Hearing that you need lumbar fusion surgery may make you expect days in the hospital, a long painful recovery, and a big ugly scar. This type of surgery on your lower back doesn’t need to have such negative repercussions. Thanks to a minimally invasive surgical approach to lumbar fusion, many patients have outpatient surgery and a much faster return to normal activities.
A variety of back problems can lead patients to eventually need lumbar fusion. Some of these issues with the lumbar spine include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated disc
- Spinal fracture
- Facet joint arthritis
- Adult scoliosis
These types of problems can cause spine instability, producing abnormal movements between vertebrae. This often results in pain, nerve compression, or sciatica.
Spinal fusion joins together two or more bones in the spine, using bone graft to help stimulate the fusion. The procedure involves removing the damaged disc and typically replacing it with bone graft and instrumentation to provide immediate stability to that area of the spine. As the body heals, the bones grow together. The goal of minimally invasive lumbar fusion is to diminish the incision size and damage to tissues surrounding the spine, resulting in less pain and faster healing. Special instruments are required that allow the surgeon to accomplish the procedure. This means that special training and experience are required for a doctor to effectively and safely perform minimally invasive lumbar fusion. Not all spine physicians are qualified in this procedure; Dr. Fischer at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City is trained and skilled in performing this advanced technique.
Compared to traditional open lumbar fusion, the benefits of minimally invasive surgery are:
- Smaller incisions
- Less blood loss
- Less pain
- Less risk of damage to muscles and soft tissue
- Less risk of infection
- Shorter hospital stays, often outpatient only
- Faster recovery
As with any type of fusion, there is a risk that the bones don’t join together as planned. Other possible complications of minimally invasive lumbar fusion include anesthesia reaction, infection, nerve damage, spinal fluid leak, or an instrumentation problem. A good physician like Dr. Fischer will explain all risks and make sure your questions are answered prior to surgery. Also, you’ll learn if a traditional surgical method is better for your condition. You’ll be given the necessary information to make an educated decision along with your doctor about treatment.
Everyone heals differently, but most patients are home within 48 hours or less following minimally invasive lumbar fusion. In fact, many patients are able to return home the same day to begin recovering there. You’ll be given instructions on what you can and can’t do as you recover, and will gradually be able to regain your mobility. After a few weeks, most patients return to their normal activities. High intensity activities may need to be delayed until the fusion has successfully healed, but Dr. Fischer will advise you on the specifics of your activities. One of the best things about minimally invasive lumbar fusion is that your symptoms are eliminated and your back is repaired, while being minimally traumatic to the body throughout the process. It’s a win-win situation for lumbar fusion patients.