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Fusion surgery is the most major of the surgeries that I perform. The word fusion literally means “to make two things turn into one.” The goal of fusion surgery is to make two spinal bones fuse into one spinal bone. This is accomplished by removing the disc between the two bones and replacing it with a block of plastic surrounded by cadaver bone. The plastic serves to maintain the position of the bones and prevent collapse while the bones grow together. If the bones collapse, fusion might not occur. The bones also have to be stabilized to prevent excessive motion. If the bones move too much relative to each other, the fusion might not occur. One way to stabilize the bones is to use small titanium clamps or small titanium rods. There are new techniques to perform these surgeries through small incisions, minimally invasive surgery.
For back fusions, the recovery can range from a few hours to a few days in the hospital. I usually have patients wear a removable brace when they are out of the house for six weeks. Next, I have patients undergo physical therapy for another six to eight weeks. The focus is on core stabilization exercises to improve strength and flexibility and protect the rest of the spine.
For neck fusions, the recovery and rehabilitation are much shorter than for back fusions. The recovery is usually a few hours to one day and a brace is worn for about 2 weeks. Physical therapy usually lasts one month.