Spinal fusion surgery is a procedure that fuses two or more vertebrae together to either realign them or eliminate movement between them. It can restore stability between vertebrae, relieve pain caused by vertebrae rubbing together, or correct spinal deformity or improper curvature.
This surgery may also be used to fix fractured vertebrae – so if you’ve broken your neck or back, you’re likely looking at a spinal fusion surgery at some point. The invasiveness of the surgery may depend on what part of the spine is being fused, how much of the spine is being fused, and what the purpose of the surgery is.
However, spinal fusion surgery is often done either outpatient or requiring only one or two nights in a hospital. More severe complications immediately post-surgery may result in a longer hospitalization; however, it is still unlikely that you would spend more than four or five nights in the hospital after surgery. Despite this, there is always a possibility of experiencing permanent restrictions after spinal fusion surgery.
Possible Restrictions After Spinal Fusion
The most common restrictions that you’ll face after surgery are bending, twisting, and lifting. It’s important to listen to your doctor with regard to these restrictions, as not following your restrictions may result in damage to the fusion. In order for the bone and fusion to heal correctly, you should keep them as still and stable as possible.
You may be in a back brace for a period of time after the surgery that will prevent you from twisting or bending in order to stabilize the bones and the fusion and allow them to heal properly. If you must lift, you should lift using your knees and legs and not your back. This will allow your back to stay stabilized and will minimize the risk of damage or further injury.
A physical therapist and an occupational therapist will likely be working with you after a spinal fusion surgery to help make sure that you understand the restrictions given to you by your doctor and to help make sure that you are moving correctly and in a way that allows for the most healing and the most mobility.
The healing process can be very slow. Even for one to two years after a spinal fusion surgery, vertebrae may be healing, and nerve damage can take up to 24 months to heal.
Nerve damage during spinal fusion surgery may result in pain in your back, where the fusion surgery was performed, but it may also result in pain in your arms, legs, or other parts of the body, depending on what nerve is damaged.
You may experience tingling, discomfort, or numbness as a result of nerve damage during spinal fusion surgery. If you have surgery in more than one place, meaning you have more than two vertebrae fused together, you may be more likely to face permanent restrictions.
One common restriction is avoiding contact sports or other extreme sports. It’s also common to be instructed to limit your time spent lifting weights, performing certain exercises, and engaging in other physical activities. Even if you aren’t completely restricted or informed not to engage in any physical activity, having your activity limited is still a restriction as a result of a spinal fusion surgery. You’ll be working closely with a physical therapist to learn how to move safely and reduce the risk of damaging your fusion.
For the first few days after spinal fusion surgery, you may still be in the hospital. Your doctor is likely to give you a back brace that will help to protect the fused vertebrae and keep them in place and protected while they heal. During this time, you’ll also likely start meeting with a physical and occupational therapist to discuss healing and starting basic activities of daily living.
For the first 24 weeks, or six months, after your surgery, you won’t be able to lift, bend, or twist. This may turn into a permanent lifting restriction after spinal fusion surgery, as you may never be able to lift fully again.
You’ll be working with a physical therapist frequently for at least the first six months, with part of this time being spent learning how to move properly so as to not aggravate the fused vertebrae further. For the first year, it’s still recommended to avoid extreme sports and to be careful with certain movements, including bending, lifting, and twisting.
Common Spinal Fusion Alternatives
You should work closely with your doctor or medical team to determine if spinal fusion surgery is the right course of action for you. There are other procedures that may be performed instead depending on your diagnosis and symptoms, including pain levels and types of pain.
A cervical disc replacement, an endoscopic lumbar discectomy, a coflex lumbar interlaminar device, an endoscopic rhizotomy, or an intracept procedure may all be viable alternatives – your doctor and your medical team are best situated to determine if a spinal fusion surgery is the most appropriate treatment for you or if another procedure may be a better option.
The treatment modality used will depend on what is causing your pain, the diagnosis made by your surgeon, the part of your spine that is injured or damaged, and any other factors that your surgeon feels it appropriate to consider.
If you were injured in an accident and underwent surgery as a result, a personal injury attorney may be able to help you recover the settlement you deserve. The average national cost of a spinal fusion surgery is $110,000, so it is important to determine if someone else may be responsible for some or all of those costs, especially if you were hurt in an accident where somebody else was at fault or hurt at work and are covered by workers’ comp.
Spinal fusion surgery can be a costly and painful procedure and healing fully can take up to two years, if not longer. During those two years, you may not be able to move in the way that you’re used to, even after the pain starts to go away. You’ll have restrictions on bending, twisting, and lifting to ensure that the fusion heals properly, you may have expensive medical bills, and you may be in physical therapy for quite some time after the procedure.
All of this will be taken into account by a personal injury attorney, whether you were hurt at work, hurt in a car accident, or hurt in any other type of accident where someone else may be at fault.
What Would Happen if I Accidentally Bent Over After Spinal Fusion?
It’s recommended that you not bend over for at least several weeks, if not several months, after a spinal fusion. Bending over may damage the spinal fusion, which would prevent it from healing properly, cause unnecessary pain and suffering, leave you in chronic pain, and may even result in the need to perform the surgery or another procedure again.
When Can I Travel After Spinal Fusion Surgery?
The biggest risk of travel after a spinal fusion surgery is a blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis. This clot can occur when you don’t move frequently enough, and the blood can’t flow properly.
However, this can be avoided by moving your legs, getting up and walking around, and stopping to stretch your legs if traveling by car. There is no significant difference in your risk for deep vein thrombosis if you travel by airplane or car.
That said, it is important to check with your doctor before any travel to make sure you can safely travel without significant risk of damaging your spinal fusion, but as with most surgeries, the biggest limit to travel is your pain level and what you can tolerate. Of course, if you are on medicine for pain after your surgery, you shouldn’t drive or operate machinery.
Your doctor can tell you best when you can travel again without risk of damage to your spinal fusion, as it’s important to avoid bending, twisting, or lifting until the fusion is fully healed.
What Are Some Alternatives to Spinal Fusion?
There may be some alternatives to a spinal fusion surgery, depending on the condition that the spinal fusion surgery is supposed to fix. For example, an implant device may be used to replace the vertebrae, acting much like a knee or hip replacement.
Other surgical procedures that may be used as an alternative to spinal fusions are a cervical disc replacement, an endoscopic lumbar discectomy, a coflex lumbar interlaminar device, an endoscopic rhizotomy, or an intracept procedure. You and your doctor should discuss your pain and symptoms to determine whether one of these surgical interventions would be more appropriate than a spinal fusion.
In some cases, non-surgical interventions such as pain management may be the appropriate first step. As always, this is something that you and your doctor should discuss before beginning treatment. This may not always be possible or appropriate, and you and your surgeon should work together to choose the best course of treatment.
I Suffered Permanent Nerve Damage After Spinal Fusion. What Should I Do?
If you’re still suffering from pain after your spinal fusion surgery, you should talk to your doctor about this and see what options are out there. There are different reasons why you may still be experiencing pain, including the surgery not working effectively or permanent nerve damage. While rare, permanent nerve damage after spinal fusion can result in pain in different areas of the body, including arms and legs.
What Is the Average Settlement for Spinal Fusion Workers Comp?
The average national cost of a spinal fusion surgery is $110,000. Your workers’ comp settlement should cover all the costs associated with surgery and other care of your injury. The average workers’ comp settlement, according to a 2016 study, was $21,800. This is a general average, not an average for spinal fusion surgery. Your settlement, if you need spinal fusion surgery, should be higher, as the cost of it is higher than, for example, surgery for a broken arm or leg.
If you were hurt on the job and needed spinal fusion surgery as a result, you should consider contacting a personal injury attorney to discuss your case. When negotiating a settlement, you should consider all the costs of your surgery and associated care and make sure that the amount you settle for will cover all your medical bills and lost wages.