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What is the difference between decompression and fusion surgeries

Decompression and FusionDecompression vs Fusion Surgies photo by liverpoolhls / CC 2.0

Differentiating between Decompression and Fusion Surgeries

If you’re suffering with chronic back pain and are under a doctor’s care—or are at least starting the process of researching spine doctors—you’ve probably heard or read about decompression and fusion surgeries. But, it may not be immediately clear what the difference is between the two. Knowing how each procedure works and which is the best choice for your condition can help you to feel knowledgeable and confident going into surgery.

Spinal Decompression

Spinal decompression is a common surgical procedure your back doctor may recommend if conservative treatments like over-the-counter medications and epidural steroid injections have not brought you sufficient relief. “If other measures don’t work, your doctor may suggest surgical spinal decompression for bulging or ruptured disks, bony growths, or other spinal problems,”said WebMD. “Surgery may help relieve symptoms from pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, including: pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness.”

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a common condition that “can lead to progressive back and leg pain, muscular weakness, sensory disturbance, and/or problems with ambulation,” said the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NCBI). It can also lead to subsequent decompression surgery, with positive results.

“Multiple studies suggest that surgical decompression is an effective therapy for patients with symptomatic lumbar stenosis,” they said. “Although traditional lumbar decompression is a time-honored procedure, minimally invasive procedures are now available which can achieve the goals of decompression with less bleeding, smaller incisions, and quicker patient recovery.”

The ease and faster recovery of minimally invasive decompression procedures like Laminectomy and Microdiscectomy have made them popular with back pain sufferers who are eager to trade the pain and discomfort they’ve been dealing with for an outpatient surgery that could have them up and walking, and feeling significantly better, in under an hour. During the procedure, the spine surgeon makes a one-inch incision over the affected area of the spine and removes the portion that has become misaligned and is compressing the nerve root; this is done without cutting through any muscles or tissue.

Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion procedures are performed on back pain sufferers “when other, non-surgical methods have failed in relieving pain,” said Dr. Mark C. ValenteBoard certified and fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon and Founder and Medical Director of DISC Spine Institute, a leader in minimally invasive back treatments and surgical procedures. “They can correct a number of spinal problems, such as narrowing of the spinal canal and spinal compression and fractures, and have also been successful in treating conditions including Herniated Discs and Degenerative Disc Disease when performed in conjunction with other minimally invasive procedures like Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) and Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF).

When a spinal fusion qualifies (not all do) for a minimally invasive procedure, the procedure begins with a small incision one-inch-long or smaller to reach the injured area—with no stitches to remove afterwards. Any muscles and tendons are moved to the side instead of cut like in an open procedure. The fusion joins bone with bone graft or other artificial material and “tricks the body into thinking it has a fracture,” said Dr. Valente. “Once completed, the spinal fusion process has many effects: new bone grows around the bone graft spacer; the vertebrae join/fuse together; spine stability increases; and pain in the spine area is reduced.”

Minimally invasive spinal fusions are done as outpatient procedures, unlike traditional procedures that require a hospital stay. MIS fusions also feature:

  • Lessoperative time
  • Less anesthesia
  • Less blood loss
  • Reduced risk of infection

This means a much faster, and less painful recovery. Post-surgery, patients typically feel relief and are able to start walking within a few hours.

Advances in technology and specialization by leading spinal surgeons have made minimally invasive surgical procedures like fusions and decompressions popular and ever-growing options for back pain sufferers. When it’s time to put an end to your pain, visit DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain today. Minimally invasive surgical techniques mean treating chronic back pain is easier than ever, with outpatient treatments, small incisions, and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.

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Patricia Dillon
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Patricia Dillon

I had surgery about 1. 1/2 yrs ago but my pain has returned. It was a cage to stabilize a vertebrae in the lumbar area.
But I only have Medicare now..is it still covered?

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