Fusion surgeries are aimed at eliminating severe pain between bones by fusing them together into a solid bone and making them more stable. Fusion surgeries can be performed on many different joints, including the spine, feet, ankle and wrist, among others. [i] We know that with fusion surgeries, however, the segments of bones next to the fused bones will deteriorate. Arthritis will likely set in, and the probability of future surgeries is increased.
Common risks of fusion surgeries include arthritis in nearby joints[ii] and Adjacent Segment Disease, which is caused by additional stress being transferred to the adjacent joints due to the fused segment losing mobility and becoming stiff.[iii] Oftentimes, these conditions cause more pain and result in the need for additional surgeries.
Researchers have found that adjacent joint arthritis is becoming a real concern for patients following an ankle fusion.[iv] Specifically, they are finding that because the patient’s movement and gait will be altered due to the fused bones, the patient is at risk for exacerbated arthritic degeneration in those adjacent joints.
Many of the fusion surgeries that are performed are on the spinal cord. Spinal fusion surgeries are procedures that are used to fix problems with the vertebrae, or small bones that make up the spine. Fusions are used to treat longstanding issues, such as spinal stenosis or degenerative disk disease, but they are also used to treat newer issues, like fractures or tumors, as well. Doctors often recommend spinal fusion surgeries after an individual has been involved in a serious accident which caused a fracture in their spine that cannot be fixed by non-surgical methods like physical therapy or pain management.
The fusion itself has been compared to a “welding” process as the goal of the procedure is to fuse all of the painful bones together so that they heal into a single, solid bone. [v] To connect the discs, surgeons can use hardware, like screws or rods, to keep the discs from moving. Sometimes surgeons also use pieces of bone, called a bone graft, to fuse the discs together. The purpose of the fusion is to permanently connect the vertebrate to eliminate the motion between them, which should then theoretically also eliminate the pain. [vi]
Fusions are typically ordered as a last resort because the procedures themselves are invasive and, like many other serious procedures, they come with a series of risk factors and negative consequences. As noted earlier, one of the most well-known consequences of spinal fusions is Adjacent Segment Disease.
The development of Adjacent Segment Disease (“ASD”) is one of the biggest risk factors associated with a spinal fusion surgery. A daunting statistic for spinal fusion candidates is that within fifteen years of having a fusion, there is a 40% chance that they will need additional surgery due to ASD.[vii] Spinal surgeries cause stiffening in the fused segments, which results in added stress on the discs both above and below the fusion. ASD occurs because the adjacent, non-fused discs experience abnormal loads and movement causing them to work harder to compensate for the immobilized vertebrae that has been fused. As a result of the added stress, those adjacent vertebrae begin to rapidly weaken and deteriorate.
Not only is there a likelihood that a fusion patient may develop arthritis and experience more rapid degeneration in the adjacent spinal levels, there are a host of other risk factors patients need to be cognizant of. While fusions are aimed at eliminating pain, chronic pain is a common complaint of fusion patients. In fact, one in three spinal fusion patients report back pain within seven years of their surgery. [viii] Many factors, including nerve damage, implant failure and joint degeneration can cause chronic pain following a fusion. Astoundingly, one third of fusion patients lose the benefits of the surgery within ten years,[ix] resulting in the need for more surgery in many cases. These statistics are why surgeons are hesitant to operate on young patients. It seems that the consensus on fusions is that if the procedure is performed properly, it can significantly enhance the quality of life of a patient, but oftentimes, only for so long.
At Groth Law Firm, we have worked with many clients that have undergone fusion surgeries. We also have a network of doctors and surgeons that have educated us on the risks and benefits of fusion surgeries so that we are better equipped to serve our clients who have undergone, or will undergo, a fusion. If you have been seriously injured and are facing a serious surgery as a result of someone else’s negligence, give us a call at (877) 375-7001 so that we can make sure your rights are protected.