Spinal Fusion Can Relieve Back Pain, Restore Movement

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Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure in which two or more of your vertebrae are fused together so they become one solid bone. Spine surgeon Norah Foster, MD, explains that spinal fusion is a major surgery, done to relieve pain in various areas of the back: the neck, middle back, or lower back. But not everyone is a candidate.

“Most candidates for spinal fusion have too much movement in their spine, which can be very painful,” says Dr. Foster. “Spinal fusion can eliminate the pain by decreasing movement.” It also prevents the stretching of nerves and ligaments in the area, which may be adding to the pain.

What Conditions Can Be Helped With Spinal Fusion?

There are many reasons why your doctor may recommend spinal fusion, says Dr. Foster. They include:

“Sometimes a fusion will relieve leg pain, depending on the cause of the pain,” says Dr. Foster. “Overall, there’s a broad range of reasons for spinal fusion.”

In the past it was thought that spinal fusion could relieve many instances of lower back pain. But spinal fusion should not be considered a solution for lower back pain that is muscular in nature, says Dr. Foster. “It’s important for patients to understand that the right surgery for the right patient for the right reason can have very successful outcomes.”

What Is the Measure Of Success?

The rate of success varies depending on the reason for the surgery and the technique used by the surgeon. “What we’re aiming for is a resolution to the patient’s symptoms: their pain is gone, or they can stand up straight, for example,” says Dr. Foster.

In some instances, you may be able to improve your chances of a successful resolution to your problem. Dr. Foster explains:

  • Quit smoking. Patients who smoke may have a more difficult time healing because smoking limits blood supply to the bone.
  • If you have diabetes, get your A1C under control. A high A1C can create complications.
  • Lose weight. If your body mass index is above 35, the healing process probably won’t go as smoothly as your doctor would like.

Prior to and after the procedure, your surgeon will rely on your primary care doctor, specialists like cardiologists, and other medical teams, to ensure the spinal fusion gets the results you’re after.

Does Spinal Fusion Limit Future Mobility?

Immediately following surgery, you may have to limit your activity while the fusion heals. “Listening to your surgeon and being compliant with the postoperative instructions is important,” says Dr. Foster.

Following a full recovery, your ability to bend, twist, and move freely will likely be more limited. “Your movement will vary depending on the location of the surgery, and how many levels were fused,” Dr. Foster explains. “Keep in mind that for some, movement prior to surgery was already severely limited because of the pain; and so they actually may be able to move more freely after the fusion than before.”

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.