what’s causing the problem.

Spinal fusion might help you feel better if your back pain is caused by:

  • Degenerative disk disease (the space between disks narrows; sometimes they rub together spaces)
  • Fracture (broken spinal bone)
  • Scoliosis — your spine curves abnormally to one side
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • Spondylolisthesis (forward shifting of a spinal disk)
  • Tumors or spine infection

 

How to Prepare

 

The week before your surgery, you may have some blood tests and spinal X-rays if you haven’t had any recently.

Your health care team will go over the details of your procedure. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. Your surgeon wants you to be prepared.

Here are some things to think about in the days prior to your surgery:

  • Know when to arrive at the surgery center. You’ll need someone to drive you and take you home.
  • Get a list of the medicines you can or can’t take in the days before surgery. Some drugs, like aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs, may be unsafe. Never stop taking any medicines without your doctor’s OK.
  • Find out if you can eat or drink anything before your procedure.
  • Get your home ready. You’ll need raised toilet seats, shower chairs, slip-on shoes, reachers, and other aids.

 

What you can expect

During spinal fusion

Surgeons perform spinal fusion while you’re under general anesthesia so you’re unconscious during the procedure. Surgeons have developed a variety of techniques for performing spinal fusion surgery. The technique your surgeon uses depends on the location of the vertebrae to be fused, the reason for the spinal fusion, and in some instances, your general health and body shape.

Generally, the procedure involves the following:

  • Incision. To gain access to the vertebrae being fused, the surgeon makes an incision in one of three locations: in your neck or back directly over your spine, on either side of your spine, or in your abdomen or throat so that your surgeon can access the spine from the front.
  • Bone graft preparation. The bone grafts that actually fuse two vertebrae together may come from a bone bank or from your own body, usually from your pelvis. If your own bone is used, the surgeon makes an incision above your pelvic bone, removes a small portion of it and then closes the incision.
  • Fusion. To fuse the vertebrae together permanently, the surgeon places the bone graft material between the vertebrae. Metal plates, screws or rods may be used to help hold the vertebrae together while the bone graft heals.

In selected cases, some surgeons use a synthetic substance instead of bone grafts. These synthetic substances help promote bone growth and speed the fusion of the vertebrae.

After spinal fusion

A hospital stay of two to three days is usually required following spinal fusion. Depending on the location and extent of your surgery, you may experience some pain and discomfort but the pain can usually be controlled well with medications.

After you go home, contact your doctor if you exhibit signs of infection, such as:

  • Redness, tenderness or swelling
  • Wound drainage
  • Shaking chills
  • Fever higher than 100.4 F (38 C)

It may take several months for the affected bones in your spine to heal and fuse together. Your doctor may recommend that you wear a brace for a time to keep your spine aligned correctly. Physical therapy can teach you how to move, sit, stand and walk in a manner that keeps your spine properly aligned.

Results

Spinal fusion is typically an effective treatment for fractures, deformities or instability in the spine. But study results are more mixed when the cause of the back or neck pain is unclear. In many cases, spinal fusion is no more effective than nonsurgical treatments for nonspecific back pain.

It can be difficult to be certain about what exactly is causing your back pain, even if a herniated disk or bone spurs show up on your X-rays. Many people have X-ray evidence of back issues that have never caused them any pain. So your pain might not be associated with whatever problem has been revealed on your imaging scans.

Even when spinal fusion provides symptom relief, it does not prevent you from developing more back pain in the future. Most of the degenerative conditions in the spine are caused by arthritis, and surgery will not cure your body of that disease.

Immobilizing a section of your spine places additional stress and strain on the areas around the fused portion. This may increase the rate at which those areas of your spine degenerate — so you may need additional spinal surgery in the future.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

What Causes Spinal Stenosis?

From WebMD

Cervical Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition, mostly in adults 50 and older, in which your spinal canal starts to narrow. This can cause pain and other problems.

Your spine is made up of a series of connected bones (or “vertebrae”) and shock-absorbing discs. It protects your spinal cord, a key part of the central nervous system that connects the brain to the body. The cord rests in the canal formed by your vertebrae.

For most people, the stenosis results from changes because of arthritis. The spinal canal may narrow. The open spaces between the vertebrae may start to get smaller. The tightness can pinch the spinal cord or the nerves around it, causing pain, tingling, or numbness in your legs, arms, or torso.

There’s no cure, but there are a variety of nonsurgical treatments and exercises to keep the pain at bay. Most people with spinal stenosis live normal lives. 

Causes

The leading reason for spinal stenosis is arthritis, a condition caused by the breakdown of cartilage — the cushiony material between your bones — and the growth of bone tissue.

Osteoarthritis can lead to disc changes, a thickening of the ligaments of the spine, and bone spurs. This can put pressure on your spinal cord and spinal nerves.
Other causes include:

  • Herniated discs. If the cushions are cracked, material can seep out and press on your spinal cord or nerves.
  • Injuries. An accident may fracture or inflame part of your spine.
  • Tumors. If cancerous growths touch the spinal cord, you may get stenosis.
  • Paget’s disease. With this condition, your bones grow abnormally large and brittle. The result is a narrowing of the spinal canal and nerve problems.

Some people are born with spinal stenosis or diseases that lead to it. For them, the condition usually starts to cause problems between the ages of 30 and 50.

 

Symptoms

Spinal stenosis usually affects your neck or lower back. Not everyone has symptoms, but if you do, they tend to be the same: stiffness, numbness, and back pain.

More specific symptoms include:

  • Sciatica. These shooting pains down your leg start as an ache in the lower back or buttocks.
  • Foot drop. Painful leg weakness may cause you to “slap” your foot on the ground.
  • A hard time standing or walking. When you’re upright, it tends to compress the vertebrae, causing pain.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control. In extreme cases, it weakens the nerves to the bladder or bowel.

If you’re having symptoms, you might want to talk them over with your doctor. If you’re having a loss of bladder or bowel control, call your doctor at once.

Diagnosis and Tests

When you visit your doctor, she’s likely to ask you questions about your medical history. After that, she might order at least one of the following tests to figure out whether you have the condition:

  • X-rays. These can show how the shape of your vertebrae has changed.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging(MRI). By using radio waves, an MRI creates a 3-D image of your spine. It can show tumors, growths, and even damage to discs and ligaments.
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan). A CT scan uses X-rays to create a 3-D image. With the help of a dye injected into your body, it can show damage to soft tissue as well as issues with your bones.

Treatment

Your doctor may start off with nonsurgical treatments. These might include:

Medication: Common pain remedies such as aspirin, acetaminophen , ibuprofen, and naproxen can offer short-term relief. All are available in low doses without a prescription. Other medications, including muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, treat aspects of spinal stenosis, such as muscle spasms and damaged nerves.

Corticosteroid injections: Your doctor will inject a steroid such as prednisone into your back or neck. Steroids make inflammation go down. However, because of side effects, they are used sparingly.Anesthetics: Used with precision, an injection of a “nerve block” can stop pain for a time

Exercise: You can improve your flexibility, strength, and balance with regular activity. Your doctor may recommend a physical therapist to help you.Assistive devices: You might get braces, a corset, or a walker to help you move about. 

Surgery

Some people have severe cases. They struggle to walk or have issues with their bladder and bowel. Doctors may recommend surgery for these people. Procedures such as laminectomy and laminoplasty create space between the bones so inflammation can go down.

What You Can Do at Home

Some things you can do to help ease symptoms of spinal stenosis include:

  • Exercise. Think about moderation — not 100 push-ups. Just take a 30-minute walk every other day. Talk over any new exercise plan with your doctor.
  • Apply heat and cold. Heat loosens up your muscles. Cold helps heal inflammation. Use one or the other on your neck or lower back. Hot showers are also good.
  • Practice good posture. Stand up straight, sit on a supportive chair, and sleep on a firm mattress. And when you lift heavy objects, bend from your knees, not your back.
  • Lose weight. When you are heavier, there will be more pressure on your back.

 


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.