Treatment for Spinal Compression Fractures
Spinal Fusion Surgery
Spinal fusion surgery is sometimes used for spinal compression fractures to eliminate motion between two vertebrae and relieve pain. The procedure connects two or more vertebrae together, holds them in the correct position, and keeps them from moving until they have a chance to grow together, or fuse.
Metal screws are placed through a small tube of bone and into the vertebrae. The screws are attached to metal plates or metal rods that are bolted together in the back of the spine. The hardware holds the vertebrae in place. This stops movement, allowing the vertebrae to fuse. Bone is grafted into the spaces between vertebrae.
"Spinal fusion is often the last resort," Wetzel tells WebMD. "If the bone is more than 50% compressed in height, if patients are in a great deal of pain, and if they have had complications from another spinal surgery, we suggest spinal fusion surgery."
The patient's own bone or bone from a bone bank can be used to create a graft. The patient's own bone marrow or blood platelets -- or a bio-engineered molecule -- can be used to stimulate growth of bone for the procedure.
Recovery from spinal fusion surgery takes longer than with other types of spinal surgery. Patients often have a three- or four-day hospital stay, with a possible stay on a rehabilitation unit. Patients typically wear a brace immediately after surgery. Rehabilitation is often necessary to rebuild strength and functioning. Activity level is gradually increased. Depending on the patient's age and health status, getting back to normal functioning can happen within two months or up to six months later.
There are drawbacks to spinal fusion surgery. It eliminates the natural movement of the two vertebrae, which limits the person's movement. Also, it puts more stress on vertebrae next to the fusion - increasing the chance of fracture in those vertebrae. Even after healing is complete, patients may need to avoid certain lifting and twisting activities to prevent putting excess stress on the spine.
"But if someone has persistent pain from the fracture and they have been aggressively treated for osteoporosis they can do very well with spinal fusion," says Wetzel.