Surgery on my spine

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It’s been a very tough few months. As I post­ed back in Jan­u­ary, I’ve been suf­fer­ing from severe low­er back pain symp­toms, and last Fri­day my sur­geon rec­om­mend­ed I under­go a spinal fusion surgery today.

The process as I understand it

Not being a neu­ro­sur­geon, the pro­ce­dure as I under­stand it is some­thing like the fol­low­ing steps below. I don’t know in what order these steps are under­tak­en, and this is described in lay­man’s terms, but this is a basic sum­ma­tion of what I’m hav­ing done today:

Incision along lower spine

The sur­geon makes a cut of approx­i­mate­ly 4 inch­es (10 cm) along my spine, from just above my butt crack upwards. The skin and fat is then pulled apart and held with lit­tle met­al clamps.

Muscles and ligaments cut & lifted aside

The sur­geon tells me that not too much cut­ting of the mus­cles and lig­a­ments (I think I recall the erec­tor spinae being men­tioned) over this area is need­ed, but they do lift them up apart and off the spine to reveal the spinal process bones under­neath (the knob­bly part of the spine you can see/feel pro­trud­ing along your back) and the lam­i­nae, the part of the bone between the process­es.

Anato­my of lum­bar spinal vertebrae

Laminectomy reveals spinal cord

The lam­i­na is cut away reveal­ing the spinal cord at the L5/S1 junc­tion. The spinal cord itself is moved aside, and the degen­er­at­ed disc between the L5 and S1 ver­te­brae is removed completely.

Bone grafts used to promote fusion of the vertebrae

The gap that now exists between the L5 and S1 ver­te­brae is filled with plas­tic spac­ers, and bone grafts using bone tis­sue from the process bones tak­en before. The idea here is that the body treats the two ver­te­brae as a bro­ken bone, and new bone mate­r­i­al grows around the grafts and between the ver­te­brae, fus­ing them into one sol­id bone. Pret­ty clever, really…

Rods and screws inserted to hold the vertebrae steady

The fusion of the ver­te­brae takes a long time, some­times up to 12–18 months. To hold the ver­te­brae sta­ble dur­ing this time, two large tita­ni­um bolts/screws are drilled into each ver­te­bra to make a total of four, which are then secured to tita­ni­um rods so there is no movement.

Everything is put back together and the wound is sutured and dressed

The spinal cord is released, free­ing all those irri­tat­ed nerves that have giv­en me so much pain for so long, and the mus­cles, lig­a­ments etc. are all put back togeth­er and the wound sutured and dressed.

Off to the wards for recovery and monitoring

That’s it. Drainage of the wound is mon­i­tored and post-op recov­ery is done up on the ward.

As one might imag­ine, this is very daunt­ing, but the good news (and the hope I’m cling­ing to) is that my sur­geon believes that with enough recov­ery (3–6 months, and 12+ for stren­u­ous exer­cise) I should be able to get back out under­tak­ing the activ­i­ties I love, albeit with a lit­tle more care and cau­tion when it comes to bend­ing, lift­ing, etc.

So keep your fin­gers crossed for me! Hope­ful­ly I’ll post in the next few days with an update on how I’ve recov­ered, and in future months I plan to doc­u­ment my return to my beloved out­doors so that oth­ers in my sit­u­a­tion can maybe get an idea of the timeframes/effort involved.

Example video from another surgeon (i.e. not mine) explaining the procedure

Other posts about my spinal injury and recovery

Category: Spinal Injury & Recovery

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