Spinal Fusion: Just the Facts
Most people have at least one episode of low back pain at some point in their lives. And many, in fact, experience chronic low back pain.
When traditional medical treatments, such as physical therapy, exercise and medication fail to bring about any long-lasting relief, a doctor may recommend spinal fusion surgery to correct the problem. This usually occurs in situations where there is degenerative disc disease, a herniated disc or a severe injury to the spine. Spinal fusion surgery is sometimes recommended to correct scoliosis (curvature of the spine) or other irregular curves in the spine.
What happens during fusion surgery? In a 2 - 12 hour long procedure, under general anesthesia, bone from the patient's hip, or from a donor, is used to graft two adjacent vertebrae. The graft is put in place so that the disc and joints between them are no longer able to move. The fusion forms a bridge, using bone, screws, rods and pins that link the vertebrae together. This provides stability to the spine and reduces pain. At least that's the intent of the surgery.
Risks involved? There are several: administration of general anesthesia, bleeding, infection, rejection of donor bone, blood clots, stroke, heart attack and nerve damage. Full recovery can take up to a year or even longer. The success rate may actually be lower in patients with diabetes and osteoporosis, those who smoke or are overweight, and those who may have had radiation therapy that included the lower spine.
Obviously there are risks with any surgery, but back surgery patients frequently suffer from Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. This occurs when a patient is in the same or worse shape as they were in prior to the surgery.
Chiropractic care has shown some impressive results in patients with scoliosis, degenerative disc disease or herniated discs. Many patients have avoided surgery altogether after undergoing routine chiropractic care. We believe that it is an alternative that deserves careful consideration when other traditional approaches to back pain have been tried and have failed. Chiropractic adjustments, along with other non-invasive treatment modalities, may make surgery an option that doesn't even require consideration.