Plenty of patients who are considering surgical options for back pain wonder how a spinal fusion will impact them in the long term—will there be activities they can no longer do? It’s a good question to ask; after all, the point of having back surgery is to reclaim the life (and activities!) you once enjoyed.
As a chiropractor and nurse practitioner, I’ve worked with many fusion patients over the years. Everyone has a different experience after surgery depending on the condition of their back and how many vertebral levels they’ve had fused. So the question of whether there are permanent restrictions after spinal fusion isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Technically, the answer is “no.” But in reality, it’s possible you may experience some degree of physical limitations.
Are there permanent restrictions after a spinal fusion?
Past the six-month healing period, most spinal fusion patients aren’t specifically restricted by doctors from any particular activities as a result of having had surgery. In other words, you probably won’t be told you can’t ride a bike, climb a mountain, go swimming, or do anything else. But there is one caveat to be aware of: After a fusion, there is a chance your body may not allow you to do certain things due to the loss of a joint.
Remember—during a fusion, the surgeon removes both a disc and its accompanying facet joints and fuses two vertebrae together using rods and screws. Doing so naturally limits movement. A single-level fusion may not reduce your range of motion too much; in fact, you might not even notice it, though even a small loss of motion in the spine may cause other problems down the line. Even some patients who have multiple-level fusions can remain fairly active, taking exercise classes and walking. But the limitations increase incrementally with each additional fusion. Chances are good there will be things you can’t do—you’ll notice it most when bending forward and backwards—simply because you’ve lost multiple joints in your spine.
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Temporary Restrictions During The Healing Process
There are restrictions associated with the healing process, however. My advice during this phase revolves around what I call the “BLT”—bending, lifting, and twisting. Here’s what you can expect during the six months of healing:
- The first three months after surgery: As your bones adhere to the hardware and the fusion mass heals, your movements should be heavily restricted. Don’t do any bending, lifting, or twisting at all during this phase.
- Three to six months after surgery: You can advance your level of activity but avoid lifting, twisting, and bending in combination. Doing two or more of these movements together puts your back at high exposure to stress.
- Six months after surgery: Bending, lifting, and twisting are acceptable, as long as you use common sense. For example, I always recommend restricting heavy lifting, even after healing is complete. Going forward, always consider your movements with a mindset of protecting your back.
A Motion-Preservation Alternative To Fusion
The act of fusing bones together clearly inhibits motion, but there is an alternative that can treat your back pain and keep your spine moving naturally. A BalancedBack Total Joint Replacement is exactly what it sounds like: It replaces the function of both the damaged disc, which carries your body, and facet joints, which control motion, rather than removing a joint. The first six months after surgery carry similar restrictions as a fusion, but after that, it’s back to life as usual. Golfers can golf, skiers can ski, and hikers can hike—all because the BalancedBack implant supports natural movement, even with implants at multiple levels.
If you’re interested in knowing more about BalancedBack, visit our website.