Spinal Fusion Surgery Promotes Stability and Realignment of the Spine
November 3, 2023
What Is Spinal Fusion Surgery?
According to orthopedic surgeon Eric Sundberg, MD, who has been performing surgery at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center for almost a decade, instability, or abnormal motion, often a side effect of arthritis, occurs when there is too much motion between spinal bones, causing leg or lower back pain. Spinal fusion surgery helps to promote stability in the spine by connecting or “fusing” two or more vertebra (or bones) in the spinal column to help them grow together. Spinal fusion can also be helpful in realigning vertebra or in regaining height to take pressure off the spinal nerves in patients with congenital conditions, such as scoliosis.
Most of the spinal fusion surgeries performed at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center are for lumbar spine (or lower back) conditions to help alleviate pain due to degenerative conditions, resulting from the normal “wear and tear” experienced by patients as they get older or with arthritis.
“We try to perform the surgery as minimally invasive as we can with smaller incisions and less muscle disruption,” says Dr. Sundberg. “We use magnification and special retractors to avoid damage to the muscle structures around the spine. Often, we can do this by approaching the spine from the front (anterior spinal fusion) or the side (lateral access) to avoid going through the big muscles around the back of the spine. The surgery involves placing bone or a bonelike material (bone graft) in the space between the vertebrae and fusing together, with screws and rods, and often a spacer or cage, which goes between the vertebrae while the bone graft heals.
“We always try conservative management first, including physical therapy, medications and sometimes cortisone injections. On rare occasions, symptoms are so severe, including compromised motor function in the legs, that it becomes necessary to skip those steps and go right to surgery,” says Dr. Sundberg.
“Sometimes people have the impression that spine surgery doesn’t work or can’t help them,” says Dr. Sundberg. “But I think this is probably based on what they hear from people who may have had surgery a long time ago. From my experience, with good indications on how to fix my patients’ problems, and with the right procedures, success rates for pain relief can be very high."
Advice for Patients
“Patients should be very well educated about their procedure and potential complications and have a good idea of what their recovery process will entail. Most importantly, they need to be comfortable with their surgeon,” says Dr. Sundberg. “Our practice has a team-based approach. They talk to me first and I go over their condition, describing in detail what their condition is and the procedure that will help them. Other clinical team members also go over the details of the procedure and what to expect during surgery and recovery. We also make sure that we collaborate with the other specialists the patient sees so that everyone is on board with the patient’s plan of care. Most of my lumbar fusion patients stay overnight and go home from the hospital the next day."
Pain Relief Is the Advantage
“Problems with the lumbar spine or neck can be very debilitating. These conditions can affect every aspect of someone’s life. It’s hard to function when you’re having severe back pain that can be unrelenting. Nerve pain can be just miserable. Seeing my patients go from excruciating pain to doing very well is definitely the most rewarding part of my job,” adds Dr. Sundberg.
Individual results may vary. There are risks associated with any surgical procedure. Talk with your doctor about these risks to find out if spinal fusion surgery is right for you.