What Is Adjacent Segment Disease After Spinal Fusion?

Category: Spine Surgery | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: May 31, 2022

Lumbar Fusion Surgery

A spinal fusion procedure is designed to help limit mobility at a specific spot in your spine by fusing two adjacent vertebrae to one another. This essentially creates one larger connected vertebra, which helps to prevent pain caused by segmental instability or excessive mobility. But like any surgical procedure, it’s not without risks, and one potential issue associated with spinal fusion is what’s known as adjacent segment disease. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at adjacent segment disease and how it can be prevented and treated after a fusion procedure.

What Is Adjacent Segment Disease?

Adjacent segment disease describes any number of spinal issues that can develop as a result of excessive motion in a specific area. Your spinal column is made up of a number of discs and vertebrae that act as motion segments in order to move the spine as a whole. They do this by absorbing and distributing stress when your body is at rest and in motion, and how one segment acts can affect the rest of the column.

Too much movement and instability among vertebral segments can be problematic and call for a spinal fusion procedure, but that also comes at a cost. Now those segments are fused together, limiting their motion ability, which means the spinal segments above and below the fusion have to compensate for the lost motion at the nearby segments. These adjacent segments will become more mobile, which in turn means they’ll take on additional stress, which can accelerate degeneration at the vertebrae nearest the fusion site.

Spinal conditions or symptoms you may experience as a result of adjacent segment disease include:

  • Bulging or herniated discs
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal osteoarthritis
  • Localized pain
  • Pain that radiates down your arms or legs
  • Difficulty walking

Diagnosing And Treating Adjacent Segment Disease

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or your surgeon wants to take a closer look at your spine in the wake of a fusion procedure, they may be able to identify segmental mobility and adjacent segment disease with the help of an MRI. An MRI is best for identifying the degenerative changes that occur with adjacent spinal disease, and it provides the specialist with a detailed look of the spinal nerves and other soft tissues in the area.

Treatment will vary based on a couple different factors, including the severity of the issue and how likely it is to respond to the pursued methods. For mild cases, you may be able to strengthen your spine and limit symptoms by following some conservative care techniques like physical therapy, weight loss, posture improvements and controlled exercise. More severe cases may require a second spinal procedure.

In an effort to reduce the risk of adjacent segment disease, more providers are turning to artificial disc replacement instead of spinal fusion for the right patient. Dr. Sincropi can walk you through each option and explain the benefits of both procedures so that you can make the best decision for your health.

For more information about adjacent spinal disease or for back pain in general, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi and the group at The Midwest Spine & Brain Institute today at (651) 430-3800.

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