Posted on September 27, 2018

Spinal fusion may not improve your golf game, but it can make it less painful.

Eighteen months ago, Tiger Woods underwent spinal fusion surgery to relieve the debilitating back pain that had forced him to drop out of the sport where he is considered one of the greatest golfers of all time.

Six months after the procedure, Woods started swinging a club.  Last Sunday, Woods took first place at the  the 2018 Tour Championship in France.  It was his first major tournament win in 5 years.

Before his lower spine fusion, Woods said his pain had gotten so intense that playing golf was the furthest thing from his mind.

“I was beyond playing. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg. That was a pretty low point for a very long time,” he told senior writer Bob Harig of ESPN.com.

Spinal fusion surgery has been around for more than 50 years; however, recent developments in minimally invasive techniques, computer navigation and robotics have made spinal fusion less invasive, safer, and more precise. Newer technology also reduces the need for repeated x-rays during surgery, which decreases radiation exposure for the patient and the attending surgical staff.  Recovery is quicker and outcomes are much better than in years past.

“Today’s technology has so many benefits for patients suffering from spinal problems,” said neurosurgeon, Scott Simon, MD, of Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS). Dr. Simon was the first in Fairfield and Westchester Counties to perform robotic assisted spinal fusion surgery using the newest state-of-the-art Globus Excelsius GPS robotic system.

Spinal fusion surgery welds together two or more vertebrae in the spine to reduce motion in the section that causes pain from arthritis, injury, disease, or degeneration. Each procedure is slightly different depending on the patient’s individual condition, but typically the surgeon will decompress the nerves and replace a damaged disc (discectomy) with a bone graft and a synthetic cage in order to reestablish a normal level of space between the affected vertebrae and the nerve channels. In Tiger Wood’s case, the 5th lumbar vertebra had slid slightly over the sacrum, a condition known as spondylolisthesis, and was corrected by fixating and fusing the 5th lumbar vertebra to the sacrum.  In time, the vertebrae heals into one solid piece.

Most cervical (neck) fusion cases can be performed on an outpatient basis with patients recovering at home and moving about on the same day.  Thoracic and lumbar spinal fusions for the mid and lower back usually require a hospital stay of two to four days, depending on the location and complexity of the condition.  In addition to spinal fusion, a neurosurgeon may also recommend a procedure known as a laminectomy, during which damaged bone or tissue is removed.

According to Dr. Simon, spinal fusion surgery is only recommended after conservative treatments, such as NSAIDs, physical therapy and injections have failed to provide lasting pain relief.  Spinal fusion may be used to treat a number of back and neck problems, including:

Depending on the nature and location of the spine disorder, neurosurgeons will use one of three approaches to perform the procedure.  The anterior approach requires a small incision to be made through the front or side of the abdomen to reach the lumbar region or through the front of the neck to reach the cervical spine.  With the posterior lumbar approach, a small incision is made in the middle of the lower back; posterior cervical fusion is performed through the back of the neck.

RECOVERY

Patients tend to feel better in less time than it takes for the bone fusion to become solidly formed. “Post-lumbar surgical patients should avoid bending or lifting until they are cleared by their surgeon,” Dr. Simon said.  Most patients are off all pain medication by week 3 and often return to work by week 6.  Full recovery from cervical fusion can take from three to six months.  Thoracic and lumbar fusion can take longer, from six months to a year to heal completely.

If you experience prolonged back or neck pain that radiates down a limb, consult with a board certified neurosurgeon to learn if spinal fusion is an option for you.

ONS neurosurgery specialists are spinal fusion experts who use the latest state-of-the-art technology for the greatest precision and shorter recovery periods.

 

Schedule an appointment to find out if spinal fusion surgery is an option to treat your back pain.