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What is it?
Spinal Fusion is a surgery that is performed when fusion of the spine is required. This can be done at any level, and can involve as few as two levels or in rare circumstances a large portion of the spinal column. This could be for a variety of reasons including degenerative disease or trauma.
What is its goal?
With many degenerative or traumatic diseases of the spinal column, fusion is required to maintain the alignment or prevent further disease. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways but the end goal is to cause fusion of the spinal column at the segments in question.
How is it done?
Your surgeon will describe to you in specific detail how he or she performs the surgery. There are multiple ways to accomplish spinal fusion and your surgeon can describe the specific approach he or she is planning on using. Your surgeon may choose to approach the spinal column from the front, the back or at an angle from the side. In most cases, general anesthesia is required. Your surgeon will use anatomic landmarks and X-Rays to identify the proper level for surgery and depending on the specific approach, opening may require retracting the paraspinal muscles (muscles attached to the sides of the spine) and removing the bone at the back. Your surgeon will then remove any abnormal bone and disc material and place a box between the vertebral bodies. He or she will then place screws in the pedicles of the spine and into bodies and connect them with rods. Compounds to aid with bony fusion may be used if deemed necessary. The overlying tissue and skin are then closed with sutures and the anesthesia team will reverse the anesthesia and remove the breathing tube as you wake up.
What are the risks?
In addition to the standard surgical and anesthetic related risks of bleeding, infection, stroke, coma, heart attack, and death, the specific risks to spinal fusion are blood vessel damage, nerve damage, leak of cerebrospinal fluid and the need for further surgery. Most people do very well following a spinal fusion, with low complication rates.
What is the success rate?
In experienced hands, the fusion rate can be as high as 60 - 90+%. This, however, depends on a variety of factors, depending on the level of surgery, and your specific situation. Talk to your surgeon about the specific variables that can affect your fusion success rate.
How long will I stay in the hospital?
Most people will stay in the hospital between 2 – 4 days after their surgery. Various factors, such as mobility, pain control and physical therapy requirements can affect length of stay.