Spinal fusion is a surgical technique used to join two or more vertebrae. This joining is relatively permanent so that there will no longer be any movement between these bones being joined together. Supplementary bone tissue, either from the patient (autograft) or a donor (allograft), is used in conjunction with the body’s natural bone growth processes to fuse vertebrae. According to the study made in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), there is an increase in cases of spinal fusion surgery from 1.3 per 100,000 people to 19.9 per 100,000 people in which data was taken between 2002 and 2007 among Medicare patients.
Spinal fusion surgery is commonly used to treat deformities in the spine such as scoliosis and kyphosis. Patients requiring this kind of surgery often are those who have either neurological deficits or severe pain which has not responded well to conventional treatment. This is being also performed for reconstructive purposes, as those who have spinal deformities as described hereinabove.
So how does it work?
The surgery basically attempts to stimulate bone growth between the vertebrae. Once the new bone is formed, the vertebrae will be linked together, thus, movement is totally eradicated in the fused segments. In some cases, surgeons may use spinal instrumentation. This means that metal will be placed within the spine to hold the vertebral bones together.
Futile Spinal Surgeries
According to some studies conducted, nearly 20% of all the spinal surgeries performed may be unnecessary. There are significant risks in the conduct of surgery such as profuse bleeding and infections. These typical risks are attributed to the fact that the procedure itself takes a long time to complete and in the process, excessive blood loss happens, especially that there is usually foreign object that is being inserted in the fused area. As a matter of fact, one study estimated that about 63% of patients required blood transfusion during the conduct of the surgery. Thus JAMA suggested that the risk-to-benefit ratio of complex fusion might be questionable.