Personal injury victims suffer from a number of serious injuries. One of the most serious types of injuries is a spinal injury. When someone suffers trauma to their spine, a variety of treatment options may be explored.
Spinal fusion surgery or arthrodesis is a special operation in which a surgeon fuses together multiple vertebrae. It helps to eliminate motion between vertebrae and to relieve pain. A successful operation prevents nerves, ligaments and muscles in the area from stretching to minimize pain.
Causes of Trauma
Spinal fusion surgery may be used to treat a number of medical conditions, including scoliosis, stenosis, degenerative disc disease and spinal compression fractures caused by osteoporosis. However, the surgery is quite commonly used in relation to fractures and other damage caused by personal injury accidents, including motor vehicle accidents, employment-related accidents, crushing injuries and falls.
Spinal fusion surgery is considered a major surgery. The purpose of the surgery is to get the vertebrae in the correct position and then hold them in place so that they can be fused together. The surgeon uses a gaft such as a bone over the problem area of the spine or between the vertebrae. The gaft may consist of the patient’s own bone or one from a bank.
Once the vertebrae are in the proper position, the surgeon uses screws, rods, plates or cages to hold the vertebrae in place. In order to place these items in the patient, the surgeon usually makes a one or two-inch incision. The screws are placed in a tube of bone into the vertebrae and then attached to the rods or plates. This action prevents movement from the area vertebrae so that they can fuse.
Patients who receive this type of surgery are usually required to remain in the hospital for at least a few days in order for their medical staff to properly observe their recovery.
All surgeries come with inherent risks. Surgery may result in the patient suffering from blood clots, experiencing breathing problems, developing an infection or suffering another medical condition while undergoing surgery, such as a stroke. Spinal fusion surgery in particular also carries the risk that the vertebral bones may become infected or that the spinal nerve can be damaged. If the latter occurs, a loss of sensation, bladder problems, bowel problems, weakness or pain may develop.
Another important consideration is that this type of surgery may help increase the rate of deterioration, which can lead to complications down the line. Additionally, the surgery causes movement to be limited and spinal flexibility to be decreased, which can cause the patient to experience some discomfort and difficulty tending to routine activities.
Spinal fusion surgery patients face a long recovery, usually significantly longer than other types of spinal surgery. Some patients immediately transition from a regular hospital stay to the rehabilitation unit. Patients must usually wear a brace immediately after their surgery and for weeks to come in order to keep the vertebrae in the proper position and so that the bone can become solid. Patients must adhere to specific directions from their surgeon in order to prevent further damage or regression, such as maintaining proper posture as they sit, stand, walk and reposition. For this reason, many surgeons require patients to limit all mobility for several days after the surgery or limit some movements such as walking. As the patient’s have their strength restored, they are usually able to gradually restore their activity level.
Patients complete rehabilitative exercises in order to restore their back function and overall strength. The patient may take anywhere between two and six months to acquire normal functioning. The range is based on the patient’s age and health, as well as comfort level. Some patients report that they feel more comfortable within weeks of the procedure.
Physical therapy after surgery gradually increases in intensity. For the first few days after surgery, patients may only be permitted to complete short walks. Mild stretching activities may then be implemented into the routine, using 30-second holds and three repetitions in two sets each day. After a few weeks, patients may commence higher intensity exercises, such as stretching their nerves. They may lay on their back and slowly lift one leg at a time with their hands holding the leg for support. Another common exercise is for the patient to lay on his or her stomach and then bring his or heal in toward the middle of the body as far as the body will allow it to be stretched. Patients usually receive specific instructions regarding the types of exercises that they can complete that their body can handle and that may provide some relief for the pain they are experiencing. Do not begin an exercise regimen without first consulting with your doctor.