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What Is A Lumbar Fusion?

On Behalf of | Jul 23, 2018 | Workers' Compensation

According to the University of Minnesota, back injuries make up the biggest part of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, and they also are the most costly. Pretty much any job that requires heavy lifting, forceful movements, walking on slippery surfaces, or awkward postures can seriously endanger your back. These injuries may cause the ligaments holding the bones in the back together to change in ways that impair how they move. The vertebrae(the individual bones that make up the back) of the spine rub up against each other and allow abnormal movement, causing serious pain. In that case, you might need a spinal lumbar fusion surgery.

What Type Of Surgery Is It? What Can I Expect?

Spinal lumbar fusion is a type of surgery that fuses together 2 or more vertebrae in the spine, especially of the lower back. ( Lumbar refers to the lower part of the back.)

There are a couple of ways of doing this. Doctors can use bone from another section of your body to bridge the two vertebrae. This is called an autograft. They can use bones from a bone bank as well, which is called an allograft.

Whatever the source of the bone, the surgery generally requires removing the outer layer of the original vertebrae to create a ‘bed’ of blood-rich inner bone, on which the new bone is placed. This ‘bed’ can go on the front or the back of the spine. The two vertebrae and the new bone is held together and made immobile using metal plates, hooks, rods, screws or cages. The bones and the metal grow together in to one unit after 3 to 6 months.

This isn’t a surgery you enter into lightly. You will need a thorough health exam before the surgery, and you will have to discontinue any blood-thinning medication for 2 weeks before it. Your doctor will also want to do lots of post-surgery work, with return visits starting 2 weeks after you leave the hospital.

How Long Will It Take To Recover?

Your recovery time will depend on many factors. You might be able to leave the hospital the same day of the surgery, or you might have to stay 2 to 4 days to recover. For 2 or 4 weeks afterwards, you won’t get to drive, and it will take 2 weeks before you can start to return to your normal level of activity. In the meantime, you may need help with self-care and you won’t be able to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. These restrictions are on top of the ones you will have to follow because of the pain medication your doctor will likely prescribe.

After 6 weeks, you will likely start physical therapy. This will last 2 to 3 months. Most people who have the surgery return to work after 6 to 12 weeks. It is rare for a doctor to want you to wear a back brace after surgery, but if your doctor does prescribe one, you will have to wear it for 3 months.

What Is The Long-term Prognosis?

People are generally fully recovered after 8 months, though the bones will continue to grow for 12 to 18 months. If the surgery had to fix the nerves in the spine, it could take 1 to 2 years to judge whether you are completely healed.

The Spine Journal reports that up to 40% of patients have ongoing problems with their backs after they have lumbar fusion surgery. It is common for the back pack to return. It is also common to develop problems at additional levels of your lumbar spine above where the fusion was performed, as the upper levels of your spine are now compensating for the lower fused levels. What’s more, you may have restrictions on your physical activities when you return to work for quite a long time.

Workman’s Compensation Lawyer Minnesota

Lumbar fusions are serious business, and if you have been injured at work enough to need the surgery, you should get workmen’s compensation. Should your employers give you trouble about getting it, contact us. We will get you what you are entitled to.