Will I Lose Mobility After Spinal Fusion?

Your spine is a complex part of your anatomy with a lot of small moving parts in close proximity to a hub of nerve roots — what could possibly go wrong? If you have chronic back pain, you know the answer to that. From degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis to osteoarthritis and bone spurs, your back is susceptible to a whole host of injuries, syndromes, conditions, and dysfunctions. 

If your back pain hasn’t responded to conservative treatments and has left you unstable and immobile, there’s still hope. Dr. Benjamin Cohen is a board-certified neurosurgeon who specializes in spinal surgery. He can expertly diagnose your condition, guide you through the right treatments based on his years of experience, and if needed, perform spinal fusion to stop the pain caused by the motion of the discs and facet joints in your spine.

Understanding spinal fusion

While there are many types of spinal fusion and several areas in your back that might need it for various reasons, it all boils down to one thing: spinal fusion stops the parts from moving. Wherever you have two or more vertebrae or discs that are rubbing against one another, sometimes the only way to stop the pain is to stop the movement.

Spinal fusion unites those moving parts with metal rods, screws, and bone grafts so that they become one solid, unmoving part. So if you’re wondering whether this procedure will affect your mobility, the answer is yes — but there’s more to the story

Presurgery mobility matters

Your range of motion after your spinal fusion surgery is relative to what it was before. Physicians use a complex scale to determine the range of mobility in each section of your spine — cervical (neck), thoracic (midback), and lumbar (low back) — but to keep it simple, here’s a quick illustration.

If your back was completely healthy and you underwent spinal fusion, you would have decreased mobility because your moving parts were fused together.

However, if you were in a great deal of pain and your physical impairments decreased your range of motion significantly, then spinal fusion surgery would improve your pain, which would allow you to move more freely than before, despite the immobility in the fused joint. 

It’s a matter of perspective, but the bottom line with spinal fusion is that mild-to-moderate immobility is better than constant pain.

Calling all body parts

Ideally, your body parts all work together in harmony to support one another. But when you lose the use of any one part — such as a broken arm or the loss of your eyesight — the others need to adapt. This is true after spinal fusion surgery as well. 

Now that your pain has decreased, the neighboring joints in your spine are free to move more liberally. However, they must also compensate for the immobilized joint, which means they may move differently and work harder. In some cases, this could accelerate disc degeneration in these adjacent joints. That’s why it’s important to keep your support structure as strong and healthy as possible. 

A treatment, not a cure

Spinal fusion is an effective treatment for chronic pain that won’t respond to other approaches, but it’s not a cure. While it can greatly decrease your pain and increase your quality of life, it won’t cure conditions such as osteoarthritis. If you had it before, you’ll still have it after your surgery, but the procedure may enable you to get significant relief from your symptoms and allow you to focus on strengthening your musculoskeletal system and your overall health.

If you have more questions about spinal fusion surgery and whether it’s right for you, call our office in Garden City, New Jersey, to schedule an appointment soon. 

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