The Impact of Cigarette Smoking on Spinal Fusion Surgery
No one ever wants to hear that they need surgery! Especially neck or back surgery! However, sometimes surgery cannot be avoided. Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that is frequently recommended for my clients who have suffered herniated discs as a direct result of their work-related accidents. This procedure is used to join bony segments (vertebrae) of the spine. In order for a fusion to heal, new bone growth must occur. This bony growth acts as a bridge between the spinal segments. Sometimes fusion surgery is combined with another surgical technique known as spinal instrumentation. In an instrumented fusion, different types of medically designed hardware such as rods, hooks, wires, and screws are attached to the spine. These devices provide immediate stability and hold the spine in proper position while the fusion heals.
Spinal fusion (also known as arthrodesis) can be performed at the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar levels of the spine. It takes months to heal. Typically the surgeon will order post-operative x-rays to monitor your healing progress. Sometimes an additional MRI will also be ordered.
The long-term success of many types of spinal surgery depends upon a successful spinal fusion. Unfortunately, all too often if the fusion does not heal, surgery may have to be repeated. A failed fusion is called a non-union or pseudoarthrosis. Spinal instrumentation, although very strong, may even break if a non-union occurs. Spine surgeons try to minimize the risk of this happening by prescribing a bone growth stimulator. If spinal fusion fails and additional surgery will not be beneficial, pain management techniques certainly need to be explored.
There is growing evidence that cigarette smoking has been found to adversely affect the success of spinal fusion surgery. Smoking disrupts the normal function of basic body systems that contribute to bone formation and growth. New bone growth is necessary for a fusion to heal.
Medical research has demonstrated that habitual cigarette smoking leads to the breakdown of the spine to such a degree that fusion surgery is often less successful when compared to similar procedures performed on non-smokers. Cigarette smoking also compromises the immune system and the body's other defense mechanisms, which can increase a smoker's susceptibility to post-operative infection.
If you have to undergo a spinal fusion, you naturally want the best possible surgical outcome. Clearly, cigarette smoking is detrimental to spinal fusion. Many workers' compensation insurers will pay for prescription medicine to help injured workers stop smoking before surgery. There is also an increasing number of surgeons who are refusing to perform spinal surgery on patients who are smokers. Injured workers who are facing spinal fusions or any type of spine surgery should make every effort to stop smoking. Quitting the habit beforehand will decrease the associated risks and increase the likelihood of a successful spinal fusion surgery and a successful return to work.
Susan J. Sadow has handled hundreds of spinal fusion surgery cases over her career. Please contact her at 770-984-8900 so you can genesis from her expertise if you or a loved one is facing surgery for a work-related accident.