Spinal Fusion

Causes and Symptoms

A spinal fusion is a serious medical procedure during which two or more of the vertebrae within the patient’s spine are permanently fused together. The vertebrae involved in the fusion will no longer have any movement between them, limiting the overall physical capacity of the patient. Although this is a serious and permanent step in the long term health of a patient, it is sometimes the only option to reduce or remove pain due to an injury or preexisting condition. Physical therapy after the spinal fusion can help to greatly improve the range of motion and strength that the patient is able to regain.


Applications of Spinal Fusion

There are many different reasons why a patient may decide to undergo a spinal fusion operation. One of the most common is chronic lower back pain. This is usually the last resort to treat back pain that has not been successfully treated or diagnosed through any other method. Other reasons for a spinal fusion include a broken vertebra that is not healing properly, or spinal deformities. In any of these cases, the spinal fusion is the last option for correction because it is non-reversible and will result in a loss of motion for the patient.

One of the reasons that spinal fusion is such a serious decision is that the areas around the fusion site are more likely to deteriorate quickly after the procedure. Since the fused portion of the spine cannot function as it once did, other areas take up more of the burden for controlling the body and will begin to wear out faster. Good physical therapy is important in this area to make sure the body is working as well as possible to limit the amount of damage that is done to other joint. Beginning physical therapy as soon as possible after the procedure will be beneficial in speeding up the recovery process and improving the overall chances of success for the fusion.

Once given the go-ahead to begin a physical therapy program after a spinal fusion, usually around three months post-op, the patient has the responsibility of working hard to complete all exercises and stretches recommended by the therapist. Because the spine is such an integral part of overall physical health, rehabilitation from this operation is very important. Even if the surgery is successful, the results will not be ideal unless the patient follows through on all of the physical therapy. The exercises required are likely to be difficult and even somewhat painful, but the rewards will be there in the end.

No joint fusion, especially one in the spine, can be taken lightly. This is a permanent procedure with profound impacts on the physical capacity you will have for the rest of your life. However, spinal fusion can make the best of a bad situation and allow you to regain function and remove pain that might not have been relieved any other way. If you are currently preparing for, or recovering from, a spinal fusion, make sure to give physical therapy the proper respect as an integral part of your overall back health.