A procedure performed to correct the vertebrae, Spinal Fusion is a method by which the vertebrae of the spine are fused together with screws, rods or even bone grafts. Aside from treating injuries to the spine, this procedure is also used to treat abnormal curvatures such as scoliosis, degeneration of the disks between the vertebrae and weak spines caused by ailments such as tumors or infections. Spinal fusion surgical procedures help to eliminate excess movement between the vertebrae, which is the sole source of pain for some individuals. This procedure also has the ability to limit, reduce or even reverse the progress of some spinal deformities.
There are two main techniques to the Spinal fusion procedure: Bone grafting and Immobilization. Bone grafting is the most common, since it naturally aids fusion of the vertebrae as bone cells are absorbed into the vertebrae. To fuse vertebrae together, surgeons will either use the patient's own bone fragments or those from a donor. If the patient is able to use their own bone, the technique requires additional surgery so that bone fragments may be taken from the hip to use in the spinal fusion procedure. Using bone from a donor is much more efficient, since there are many available pieces within bone banks.
The other technique is immobilization, where the bones in the vertebrae are held together with the help of metal screws and rods after a spinal fusion has taken place. In addition, a patient might be ordered to wear a type of brace or cast to help promote healing the healing process.
When a patient first decides to undergo spinal fusion to treat discomfort, injuries or other ailments, he or she must be prepared for about four steps that must be gone through before the actual surgery. A physician will go over the patient's medical history, as well as request the patient to complete a physical examination and diagnostic testing like x-rays or CT scans. Lastly, the physician will go over the findings with the patient and discuss the best treatment for the patient.
Patients who decide to undergo surgery will be admitted to the hospital. Prior to surgery, he or she will be given anesthesia. For lower back surgeries such as spinal fusion, there are generally two types of anesthesia typically used: general anesthesia, which allows the patient to be asleep for the entire procedure, or what is called a 'spinal', which allows the patient to stay awake but experience no feeling below the waist. Surgery lasts anywhere from one to three hours, depending on each case, while the surgeon fuses pieces of bone to the vertebrae.
At this point, the surgeon will also decide (if necessary) on the use of titanium screws and rods to give the spine extra support, but that will be discussed prior to surgery during the patient consultation. After surgery, depending on the physician, the patient will be advised to wear a brace for anywhere from a few weeks to several months. The entire process of healing could take up to a year, as it is a long process of gradual healing. While many cases of spinal fusion never heal ailments 100%, they do significantly reduce pain in the back and legs and aid in mobility and enhance quality of life.
Any procedures done to reduce pain and improve mobility in patients are a benefit. Undergoing a spinal fusion might decrease pain in the back and legs, as well as reduce spine curvatures like scoliosis. Spinal fusion procedures are often recommended to those who suffer from severe back pain due to slippage of bones, causing misalignment. Other ailments a spine fusion might help improve are recurrent disc herniation, traumatic injury to the spine and fractures.
With the cost of hospital stay, medications, surgery fees and anesthesia the spinal fusion procedure is quite pricey. In the United States, prices range anywhere from $50,000- $100,000, while in India costs range from $8,400 - $10,250. In Malaysia, costs are anywhere from $6,700 - $8,250. In many cases, some portions of the cost of spinal fusion treatments may be covered by medical insurance, though it's wise to always ask your healthcare provider exactly which services will be covered.
When deciding on an orthopedic surgeon for the spinal fusion procedure, it is important to find an experienced and qualified professional who has experience with different techniques for spinal fusion procedures. Be sure to check the facilities before settling on a surgeon, and make sure that they are accredited, and that surgeons and their staff are trained, experienced and certified in their field.
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