Deciding Whether To Undergo A Spinal Fusion: What You Need To Know

Deciding whether to get a spinal fusion is a difficult choice in many cases. The operation is often elective rather than essential, so it's typically the patient's call. If you find yourself thinking about a spinal fusion, perhaps to relieve lower back pain or correct an abnormality, the first step is learning as much as you can about the procedure. This article examines some of the key considerations involved.

Risk Factor

If you are a smoker, it's vital that you quit before the procedure and refrain from using tobacco during the recovery process. Nicotine, the key substance in tobacco, inhibits bone growth, which makes smoking an obstacle to a successful recovery. Nicotine may also may make getting an infection after the procedure more likely. Drinking alcohol to excess can reduce the chances of a successful surgery as well. Other risk factors include diabetes, obesity and the use of steroid medications.


A postoperative infection is a serious complication that is associated with spine surgeries, including spinal fusion. In fact, the rate of infection is higher for spinal fusions than for other spine procedures. The exact rate of postoperative infection, however, depends on the type of spinal fusion involved. Monitor yourself for any excessive pain or redness at the incision site and for a fever after you come home from the hospital. These are all signs of an infection that need your doctor's attention.

Physical Therapy

Many spinal fusion patients enter into physical therapy and exercise programs to assist in their recovery. Whether or not a program of physical therapy is recommended depends on various factors, such as your age and overall health. If one is recommended, your physical therapist and your doctor will develop a program that fits your particular situation. For example, if you are coming off of a cervical fusion, a type of spinal fusion involving the neck, your therapist may create a regimen that includes isometric and breathing exercises, as well as some weight training and treadmill work.

Recovery Time

Patients who undergo spinal fusions generally have longer recovery times than those who have other spine operations. The process can take several months. The amount of time you will need to take off from work varies, depending on the type of job you have, your age and the type of fusion involved.

A spinal fusion may help individuals with certain types of back or spine problems. To obtain more information about this important issue, talk with your healthcare provider.