How to Prepare for Spinal Fusion Back Surgery?

Spinal fusion is often performed in conjunction with spinal decompression surgery for various spinal conditions. Decompression surgery alleviates pressure on pinched nerves that extend from the spine. This process reduces pain and restricted mobility stemming from nerve compression.

Unfortunately, spinal decompression also involves removing portions of the vertebrae. This makes the spine weaker and less stable at the affected segment. To prevent further injury, spine specialists commonly use spinal fusion to stabilize the spine after decompression.

Spinal fusion involves fusing two or more adjacent vertebrae into a single bone with a bone graft. As a major surgery, spinal fusion requires extensive preparation and recovery to achieve the best possible results.

What Should You Do Before Spinal Fusion Surgery?

The process of preparing for spinal fusion surgery is similar to preparing for any other spinal operation. However, there are a few specifics to be aware of. 

How To Prepare For Lumbar Spinal Fusion?

Firstly, be prepared to undergo a thorough examination before the surgery. This is essential for your physicians to plan every aspect of the operation. Radiograph assessments for spinal stability, electromyography (EMG) for nerve function, and an MRI, CAT, or other imaging tests to identify nerve compression are often performed.

Your doctors will also assess your overall physical condition to ensure that you’re in sufficient health to undergo the rigors of the surgery. You’ll need to discuss all pre-existing medical conditions with your physicians. These conditions may need to be further evaluated before proceeding with spinal fusion surgery.

With this in mind, one of the most important ways to prepare for spinal fusion is to get into the best possible physical condition. This may involve quitting smoking, improving your diet, and increasing your physical fitness (while following all of your doctor’s instructions). Being in good physical condition translates into fewer complications during surgery and a faster recovery afterward.

How To Equip Your Home For Better Recovery After Spinal Fusion

Most patients are cleared to return home two to four days after spinal fusion. Make sure to plan ahead and have someone drive you home from the hospital. Typically, patients aren’t allowed to drive for a few weeks after lumbar fusion.

There are several ways to equip your home for smooth spinal surgery recovery. Our best tips include:

  1. Plan for simple meals after the surgery. Consider subscribing to a grocery delivery service or, better yet, a meal kit service. Many meal kits require little to no preparation and are delivered straight to your doorstep. This will help simplify your meals after the surgery.

    For a DIY version of delivery meal kits, consider meal prepping before the procedure and placing the dishes in the freezer. When you’re at home post-fusion, you can defrost the meals to stay nourished without the need to cook.

    Keep in mind that the ideal post-spinal surgery diet should be high in protein and fiber. Additionally, try to avoid processed foods and stick with whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. 
  1. Purchase ice packs and heating pads, if you don’t have them already. Both cold and heat therapy are useful after spinal surgery. Cold therapy can help alleviate inflammation, while heat therapy can help ease muscle tension.

    Make sure to take your doctor’s advice for heat and cold therapy, and limit your use to 15 to 20 minutes at a time. 
  1. Consider a walker or cane. Moving around your home can be difficult in the early days and weeks after fusion. A walker or cane can help provide stability and prevent accidents. 
  1. Place everyday items in an easy-to-access location that you won’t need to twist or bend over to reach. You can also consider purchasing a reacher/gripper/grabber device, which will help you retrieve items without straining your spine. 
  1. Prep the bathroom with a toilet riser and shower seat or mat. These devices will make it easier to use the toilet and to spend more time in the shower, which can help alleviate pain and tension. 
  1. Sleeping can be difficult after spinal fusion. To make it easier, consider purchasing a body pillow, which may help you find more comfortable sleeping positions.  

How Many Years Does a Spinal Fusion Last?

The results of spinal fusion are permanent. This means that the affected vertebrae are permanently fused and can’t be separated. However, there are some instances in which patients require revision surgery, including:

  • Fusion failure

Fusion failure occurs when the targeted vertebrae fail to combine into a single bone after the procedure. When this occurs, the patient will continue to experience back pain and neurological symptoms. Patients who have used corticosteroids are at a higher risk of fusion failure, as are patients who underwent fusion without fusion hardware.

  • Hardware failure

Hardware is often used during spinal fusion to stabilize the bone graft. Rarely, this hardware may become damaged or malfunction after the procedure. In these cases, the hardware may move around and irritate the neighboring tissue, leading to pain.

  • Adjacent segment disease, or ASD

Adjacent segment disease can develop when the vertebrae adjacent the fused segment break down at a faster-than-usual rate. Since the fusion eliminates all motion at the fused segment, the adjacent vertebrae must undergo added strain. Adjacent segment disease can lead to back pain and neurological symptoms, creating the need for revision surgery.

  • Scar tissue

The body produces scar tissue during its natural healing process. Generally, scar tissue doesn’t cause any problems. However, after spinal procedures like spinal fusion, scar tissue may irritate or constrict a nerve root, which can cause neurological symptoms.

What Are The Long-Term Effects of Spinal Fusion Surgery?

In a perfect world, spinal fusion surgery would rid all patients of chronic back pain without future complications. But, in reality, spinal fusion creates the risk of various complications later in life.

Can spinal fusion cause problems later in life?

Future complications that may result from spinal fusion surgery include:

  • Adjacent segment disease
  • Spinal muscle injury, which may lead to instability and further injuries
  • Chronic pain at the bone graft site
  • Spinal nerve damage
  • Poor spinal mobility at the site of the fusion, which can limit patients’ activities

Alongside chronic pain, poor mobility is a major concern among patients facing spinal fusion. Without the ability to bend, flex, or twist at the fused segment, many patients lose the mobility required for their favorite activities. Some patients may always need a reacher device to pick up items off of the floor.

With these possible complications in mind, spinal surgery of any kind, including spinal fusion should only be considered a last resort. Physicians only recommended it if more conservative treatments have proven ineffective.

Are Lumbar Spinal Fusion Alternatives Available?

Considering the prominent downsides of spinal fusion, it’s unsurprising that many patients with spinal conditions seek out alternative treatments. Now, patients undergoing spinal decompression have an alternative procedure to consider.

The TOPS (Total Posterior Solution) System has long been used in Europe and Australia, with better outcomes than spinal fusion. Now, it’s being used across many states in the U.S. and has earned the FDA breakthrough designation.

TOPS is a non-fusion lumbar spine implant that stabilizes the spine without eliminating the independent motion of the individual vertebrae. With TOPS, patients recover with far fewer restrictions and in a much shorter time frame than with spinal fusion.

One of the best ways to prepare for spinal fusion is to discover if an alternative solution like the TOPS System from Premia Spine makes more sense than spinal fusion for you or a loved one. Contact your spinal specialist to learn more about all of the treatment options available today.

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