Spinal Fusion Surgery on the Rise, But Is the Risky Procedure Necessary?

A study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found spinal fusion surgeries are on the rise. Unfortunately, these risky and complicated surgeries are not necessary for many patients receiving them. The study found this procedure is often performed on patients suffering lower back problems connected to aging and arthritis - patients who may not be good candidates for the procedure.

Instead, the procedure is designed for patients suffering from fractured vertebrae or damage caused by scoliosis or tumors. Such misuse of the procedure could lead to an increase in spinal cord injuries.

Spinal fusion is a type of surgery that permanently joins two or more vertebrae in the spine. This is done by grafting bone material into part of the spine, generally held in place by metal rods, screws, plates or cages until the grafts are fully incorporated into the spine.

Risks Associated with Spinal Fusion Surgery

There are many risks associated with this procedure, including:

  • Blood clots in the legs that could travel to the lungs
  • Breathing problems and infections
  • Blood loss
  • Heart attack or stroke during surgery
  • Damage to spinal nerves, leading to weakness, pain and inability to control bowels or bladder
  • Growth of ectopic bone (that which is outside the grafted area)
  • Increased likelihood that vertebrae above and below the fusion site will wear down, resulting in more problems in the future

Over five percent of patients undergoing fusion surgeries suffered major complications like strokes, according to the JAMA study. The risk of death with this procedure is also higher, around six in every 1,000 patients for a complex fusion and five in every 1,000 for a simple fusion.

Additional complications are present when screws pull out of the vertebrae or otherwise malfunction. Some patients have required additional surgery to remove the screws, rods and other pieces of hardware used in the procedure that was intended to correct the patient's persistent back pain.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an injury connected to an unnecessary spinal fusion surgery, compensation is likely available to cover medical and rehabilitative expenses as well as pain and suffering. To best preserve your legal rights and remedies, it is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced spinal injury lawyer.