What Doctors Wish Their Patients Knew About Fusions

What Doctors Wish Their Patients Knew About Fusions

“Oh no, I cannot believe it! My doctor just used the F word!?!!? I have got to get out of here, this guy must be crazy! Oh my God, this is the end of my life! I will never be able to do anything again…”

This reaction is an all too common and, in many cases, an unnecessary first reaction many patients have when speaking to their doctor about a spinal fusion. Let’s face it, we all would like to live our lives without needing surgery, especially a spinal surgery. That being said, for some patients with spinal conditions, their lives can be much better after having a spinal fusion. There is a great deal of misinformation on the internet and in the media about spinal surgery, specifically spinal fusion. When contemplating a spinal surgery and deciding if a fusion is necessary, it is critical to consider multiple factors. First and foremost, the vast majority of patients with a spine problem can be successfully treated and live a good quality of life without ever undergoing a spinal surgery.

Many patients who I see who are coming in for a surgical opinion after having “failed nonoperative treatment”; they actually are able to improve once a proper nonoperative course is initiated and maintained. Modern spinal health care can successfully treat most patients through a combination of exercise, therapy, spinal manipulation, medications, and nonoperative procedures such as spinal injections or regenerative treatments like prolotherapy, PRP, or stem cells.

The decision to contemplate a spinal surgery depends not only on what kind of problem is happening in the spine but more importantly what kind of pain and limitation it is causing the person in his or her life. The decision to consider surgery, especially a fusion, should be made mainly based on a patient’s symptoms and quality of life rather than on pictures from an MRI scan or an x-ray. For certain patients with specific structural problems in their spine that are causing severe pain or limitation in quality of life or danger for the future, spinal surgery offers an option that can lead to a much better quality of life than living with the current condition and symptom.

Read the full article in the Fall 2015 Journal.

Christopher R. Good, MD, FACS
Virginia Spine Institute