If your doctor has recommended that you undergo a spinal fusion surgery, it’s important that you understand what’s involved in the procedure before you decide to proceed. While most doctors do mean well, following their recommendation may not be the best option in your situation.
A back fusion is not a simple surgery and it’s not a low-cost one either. Depending on the type of surgery being recommended, the cost for a spinal fusion can exceed $100,000. The good news is that there are options other than spinal fusion.
Understanding the Purpose of a Spinal Fusion
A spinal fusion will not fix your back or cure your pain entirely. The primary purpose of a fusion is to minimize your pain by reducing the levels of your spinal mobility. Some patients are disappointed to find out after the surgery that their pain levels have only been minimally reduced at the cost of worse mobility.
The procedure itself is commonly used to treat degenerative disc disease but is also used for a variety of back problems including stenosis, scoliosis, tumors, trauma, and more. In the procedure, patients are placed under anesthesia for the entire duration of the surgery. An incision can be made in the front, back, or sides of the patient, depending on the nature of the back problem. The spine will be decompressed and a bone graft will be installed. Other hardware may be used which include plates, screws, and rods.
Complete recovery after the operation will typically take 3 months.
The Risks of a Back Fusion
A procedure of this nature is not without risk. As with any major invasive surgery, you’ll have the standard risks involved with being placed under anesthesia. In the short-term, patients are at risk for issues like bleeding, infection, and permanent nerve damage.
In up to 40% of surgeries, the bone graft won’t heal and will require additional surgery which also has its own set of risks. Pain after surgery is normal but in about a third of cases, patients will experience chronic pain that won’t go away.
Other drawbacks of spinal fusion include increased disc degeneration on nearby vertebrae and reduced range of motion. Because the surgery limits your range of motion, more stress is placed on other areas of your spine. Over the long-term, this can result in serious degeneration and the need for more surgery. This makes spinal fusion a poor long-term option for back problems. This is of particular concern when a younger adult or child opts for a fusion.
Non-Surgical Alternatives to Spinal Fusion
A 2008 study performed by Consumer’s Medical Resource (CMR) found that 1 out of 3 workers were able to avoid back surgery by opting for alternative treatment options. The patients that declined surgery were found to be satisfied with their decision and reported a healthier, more pain-free life afterward.
There’s a variety of natural alternatives to back surgery available to patients in pain. A few options are outlined below.
1) Nutritional Therapy
By providing important nutrients to our body through diet and supplementation, disc degeneration can be halted and even reversed. Patients will need to reevaluate their dietary choices and opt for healthier food. Supplementation is also critical. Important nutrients for back pain include:
The use of herbal remedies may also help with pain management. This could include turmeric, devil’s claw, and CBD oil for pain.
2) Physical Therapy
Physical back pain treatment options include massage therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture. Patients are also encouraged to practice physical activity like stretching and yoga.
Prolotherapy treatment involves injecting an irritant that will help promote the healing process. Growing research on the use of this treatment has shown that prolotherapy may be beneficial in the case of joint degeneration.
Is a Spinal Fusion Worth It?
Spinal fusions are clearly a major surgery with certain risks involved. Patients will need to weigh those risks when deciding on their options. However, if your doctor has led you to believe back surgery is the only option, you may want to consider seeking out a second opinion before proceeding with an operation that is difficult to reverse.