In order to work with your experienced spine surgeon and make an informed decision about alternatives to spinal fusion, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of why you might need this treatment or the alternatives to it. 80% of adults will experience back pain at some point during their lifetimes. When you experience back pain, you and your medical professional will probably try medication, physical therapy, and other techniques before choosing surgery.
Your doctor will only recommend surgery after accurately diagnosing your specific condition and trying other methods. Some of the conditions for which spinal fusion might be indicated are:
- Degenerative disk disease (the space between disks narrows; sometimes they rub together spaces)
- Fracture (broken spinal bone)
- Scoliosis — your spine curves abnormally to one side
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Spondylolisthesis (forward shifting of a spinal disk)
- Tumors or spine infection
Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that joins two or more vertebrae into a single structure, with the goal of stopping movement between the vertebrae (which causes back pain). When this procedure is completed, the associated nerves, muscles, and ligaments are not stretched, which may be the source of discomfort.
What Is a Disc Replacement?
Spinal fusion and disc replacement will generally produce the same positive results. Few people who experience back pain or neck pain will ultimately require surgery. However, if initial methods don’t resolve the issue within six months, your specialist may determine that disc problems are the source of this chronic pain. At this point, you could be a candidate for replacement surgery.
Disc replacement, as an alternative to spinal fusion, uses a device implanted into the spine with the goal of imitating the functions of the original disc (allowing motion and helping the spine manage weight). Artificial discs are usually made of a plastic-like material or metal, sometimes a combination of the two. Advances in medicine since the 1980s have introduced devices that allow smooth motion, in addition to relieving pain.
What Is a Laminoplasty?
This surgical procedure has the goal of creating space for the spinal cord and the nerve roots, so that abnormal pressure is relieved. The technique preserves motion, which makes it an alternative to spinal fusion. Laminoplasty is sometimes used to treat spinal stenosis, and as a method of gaining access to spinal disease such as a tumor or cyst.
It’s important to discuss your options thoroughly before you and your medical professional decide on the correct treatment for you. For example, laminoplasty is usually not recommended for someone with spinal instability (to cite one example). If you experience constant back pain, get in touch with the specialists at The Spine Center to make an appointment today.