SPINAL FUSION RISKS
Spinal fusion surgery for a degenerative spondylolisthesis is generally quite successful, with upwards of 90% of patients improving their function and enjoying a substantial decrease in their pain. The hospital stay typically ranges from one to four days. It is a difficult surgery to recover from as there is a lot of dissection, and it can take up to a year to fully recover. Usually, most patients can start most of their activities after the fusion has had three months to heal. Once the bone is fused, then the more active the patient is the stronger the bone will become.
There are numerous risks and possible complications with surgery for degenerative spondylolisthesis and they are basically the same as for any fusion surgery. There are risks of non union (nonfusion, or arthrodesis), hardware failure, continued pain, adjacent segment degeneration, infection, bleeding, dural leak, nerve root damage and all the possible general anesthetic risks (e.g. blood clots, pulmonary emboli, pneumonia, heart attack or stroke). Most of these complications are rare, but increased risks can be seen in certain situations. Conditions that increase the risk of surgery include smoking, obesity, multilevel fusions, osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or prior failed back surgery.
Since degenerative spondylolisthesis is a condition that disproportionately affects individuals over age 60 or 65, the surgery does present some additional risk. Surgical risk is more directly related to the overall health of a patient and not his or her absolute age. Particularly in patients who have multiple medical problems, surgery can be very risky. For some patients, even if non-surgical treatments have failed to alleviate their symptoms, surgery may present too much risk, and intermittent epidural injections combined with activity modification may be their best option.
After a fusion procedure, degeneration of the spinal segment adjacent to the fusion is possible. In an attempt to alleviate transferring extra stress to the next segment, there are many different devices currently being studied that hold the promise of being able to replace the function of the facet joint without having to include a fusion procedure. It is too early to determine whether or not the results of these newer technologies are better or worse than the standard fusion procedure.
13710 Olive Boulevard (Primary Office)
Chesterfield, MO 63017
Telephone: 314-469-PAIN (7246)
Exchange: 314-441-6965 (for after-hour Emergencies Only)
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