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Will I Lose Mobility After Spinal Fusion?

Physical therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic care, pain medications, and anti-inflammatory injections can work wonders for chronic back pain. However, these tried-and-true solutions don’t always deliver complete, sustainable relief — especially if your discomfort is the product of spinal instability or age-related degeneration.  

When conservative treatment strategies fail to alleviate or minimize persistent back discomfort, back surgery is often the best way to restore spinal stability and re-establish pain-free mobility. 

Here at Subach Spinal Solutions in Arlington, Virginia, we know that for as life-changing as back surgery can be, it’s also shrouded by misconceptions and misinformation. Spinal fusion is no exception, so we’d like to set the record straight on this common treatment. In this blog, Brian Subach, MD, FACS, explains what spinal fusion is, how it can help, and what kind of outcome you can expect.

Spinal fusion basics

A spinal fusion uses bone graft material to permanently fuse together two adjoining vertebrae in your spine. It may be done to stop abnormal or excessive joint motion between the bones, or it may be done to transform two weak or unstable bones into one larger bone that’s stronger and more supportive. 

Once it’s set in place, the bone graft material forms a powerful, stable bond between the two vertebrae. Metal rods and screws may be used to keep the graft in place during the healing process so it can form a single, solid unit. 

Spinal fusion benefits

Spinal fusion surgery can effectively address a range of spine-related disorders and conditions associated with chronic back pain, including: 

Vertebral fractures

While many vertebral breaks don’t require surgery, spinal fusion is an ideal solution for any bone fracture that makes your spine less stable, including osteoporotic compression fractures. 

Spinal instability

Degenerative conditions, such as arthritis or spinal stenosis, can cause abnormal motion between vertebrae and make your spine less stable over time. A severely damaged or herniated spinal disc can cause similar vertebral instability. Spinal fusion can address both of these problems. 

Structural deformities

Spinal fusion can be used to correct the sideways curvature of the spine (scoliosis). It can also be used to correct the abnormal rounding of the upper spine (kyphosis). 

No matter what the underlying objective happens to be, the overriding goal of any spinal fusion surgery is to reduce or eliminate spine-related pain so you can move normally once again.  

Spinal fusion outcomes

Spinal fusion is designed to stiffen a problematic section of spine as a matter of necessity, so it’s only natural that many people worry about how the procedure might change their mobility and overall range of motion.

Fusion doesn’t freeze the spine

While spinal fusion does restrict mobility within the treated vertebrae in order to put an end to painful joint motion, it doesn’t freeze your entire spine. In fact, this small joint limitation is precisely what helps you overcome the pain that limits your range of motion in the first place. 

Remember, the 33 vertebrae that make up your spine work together to help you enjoy a wide range of motion. Spinal fusion simply creates a localized immobility that’s offset by increased motion in nearby spinal discs and/or the hip joint.

The limiting effects of a spinal fusion are much less pronounced when the surgery involves just one or two vertebrae ― as it does in 80% of cases ― or when it involves a segment of spine that has less motion to begin with, such as the lumbosacral joint. 

Fusion helps increase mobility

Most people are able to resume their normal, active lives — including participating in recreational sports — once they’re fully healed. Many patients actually tell us that spinal fusion has allowed them to become even more active, as they no longer experience pain every time they move.  

Whenever possible, our team uses minimally invasive endoscopic techniques to perform spinal fusion surgery. Because minimally invasive spinal surgery can be done with very little disruption to surrounding tissues, it comes with fewer risks and makes the healing and recovery process easier, faster, and less painful. 

If you’d like to learn more about spinal fusion surgery, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Subach Spinal Solutions today.

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