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Does Spinal Fusion Limit Mobility?

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

More than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, much of it stemming from diseases and conditions of the spine. When therapy, medication, and other conservative treatments don’t help, spinal fusion can offer a long-term solution that helps many people get back to the activities they love.

Spinal fusion surgery permanently joins two or more vertebrae together to prevent painful friction between the bones. Not surprisingly, lots of patients wonder if fusion surgery will significantly affect their mobility afterward.

Evan O’Brien, MD, and the orthopaedic team at Woodbury Spine want their patients to understand how spinal fusion surgery works, including its potential impact on postoperative mobility. In this post, Dr. O’Brien reviews what you can expect from your spinal fusion surgery.

How spinal fusion works

A lot of chronic back and neck pain happens when two or more vertebrae rub against each other, causing inflammation and nerve irritation.

By fusing those symptomatic vertebrae together, spinal fusion surgery can be helpful in treating conditions like:

  • Herniated or ruptured discs

  • Degenerative disc disease

  • Spondylolisthesis

  • Scoliosis

  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)

  • Vertebral compression fractures

Many of these spinal problems also cause pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness in the buttocks, legs, feet, arms, and hands. Spinal fusion helps relieve these symptoms by preventing inflammation and movement that irritates the nerves that cause radiating pain.

During surgery, Dr. O’Brien fuses two or more vertebrae using bone grafts, sometimes along with pins, screws, and plates to stabilize the area while it heals. Over time, the vertebrae fuse with the graft material to permanently eliminate pain.

Mobility after spinal fusion

Considering that the purpose of spinal fusion surgery is to fuse two (or more) vertebrae together, it’s not surprising that many patients wonder if that means their spinal mobility will be significantly affected after they recover. The answer might surprise you.

First, it’s important to understand that the purpose of spinal fusion surgery is to limit movement in the area of your spine that’s causing pain. Eliminate the movement — and the friction and inflammation it causes — and you also eliminate the related pain.

The second aspect to remember is how you feel before your surgery. Spinal fusion is only performed when painful symptoms are already limiting your mobility — and taking a toll on your quality of life. When you move, you probably hold your back as stiff as you can to prevent those painful symptoms. So in essence, your condition is already significantly affecting your mobility.

Spinal fusion may immobilize the diseased part of your spine. But by eliminating pain, many patients find they move more easily, without the stiffness and discomfort they had prior to surgery. In that respect, fusion surgery can actually help you be more active by helping you resume your activities and enjoy them without pain.

Live your life without back pain

Spinal fusion surgery is just one treatment for chronic back pain. At our practice in Woodbury, New Jersey, Dr. O’Brien tailors each treatment plan to the needs, symptoms, and goals of the individual patient for long-term, meaningful relief. To learn how he can help you relieve your back pain, call us or book an appointment online.

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