Spinal fusion benefits often help alleviate pain from compression of spinal nerves due to excessive vertebral motion or slippage. The majority of patients who undergo a laminectomy with spinal fusion experience considerable relief from back pain symptoms from conditions such as spinal stenosis (Houten, 2003). For those whose main symptom is neurological claudication due to cervical spinal stenosis, the outcome of a laminectomy with fusion is usually very successful with symptoms being relieved rapidly after surgery and continuing to provide benefit longer term. Chen (2009) observed an average 62.4% improvement in neurological symptoms of patients undergoing this procedure. If fusion is not performed then the spine may, however, become unstable, with further fusion surgery required at a later date.
Minimally Invasive Spinal Fusion
Minimal access techniques allow the patient to experience less tissue trauma and have a faster recovery in the majority of cases. In an open back surgery procedure it is necessary to cut through some back muscles in order to access the spine, the healing of these muscles can drastically increase recovery time. Less blood loss during minimally invasive spinal fusion is also advantageous as it reduces the need for blood transfusion, usually due to less muscle damage occurring during the procedure. Patients often need less narcotic medication after minimally invasive surgery. After spinal fusion surgery, most patients are unable to use NSAIDs for at least six months as this can affect the success rate of fusion. Narcotic medications, however, can be addictive, so it may be inadvisable to use them for any significant amount of time.
The healing process
It may take a number of weeks or months for recovery from spinal fusion, with damaged nerves taking six to eighteen months on average to recover from compression. Following the guidelines as laid out by the surgeon for post-operative care is imperative to effect a positive rehabilitation. Most patients will experience some improvement in spinal cord function, with healthier nerve signal transmission, improved walking and general mobility of the limbs, improvements in fine motor skills, and a reduction in neck pain and numbness. The extent of the recovery depends enormously on the severity of the damage that occurred prior to surgery, as a patient who has lost a lot of sensation, or all sensation in a limb, for example, may find that the numbness remains in part after surgery as the nerve has been permanently damaged by the cervical spinal stenosis. Spinal fusion surgery is often considered a success if the bone graft forms a union and prevents an escalation in symptoms due to decompression, even if the symptoms themselves do not necessarily improve.
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