When Margaret’s debilitating back and leg pain got to the point where she could no longer walk or run, she knew she had to take action. She turned to the doctor who had been diligently following her for over a year, Anuj Prasher, M.D., F.A.A.O.S., a board-certified fellowship-trained orthopaedic spine surgeon at South Florida Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.
Together they decided that lumbar fusion surgery would give Margaret the best chance of regaining her quality of life. “The biggest benefit of the surgery is that I no longer have pain,” says Margaret. “After surgery, Dr. Prasher naturally asked me if was having any pain, and I said, “no, not at all.”
Non-surgical Treatment for Lower Back Pain and Spinal Stenosis
With the vast majority of patients, spine specialists will only recommend surgery as a last resort when other conservative treatments have failed to produce results.
Some of the more common non-surgical treatments for lower back include:
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Regularly applying heat or ice
- Physical therapy
- Injection-based treatments – these include nerve blocks and epidural steroid injections
- Lifestyle changes – such as quitting tobacco use, losing weight, and increasing physical exercise
Margaret worked with Dr. Prasher for over a year exploring non-invasive treatment options. “When I first started seeing Dr. Prasher, I had a few injections done a couple of times a year,” says Margaret.
When her pain became unbearable, and she was unable to perform the most routine activities, Margaret decided to undergo lumbar fusion surgery. “It just got to the point where I’d be walking or running, and I just couldn’t walk anymore; it was so painful,” she says.
What is Lumbar Fusion Surgery?
Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and an estimated 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time.
Spinal structure can transform and degenerate as people age resulting in deteriorating vertebrae, disc erosion, and weakening of the muscles and ligaments around the spinal column.
Lumbar fusion surgery has been done to relieve an array of lower back conditions including:
- Spinal stenosis with Spondylolisthesis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated disc and nerve compression
The goal of lumbar fusion surgery is to correct instability/spondylolisthesis, reduce pressure on the spinal column and remove pressure on compressed nerve roots that journey along the spinal canal. Lumbar fusion typically involves fusing two or more vertebrae in the lower spine together.
The spine is then stabilized by joining one vertebra to another. The surgeon accomplishes this by placing a bone graft between the vertebrae; screws, rods and state-of-the-art spacers are used to enable the bones to fuse together over time.
Traditionally, a lumbar fusion procedure demanded longer and larger incisions through healthy muscle tissue to enable the surgeon to access the spine properly. However, technological advancements in the field have transformed the process for both surgeon and patient.
In minimally-invasive lumbar fusion surgery, a tiny tube is moved through the skin and muscle tissue. The surgeon uses the latest surgical tools to complete the operation via the tube, freeing the patient from larger openings and scars, and reducing the amount of time spent in the hospital.
Margaret appreciated the time Dr. Prasher took to explain the entire process to her. “He explained everything to me, even before I had the surgery,” she says. “We had been talking about surgery for well over a year, and everything that goes along with it. So by the time I decided to have surgery, I knew exactly how long I would be in surgery and what to expect.”
Results and Benefits of Lumbar Fusion Surgery
After surgery, many patients feel an immediate improvement in their symptoms and the majority of them can get back to their routine in a few weeks. An important step on the road to full functioning and recovery after surgery is to follow a rehabilitation program under the supervision of an experienced and proficient physical therapist.
“Dr. Prasher kept me extremely comfortable,” says Margaret. “The bandage they put on was the latest soft-padded and the best one available. And then he explained everything again, and showed me pictures.”
Minimally-invasive surgery can cut the time spent in the hospital. It can also:
- Enhance fusion rates
- Speed up recovery time
- Avoid considerable trauma to the muscles and tendons surrounding the spine
- Reduce scarring
Diminish the discomfort felt after surgery
After a successful lumbar fusion surgery, Margaret is now back to living pain-free. ”I couldn’t ask for anybody better. It’s just as if you had known Dr. Prasher for ten years, that’s how comfortable you are with him.”