If you were recently referred for thoracic fusion surgery you may be wondering why this particular procedure was recommended. There are a number of reasons why your surgeon may have chosen this particular operation over others. If you have a thoracic (upper/middle) spinal weakness due to a degenerative condition, injury, deformity, prior surgery or a tumor, you may be a perfect candidate for this surgery.
What Is Thoracic Fusion?
Thoracic fusion is a surgical procedure that is used to repair and encourage selected vertebrae to create a bridge-like growth of bone over an injured or compromised area while preserving the spinal canal. The purpose of this is to create a supportive structure and protect your spinal cord.
Thoracic fusion surgery is sometimes done in a minimally invasive manner. Microscopes and specialized surgical instruments are used through a number of small incisions allowing access to the areas that require treatment. The surgeon places bone grafts that grow into the existing bone, providing stability.
Instrumented thoracic fusion involves using not only bone grafts but also plates, screws, rods, cages or hooks made of surgical-grade metal to help hold and support the bones while healing or “fusion” can take place. This type of fusion surgery is particularly helpful when there are malformations in the spine, as the different components can be used together to manipulate the bones into alignment. In some instances, these metal supports will be removed after full healing has taken place, however, some are designed to remain in place permanently.
Recovery After Thoracic Fusion
When your surgeon has completed your surgery you will be moved to recovery where you’ll wake up from anesthesia. When you’re ready you will be moved to a room where you’ll stay for one to three days. Typically you will be asked to get up and walk around shortly after your procedure.
Once you’ve returned home you will need to take it easy; follow your doctor’s instructions for lifting or anything else that might put a strain on your back. You will also be advised to avoid smoking as this can slow the healing process. After three to six weeks, you will return for X-rays to ensure that the new grafts are healing properly.
Physical therapy and special exercises can help you regain your mobility and keep the muscles around your new spinal repair strong. You can expect to be able to resume all of your normal activities within three to six months following your surgery.
Risks of Thoracic Fusion
As with any surgery, there are potential risks associated with thoracic fusion. Knowing those risks and taking precautions can help minimize the possibility of something going wrong.
Infection is a possibility for both instrumented and standard thoracic fusion. Be sure to follow directions on cleaning your incision sites and, if you have been prescribed antibiotics as a precaution, be sure to take them as directed and finish the whole course.
Bleeding and blood clots
If you have a bleeding disorder or a history of developing blood clots be sure to let your surgeon know before surgery.
As with any surgery, injury to nearby tissues is a potential risk. In this case, blood vessels or nerves of the spine can be damaged.
You may also experience pain where the bone graft was taken from.
Fusion Failure or Pseudoarthrosis
This occurs when a “false joint” is created because the unhealed area of the bone has motion like a joint.
Is Thoracic Fusion Right for Me?
Determining if thoracic fusion is the best option for you will depend on many factors. You may benefit from this procedure if:
- You have an injury to your thoracic spine that compromises your back health and stability.
- You have a spine malformation that has created a weakness in your thoracic region.
- You recently underwent spinal tumor or lesion removal surgery that required removal of part of a vertebra.
Understanding thoracic fusion surgery and the benefits and risks are the first steps towards healing and getting your life back. Be sure to talk with your surgeon about the ways thoracic fusion might be able to help you.