What Are the Complications of Spinal Fusion Surgery?


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A spinal fusion surgery, also known as lumbar fusion, carries the risk of blood clots, infection, pseudoarthrosis and nerve damage, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. In some cases, the bone graft site causes lasting pain or the patient redevelops the symptoms that led to getting surgery.

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Spinal fusion reduces pain from lumbar disorders or deformities, such as spinal tumors or scoliosis, and involves joining sections of vertebrae together using bone grafts, Northwestern Medicine notes. Blood clots in the legs are considered a rare complication, but if they form and drift into the bloodstream, they may reach the lungs and cause respiratory failure. Patients may recognize early warning signs of clotting, such as swollen feet and calves, within a few weeks of undergoing surgery.

Smoking and obesity may increase an individual's chance of developing pseudoarthrosis, the Scoliosis Research Society states. Pseudoarthrosis occurs when the spinal bones don't fuse together solidly after surgery. Using bone grafts from the patient, rather than a donor, and securing the vertebrae with screws and wires can help to prevent pseudoarthrosis.

Antibiotics are administered throughout the surgical process to reduce infection risks, according to the AAOS. If an infection develops, the patient may experience shaking chills or notice redness and fluid drainage around the surgical wound. The person may also have fever or pain symptoms.

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