Spinal cord consists of several bones called vertebrae. Spine helps in maintaining an erect posture in human beings. During our lifetime, we constantly put our spine under a lot of pressure. As a result, the spine becomes susceptible to various injuries and ailments. Injuries to spine lead to several painful conditions and affect the quality of life of a person, by making him immobile. Often, a spinal fusion surgery is recommended to overcome the spine problems. This is a major surgery, hence a patient may take 4 to 6 months to recover completely.
What is Spinal Fusion Surgery
Spinal fusion surgery is performed by inserting pieces of bones between vertebrae. These pieces are either supplied by the patient himself or are obtained from an external source. If the patient is found to be fit in order to provide the bones, then an additional surgery needs to be performed to extract the bone graft from the hip of the patient. In the spinal fusion surgery, pieces of bones are inserted in the spine wherever required. Sometimes several small pieces may be required, while at times a single large piece may be sufficient. Braces may be required to secure the bones in place. Spinal fusion surgery is used to treat following spinal problems:
- Injuries to the spinal vertebrae.
- Protrusion and degeneration of the cushioning discs between vertebrae (also called slipped disc or herniated disc).
- Abnormal curvatures of the spine (e.g. scoliosis or kyphosis).
- Weak or unstable spine caused by infections or tumors.
Spinal fusion surgery is a pretty complicated one and takes several months for recuperation. The chances of complete recovery are very less, yet the patient can experience considerable reduction in pain in leg and back. About 80% patients experience a great deal of improvement in their pre-surgery symptoms. The remaining 20% patients may need further evaluation of their condition. The recovery time is based on several factors such as rate of maturation of fusion mass, recovery of compressed nerve as well as muscle condition in spine region. Maturation of fusion mass is rapid in non-smokers as compared to smokers. Nicotine in cigarette inhibits fusion of bone mass. Hence, it is imperative that you quit smoking for at least 6 months post surgery.
This surgery may render you immobile for weeks or even months. Hence, it is the duty of the surgeon to make the patient aware of this fact. Sometimes, patient may get disappointed by his immobility post surgery, but one must understand that this is a part of a normal recovery process. After spinal fusion surgery, the patient stays in the hospital for about 4 - 6 days, after which he can go home, depending upon his condition. However, it is recommended for the patient to stay in hospital for as long as it takes, to avoid any complications. Moreover, hospital offers rehabilitation for the patients in order to assist recovery. Patients can perform various cardiovascular and aerobic exercises under the supervision of fitness experts.
Although, the patient may need assistance in performing some of his daily activities, he can manage most of his normal routine on his own. It is recommended that the patient continues his cardiovascular and aerobic exercise routine after coming home as well. Within 3 to 4 months, the patient will be able to notice considerable improvement in his pain and mobility. Within 6 to 8 months, he can get back to his normal routine. However, he will have to continue caring for his spine for the rest of his life, by exerting his spine to minimum pressure and activities. Utmost care is required in case of spinal fusion surgery. Also, it is equally important to follow the instructions of your surgeon to word. The medications should be taken as per the prescription and the exercise routine should be followed as instructed. The exercise routine depends upon the types of vertebrae fused.
Recovery time for cervical spinal fusion is more or less equal to that for lumbar spinal fusion. Even after complete recovery, the person will have limitations on certain activities for the rest of his life.