When is disc fusion a good thing?
Disc fusion is not just some holdover dance step from the disco heydays of the ‘70s. The spinal procedure has been around now for more than two decades. Advances in minimally invasive surgery, stem cell therapies and better understandings of spinal orthopedics make the procedure more effective, and doctors are recommending disc fusion more frequently.
So what IS disc fusion?
Disc fusion is a procedure that encourages two adjacent discs to grow together and act as one. Simply put, if you and your doctor can pinpoint the cause of your pain to movement between two particular vertebrae, then stopping that movement can potentially end the pain. Bone cells are taken from your own pelvis. That grafted material is placed between the two vertebrae where the cells will meld with existing vertebral bone on both sides, thereby fusing them together. In some cases your doctor may recommend a titanium device such as plate to support your spine during healing, or a “cage” to contain the bone graft material.
Disc fusions can be done at any level on the spine from lower back to the neck. Lumbar fusions are the most common. About 80 percent of all fusion surgeries address problems in the L4-L5 space.
“We’ve had great success with fusions in eliminating pain and restoring mobility, and we can help you understand your situation and your options.” said Dr. Solomon Kamson, founder of the Spine Institute Northwest in Bothell, Washington.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
What are the conditions under which a doctor will recommend disc fusion?
The procedure has worked best for:
- Patients who can, with the help of their doctor, pinpoint the source of the pain to the area between two specific vertebrae
- Patients who’ve experienced severe spinal trauma
- Patients who’ve had surgery to remove tumors from their spine
- Patients with scoliosis, a severe curvature of the spine
- Patients with a condition called “degenerative spondylolisthesis”
- Patients with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the space between the vertebrae that leads to increased pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
What do disc fusion patients typically get in pain reduction and mobility?
- Middle-aged patients (average age 42) who undergo lower lumbar surgery tend to do well; 90 percent got substantially better and 75 percent had almost no pain.
- Elderly patients also respond well to lumbar fusion surgery. About 70 percent report less pain, increased mobility and greater endurance.
What are the steps in considering spinal fusion?
- Exhaust all other treatment options with your doctor first, such as physical therapy, injections, weight loss, physical fitness, anti-inflammatory medications, etc.
- Compare the frequency and intensity of pain with the risks of surgery.
- Compare and contrast the pros and cons of open back surgery with minimally invasive surgery.
- Get a second opinion.
- Seek a spine surgeon with a proven track record of success in operations of the type of surgery you require.