The spine is made of bones called vertebrae. For a number of reasons, your vertebrae may become unstable or shift into an undesirable position. In some cases, your doctor will recommend spinal fusion surgery to stabilize the vertebrae to prevent further damage.
Your doctor may recommend spinal fusion surgery to repair fractured vertebrae, correcting a spinal curve, correcting instability or as part of the treatment following other spinal surgery (herniated discs, spinal stenosis and so on.)
What is surgery like?
In spinal fusion surgery, your doctor uses a bone graft, bone substitute and/or some type of device between the vertebrae that require fusion. Over time, a fusion heals and locks the vertebrae together providing a more stable situation. The bone graft may be from your hip, or in certain cases from a bone bank.
The extent of the spinal fusion surgery depends on the location of the vertebrae in question and how complicated the condition is. If the surgeon uses a bone graft from the patient to complete the spinal fusion surgery, that may extend recovery time, but it is also the most successful.
Fusion surgery is successful in more than 90 percent of the cases.
What about recovery?
Patients should plan to spend on average two days in the hospital following spinal fusion surgery. If surgery is extensive, you may have a longer hospital stay or spend some time in a rehabilitation center before returning home.
Spinal fusion surgery usually requires a longer recovery before returning to normal activities than other kinds of spinal surgeries.
The doctor must determine that bone healing is taking place and that usually is not evident before three months following the surgery. Bone healing may take up to a year to complete.
How soon you can return to your job or other normal activities will depend on the extent of your surgery and your general health. Younger patients with uncomplicated surgery may return to modified work in four to six weeks. Extensive surgery may require a longer period before return to work is allowed.
Your doctor may prescribe a rehabilitation program following surgery that may include assistive devices such as back braces or other aids.