Lumbar Spinal Fusion Surgery

Lumbar Spinal Fusion Surgery


Lumbar Spinal Fusion Candidates

Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons for visits to the doctor. Often this pain occurs as the result of deterioration of the lumbar spine. As people age, arthritis can cause the cartilage between discs to wear down causing pain and discomfort. In some cases, pain in this area may also occur as the result of injury, infection, or tumor. In most patients, the lumbar pain subsides within six weeks when treated with medication, rest, or physical therapy. Patients who do not experience improved symptoms in this time may be candidates for lumbar spinal fusion.

What is Lumbar Spinal Fusion

Lumbar spinal fusion is a medical procedure that is performed to make the bones of the lower spine grow together. Once two vertebrae are solidly fused to each other, they are unable to move. As a result, painful friction is eliminated. Existing spurs can also be removed during the procedure to reduce pain further and ease pressure on the nerves. Spinal fusion also prevents the development of new bone spurs.

The Surgical Procedure

Surgeons utilize a variety of techniques when performing lumbar spinal fusion depending upon the needs of each patient. The operation may be performed through incisions made in the back or abdomen. Sometimes incisions in both the back and abdomen are necessary. Some surgeons may also perform minimally invasive lumbar spinal fusion procedures using smaller incisions in the patient's abdomen or side. The intervertebral disc, or cartilage between the vertebrae, is removed and replaced with a plastic or metal cage or bone graft. As the surgery heals, this causes the vertebrae to fuse together. It is common for surgeons to use rods or screws to hold the bones in place while the vertebrae fuse. When the bones are held in place, the chance of a successful fusion is much higher.

Risks and Complications

Like all surgeries, there are risks associated with lumbar spinal fusion. While many patients heal without complications, the most common problems include reactions to anesthesia, bleeding, blood clots, pain, or infection. Because the procedure involves the spine, injuries to the nerves or spinal cord are also possible.

Recovery Process

Patients are generally able to return home within a week of undergoing lumbar spinal fusion, but complete healing takes a minimum of three months. During this time patients may be required to wear a rigid back brace and avoid bending and lifting. As the spine heals, doctors typically recommend physical therapy to ease pain and help patients regain strength and mobility.

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