Patient Journey: Spinal Fusion Surgery

Seated patient talking with neurosurgeon

Spinal fusion is a type of surgery designed to eliminate severe back or neck pain by stopping movement between two vertebrae. While it is not a good fit for every patient, fusion surgery may be an option for pain or nerve injury caused by conditions such as spinal stenosis, scoliosis, or spinal fractures. Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO) in northern New Jersey treats patients with a wide range of spinal conditions and can assess when surgery might be the best path. Learn more about fusion surgery and the patient’s journey through this treatment.


When Is Spinal Fusion Surgery Recommended?

Many spinal conditions, such as degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and spinal stenosis, can be treated with non-invasive pain management treatments. However, if severe neck or back pain does not resolve with conservative care, surgical interventions may be the next step.

One option for strengthening and stabilizing the spine is spinal fusion surgery. This procedure can be used to treat:

  • Spinal injuries: Fractures, spinal infections, or traumatic injuries such as those often experienced in a motor vehicle accident, can weaken and destabilize the spine.
  • Spinal deformities: Severe cases of scoliosis or kyphosis can cause an abnormal curvature in the spine that needs to be corrected with surgery.
  • Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal canal that can be caused by osteoarthritis, stenosis can compress the spinal cord or nerve roots.
  • Spondylolisthesis: This is a spinal condition in which one vertebra slips forward on top of another. Severe slippage can cause radiating pain, numbness, weakness, and paralysis.

When performed by a skilled and knowledgeable surgeon, spinal fusion can be very effective. The orthopedic spine surgeons and neurosurgeons at CNSO have extensive experience treating spinal conditions, advising patients on when fusion surgery might be beneficial, and performing complicated surgical procedures.


Treatment and Evaluation

Because CNSO’s medical staff takes a conservative approach to care, they will treat patients with non-invasive options whenever possible, such as physical therapy or epidural steroid injections, and will recommend surgery only if necessary.

If the spine has become severely arthritic, brittle, or misaligned, conservative care may not be sufficient to relieve neck or back pain. Additionally, nerve compression ultimately can affect muscle strength, coordination, bladder and bowel function, and sexual function.

Spinal fusion surgically stabilizes the spine and immobilizes the vertebra that is causing pain. As part of the surgical plan, spinal decompression treatments like a laminectomy or discectomy also may be performed. To assess whether a patient is a good candidate for fusion surgery, a spine specialist may use imaging tests such as:

  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

These tests pinpoint the source of a patient’s pain and help the team create a surgical plan. A provider also may use nerve conduction studies (NCS) or electromyography (EMG) to determine whether spinal compression has caused nerve damage.


What to Expect During Fusion Surgery

Spinal fusion surgery is performed under general anesthesia, so the patient is asleep during the procedure without any discomfort or awareness. The neurosurgeon will make a small incision to access the spine above the level of the spine in need of correction.

Only the portion of the spine that is causing the patient’s symptoms is removed. This will relieve compression on the affected nerves and spinal cord. The neurosurgeon will then reconstruct the area of the spine using a graft and a small artificial implant to maintain the height and alignment of the spine. The spine surgeon will stabilize the spine with small bio hardware, such as biosynthetic plates, rods, or screws depending on the degree of reconstruction required. Once the procedure is complete, the neurosurgeon will close the incision site with stitches for rapid healing and minimal scarring.


Recovering From Fusion Surgery

After a multilevel fusion surgery, the patient will need to stay in the hospital for a day or two. While the patient can sit and walk the same day of the surgery, within a few days daily living activities can be tolerated. Heavy lifting can take up to six months to fully recover from spinal fusion because the bone graft needs time to grow and permanently fuse the vertebrae. Most patients will begin physical therapy a few weeks after their back surgery to help regain strength and mobility. They also learn proper body mechanics to protect the spine moving forward.


Choose CNSO for Spine Surgery

As the most comprehensive spine care center in New Jersey, CNSO is uniquely equipped to manage the entire patient journey. Whether conservative care like physical therapy is all that is needed or whether spine surgery is necessary, CNSO has the on-site experts to manage every aspect of treatment. The medical team includes board-certified neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, surgical rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists, all working in coordination to support patients at each step of their journey. CNSO has multiple locations for treating patients throughout northern New Jersey. To learn more or schedule an appointment, contact CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics