Q: Am I going to lose my range of motion if I get a spinal fusion?
It’s not uncommon for patients to be worried about their motion after spinal fusion surgery. People often wonder if they will be able to move well. When I counsel patients who are considering a fusion, I like to start by explaining the anatomy of the spine itself.
The mobile part of the spine consists of 24 bones that connect the skull to the pelvis. This includes seven bones in the cervical spine (neck), 12 bones in the thoracic spine (chest/rib cage), and five bones in the lumbar spine (lower back). Between each one of these bones is an intervertebral disc, which is the motion segment of the spine.
A spinal fusion surgery is when a surgeon connects two or more of these bones. This is often done with screws, plates, rods, and cages. A fusion of the spine typically does not involve the entire spine. This means motion segments above and below the fusion are protected. In other words, patients can still move their spine after an operation. Oftentimes, patients can even see an increase in their range of motion because they’re no longer limiting their movements due to pain.
—Nelson Saldua, MD
Dr. Nelson Saldua is an orthopedic surgeon with specialty training in spine surgery at Vancouver Clinic. He believes that honesty and communication are essential to the doctor-patient relationship.