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What is Spinal Fusion Surgery? - FAQ, Recovery and What To Expect Rolling Hills Medical in Torrance Explains

Spinal Surgery can be an intimidating topic, not least because there are so many kinds of procedures that fall into this category. One particular form of spinal surgery that can bring up a lot of questions is called spinal fusion surgery which falls under Minimally Invasive Surgery. If you've been told that you might require this kind of surgery because of ongoing back pain, you may feel panicked, curious, worried, and confused all at the same time. Fortunately, Rolling Hills Medical in Torrance has got your back when it comes to understanding spinal fusion surgery. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions on the subject.

What Is Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Spinal fusion surgery is a procedure connects two vertebrae so that there will no longer be any movement between the vertebrae. Your Torrance spine surgeon will make an incision either in your abdomen or in your back to gain access to the spine, shifting tissues out of the way as needed. The facet joints articulating vertebrae to be immobilized are taken out. Rods, screws, or pieces of grafted bone are then attached to the vertebrae to hold them rigidly in position. 

What Conditions Are Treated by Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Spinal fusion surgery may be indicated for a number of spine pain conditions which, for whatever reason, will not respond to more conservative treatment techniques. Examples include:

Animation of a herniated disc
  • Degenerative disc disease - Degenerative disc disease can create severe back or neck pain as well as tingling, pain, numbness, or weakness in the limbs. Aging, flattened, bulging discs cause the intervertebral space to collapse, leading to severe arthritis, pain, stiffness, and damage to the intervertebral joints. 
  • Fracture - A fracture in one or more vertebral structures may not heal normally on its own. In these cases, spinal surgery is necessary to put that part of your spine back together.
  • Scoliosis - An abnormal sideways curvature of the spine known as scoliosis can cause severe pain and other health issues if it grows too severe. Fusion surgery can correct some degree of abnormal curvature while also preventing the curvature from getting any worse.
  • Spinal stenosis - Spinal stenosis is a condition in which bones overgrow into the spinal canal, causing nerve impingement. Your spine surgeon in Torrance may perform a laminectomy or other such procedure to remove the excess bone -- but if these procedures are likely to make your spine unstable, a fusion may also be necessary.
  • Spondylolisthesis - Spondylolisthesis involves slippage of one vertebra over another, causing instability, nerve impingement, and pain. Spinal fusion surgery can bring the two vertebrae back into alignment and ensure that they remain that way.

What Is the Success Rate of Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Up to 80 percent of all spinal fusion surgery patients report satisfaction with the success of the procedure. Studies of post-operative patients indicated that patients enjoyed, on average, a 60 to 70 percent reduction in their symptoms.

Is Spinal Fusion Painful?

The actual procedure is performed under a general anesthetic, so you will feel no pain during surgery. After surgery, you will have some pain for the first few weeks, but you will receive pain medication until the pain fades away on its own. 

How Long Does Spinal Fusion Surgery Take?

The length of your spinal fusion surgery will depend on the severity of your condition and the number of vertebrae that must be fused. This type of surgery may extend anywhere from 2.5 hours to 7 hours in total duration.

What Are the Risks of Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Like any major surgery, spinal fusion surgery carries certain risks. These include infection, a failed fusion of the vertebrae, nerve damage, blood loss, and the normal risks associated with general anesthesia. There is also the chance that the surgery may not relieve your symptoms.

What Is the Recovery Time for Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Full recovery from a spinal fusion surgery may take up to a year. Generally, however, you should be able to return to your everyday routine within 4 to 6 months. You'll spend the first few days of recovery in the hospital. After 4 to 6 weeks, your Torrance spine surgeon will put you on a physical therapy routine to optimize your remaining recovery time, and to help ensure that you regain strength, comfort, and function.

Dr. Neil Ghodadra
Dr. Neil Ghodadra’s orthopedic practice focuses on minimally invasive, arthroscopic surgery of the knee, shoulder, elbow, and hip. His unique background includes extensive training and expertise in cartilage restoration of the knee and joint preserving osteotomy, as well as treatment of complex shoulder conditions, ranging from shoulder instability and rotator cuff repair surgery to shoulder replacement surgery. Dr. Ghodadra is fellowship trained in Shoulder and Sports Medicine Surgery and has a particular interest in taking care of athletes.

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