Back problems are a source of frustration for millions of people and a herniated disc (also called a slipped disc) is a common source of that problem. This condition makes up between 5-20 cases per 1000 adults in the U.S. who have back problems, with men experiencing it more than women 2 to 1. Age is a common factor, as the wear on the spine resulting from your spinal discs becoming less flexible as you get older causes disc degeneration.
A herniated disc can not only create problems for your back, but it can also create pain, numbness, and weakness in your arms and legs. The pain may come and go, but leaving the problem untreated can make the symptoms worse and create complications like bladder or bowel dysfunction, and a loss of sensation in the pelvic region called saddle anesthesia. For severe cases, there are many treatments available to manage and repair the damage of a herniated disc, including lumbar fusion surgery.
If you have these issues and live in the Pittsburgh, McKees Rocks, or Washington, Pennsylvania area, Dr. Jocelyn Idema and our team at Steel City Spine and Orthopedic Center are here to help. We use a variety of non-invasive and surgical treatments, including lumbar fusion surgery. In this post, you’ll learn how this procedure can help your disc herniation, as well as what to expect.
What is a herniated disc?
Your spine is made up of a group of 33 bones stacked on top of each other called vertebrae. Between each of the vertebrae are rubbery cushions called discs that help absorb the impact of movement. Each disc consists of an outside cushion (annulus) and a soft, jellylike center (nucleus). When a portion of the nucleus pushes its way out of the annulus, it causes the disc to herniate.
This can be caused by the stress of being overweight, heavy or repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, and bending of your spine, family history, and even smoking, which reduces the oxygen to your discs and breaks them down more quickly. Traumatic injuries to your back are a less common cause.
How can lumbar fusion surgery help?
Sometimes the back pain associated with a herniated disc can be treated with rest and over-the-counter medication, but if the pain is bad enough to affect your ability to function normally, lumbar fusion is an option. After the damaged disc is removed, this method is used to connect two or more vertebrae to reduce back pain and provide stability using materials like metal plates, screws, rods, bone graft, or bonelike material. This decreases pain and prevents the problem from getting worse over time.
What can I expect during the procedure?
The process of lumbar fusion surgery can be broken down into three main parts:
Depending on where the damaged disc is located, an incision is done either on the spine, on the side of the spine, or in the abdomen or throat to access it from the front.
If you’re getting a bone graft, it often comes from your pelvis, in which case the surgeon will make a small incision just above your pelvis and remove a small portion for the procedure. Sometimes synthetic bone graft substitutes are used instead of bone.
Once the graft is placed, the graft is fused to the bone with metal rods and plates to hold it together as the bone heals.
Hospital care for a couple of days after the surgery is generally required, but it depends on where and how much work is done on your spine. Any pain and discomfort you may experience while the bone is healing can be managed with medications.
If you’re experiencing chronic pain from a herniated disc and think you may need surgery, make an appointment with Dr. Idema and Steel City Spine and Orthopedic Center today to get help.