When is Spinal Fusion Necessary?

Performed since the 1900s, spinal fusion is a long-established surgical procedure used to correct spinal conditions, injuries, and deformities. It involves permanently welding two to four vertebrae using bone graft material. As the vertebrae form a single bone, the risk of spinal instability is drastically reduced. 

Table of Contents

  • Who is a Candidate for Spinal Fusion?
  • What is The Best Age for Spinal Fusion?
  • Can You Ever Bend Again After Spinal Fusion?
  • Does Spinal Fusion Shorten Life Expectancy?
  • What Are The Disadvantages of Spinal Fusion?
  • Premia Spine TOPS System – Alternative for Lumbar Spinal Fusion
  • When Premia Spine TOPS System is Not The Solution
  • As a major surgical procedure that permanently reduces spinal mobility, spinal fusion isn’t considered until all conservative treatment options have been exhausted. However, spinal fusion may be necessary for certain cases of severe spinal pain. 

    Who is a Candidate for Spinal Fusion?

    Candidates for spinal fusion typically experience severe back pain, reduced mobility, and a diminished quality of life from one of the following conditions:

    • Spinal stenosis
    • Spondylolisthesis
    • Degenerative disc disease
    • Scoliosis
    • Spinal instability
    • Spinal fractures

    Keep in mind that your physician will also consider your medical history and the extent of your condition to determine if you’re a candidate for spinal fusion. Additionally, physicians typically don’t consider patients as candidates for spinal fusion until they’ve undergone conservative treatments for six to 12 months, to no avail. 

    You may not be considered a candidate for spinal fusion if you:

    • Smoke, as nicotine can sabotage the healing process
    • Use steroids
    • Are obese
    • Have diabetes or osteoporosis

    What is The Best Age for Spinal Fusion?

    There is no best age for spinal fusion. The procedure can be used to alleviate spinal symptoms in adults aged 20 to 80 if the patient is in good overall health. 

    With that said, patients who undergo spinal fusion early in adulthood are more likely to experience the effects of adjacent segment degeneration. This is because they simply have more time to develop spinal degeneration from wear and tear.  

    Can You Ever Bend Again After Spinal Fusion?

    After spinal fusion, you’ll no longer be able to bend at the fused segment. As a result, patients’ mobility is restricted after the procedure. However, patients usually regain the ability to bend and twist the rest of the spine after the fused segment has fully healed. 

    Does Spinal Fusion Shorten Life Expectancy?

    Spinal fusion doesn’t shorten patients’ life expectancies. The procedure may only impact life expectancy if life-threatening surgical complications, such as infection or thrombosis, occur. 

    However, spinal fusion can cause long-term complications, including:

    • Non-union

    In some cases, the vertebrae targeted during spinal fusion fail to fuse. Certain factors increase the risk of non-fusion, including smoking or vaping. 

    • Hardware failure

    In spinal fusion, hardware including screws, plates, cages, and bolts may be used for stability. But, the stress imparted on the lumbar spine with daily motions may cause this hardware to break or loosen after spinal fusion. One study found the incidence of hardware failure after lumbar fusion to be 36%

    • Adjacent segment disease

    Adjacent segment disease, or ASD, is a term used to describe new degeneration at a spinal level adjacent to the fused level. This complication can lead to persistent back pain, stiffness, weakness, numbness, and tingling. 

    What Are The Disadvantages of Spinal Fusion?

    The main disadvantages of spinal fusion include:

    Reduced Mobility

    As we mentioned earlier, spinal fusion eliminates all motion at the fused segment. So, patients lose the ability to bend, twist, and flex the spine at the fused segment. 

    Most fusions involve just two spinal levels, which is known as a two-level fusion. But, if the patient requires a three or even four-level fusion, they’ll experience more significant mobility restrictions. 

    Extensive Recovery Process

    Unfortunately, spinal fusion requires a lengthy recovery process. After the procedure, it can take as long as four to six weeks to return to basic activities around the house. To fully recover from spinal fusion, most patients need between six months and one year. 

    Persistent Pain

    Spinal fusion isn’t guaranteed to eliminate patients’ back pain. In one study, 10% of patients continued to experience pain at the site of the fusion five years after the procedure. 

    Risk of Complications

    Like all forms of surgery, spinal fusion comes with a risk of complications including infection, thrombosis, and adverse reactions to anesthesia. However, it can also cause the complications listed earlier, such as hardware failure and ASD. 

    Premia Spine TOPS System – Alternative for Lumbar Spinal Fusion

    Given that spinal fusion comes with many downsides, patients are often interested in alternatives to the procedure. The Premia Spine TOPS System is an alternative to lumbar spinal fusion that stabilizes the spine without eliminating the motion of the treated segment.

    Regain your mobility with Premia Spine!

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    Bonnie explains why TOPS surgery was the right decision for her

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    Scott speaks about going to surgery

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    The TOPS System is a non-fusion implant device that’s used to replace the tissues removed during spinal decompression. Soft and bony tissues are removed to alleviate nerve compression, and the TOPS System restores a controlled range of motion in the spine. This prevents spinal instability while relieving the symptoms of conditions including spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis. 

    TOPS offers numerous benefits as an alternative for lumbar spinal fusion:

    • Shorter recovery period
    • Fewer restrictions on physical activity and a greater range of motion
    • Reduced risk of adjacent segment degeneration
    • Immediate pain relief

    To learn more about the range of treatment options that Premia Spine offers, find a specialist in your area today. 

    When Premia Spine TOPS System is Not The Solution

    If your spine specialist determines that the TOPS System isn’t the right solution for your symptoms or spine section, you may be asked to consider spinal fusion. Learn other spinal fusion alternatives that might work for you including:   

    • Artificial disc replacement

    If your spinal pain is caused by a severely degenerated spinal disc, artificial disc replacement may work for you. In this procedure, the damaged disc tissue is removed and replaced with an artificial disc. There are several artificial discs available today, and your spine specialist will determine the right one for you. 

    • IDET

    IDET, or intradiscal electrothermal coagulation, involves gently heating the exterior of a spinal disc with a needle passed through a catheter. This process is thought to boost collagen fibers in the disc exterior, leading to pain relief. 

    • Stem cell therapy

    Stem cell therapy may help patients overcome spinal pain without fusion. This treatment involves injecting stem cells directly into the spine. Stem cells can regenerate into any type of cell and may help restore damaged spinal tissue. 

    Spinal fusion can make your quality of life better in separate cases, you do not have to live through daily discomfort of terrible chronic pain.