Spinal fusion is an operation to weld or fuse together the small bones in your back eliminating motion that is causing back pain.
Spinal fusion is sometimes recommended to treat:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spondylolisthesis (where a vertebra slips forward or backward)
- Spinal tumours
- Spinal fractures
- Spinal stenosis
- Scoliosis (curved spine)
- Infections in the spinal canal
What happens during spinal fusion?
Spinal fusion is usually done under general anaesthetic. The procedure can take 3-4 hours.
There are several methods and surgical approaches used during spinal fusion. Some involve bone graft or the insertion of titanium plates, screws or rods. Be sure and discuss what method will be used with your consultant.
After spinal fusion
Immediately after your surgery you will be taken to the recovery area. Staff will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. If you are in any pain be sure and tell the recovery room staff. When you are stable a nurse will take you to your room.
Once you are back in your room, our nursing team will continue to check on you to make sure you are recovering well. After you’ve recovered from any effects of the anaesthetic, you can have something to eat and drink.
You may have a catheter to drain your bladder. This will usually be taken out the day after your surgery.
Your length of stay in hospital will depend on the extent of your spinal fusion. You will be given pain medication but be sure and let us know if you are still having discomfort.
A physiotherapist will teach you how to move around on your own. Your movements will be restricted until the fusion is confirmed. This will mean no twisting or bending.
You may need to wear a back brace during your recovery. To prevent blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) you may need to wear compression stockings.
Going home after spinal fusion
You will not be able to drive until released to do so by your consultant. Please arrange for someone to drive you home on your day of discharge.
Continue to take any pain medication as prescribed.
Keep any dressings covering your surgical wound clean and dry. You should not take a bath or swim until released to do so.
Avoid sitting for long periods. Do not lift anything heavy until your fusion has been confirmed (at least the first 6 weeks).
Take short walks during the first two weeks of recovery – increasing the distance after that time. You should not engage in any strenuous activity until released to do so by your consultant. This includes housework such as vacuuming and heavy cleaning.
Your stitches or staples will be removed by your GP or practice nurse 10-14 days after surgery.
Your consultant may recommend physiotherapy to help you learn to do everyday activities while protecting your back. Therapy may also include exercises to strength the muscles in your back.
About six weeks after your surgery you will need to come back for an x-ray. Your surgeon will confirm if your fusion has occurred and give you advice on increasing any activity.
It can take several months to recover from spinal fusion. Discuss any return to work with your consultant.
Most people make a good recovery from spinal fusion. As with any procedure there can be complications:
- Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis)
- Reaction to anaesthetic
Specific complications of spinal fusion may include:
- Failed fusion
- Continued back pain
- Nerve damage
- Increase wear and tear in another part of your spine
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