There are approximately 17,000 new cases of spinal cord injuries (SCIs) in the U.S. every year. This does not include people who die at the scene of an accident. Vehicle accidents are the number one cause of SCIs in the United States. The five lowest vertebrae in your back are the lumbar vertebrae, separated by your lumbar discs. The lumbar region of the spine controls the legs, bowel, and bladder. Injury to the bundle of nerve roots at your lower spine can cause pain in the lower pack or extremities. One potential treatment for lumbar spine injuries is lumbar fusion surgery.
The Nature of Lumbar Spine Injuries
Car accidents can cause lumbar vertebrae or disc injury due to the force of the impact on the lower back. If the force is strong enough, it can push the lumbar disc out of its normal position. The lumbar vertebrae will then grind against each other and affect the spinal nerves in the absence of the lumbar disc as a cushion. This is called lumbar radiculopathy. Severe cases of lumbar injuries can cause cauda equina syndrome, where the vertebrae compress the nerve roots and cause loss of sensation in the groin region, urinary retention, and weakness or paralysis of the lower extremities.
Patients with more minor lumbar spine injuries can still suffer severe pain in the back and legs, as well as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs. Patients with this injury may not be able to engage in typical daily activities or work-related tasks, and can suffer permanent disability. Constant, severe pain in the lower back has a few different treatments and surgeries available depending on the nature of the injury. Typically, a doctor may recommend lumbar fusion surgery after exploring and rejecting other methods of treatment. Spinal fusion is a serious procedure with risks and potential downfalls.
How Lumbar Fusion Works
Lumbar fusion surgery consists of the surgeon first removing the injured lumbar disc. If the patient has bone spurs in the area that may aggravate the spinal cord further, the surgeon will remove these as well. Then, the surgeon will replace the disk with a bone graft or artificial material, inserted between the two lumbar vertebrae. Typically, the surgeon will hold the bone graft in place using metal plates and screws until the bones heal and fuse together. Once healed, the fused vertebrae will be one large bone, meant to stabilize the spine and prevent pain and further damage.
In more minor lumbar spine injuries, surgeons may be able to complete minimally invasive spinal fusion. This procedure also joints two or more spinal bones together, but uses a smaller incision that traditional spinal fusion surgeries. Unlike typical spinal fusions, minimally invasive spinal fusion surgery does not cut away the muscles of the spine. This can result in faster recovery times and reduce the odds of certain risks. Unfortunately, minimally invasive procedures are not appropriate for all lumbar spine injuries.
Prognosis for Recovery
Recovery time after lumbar fusion surgery is long – typically six to eight months or longer. After a successful surgery and appropriate recovery time, patients should not feel any pain, numbness, or tingling. In some cases, however, pain may not vanish completely. Patients may also experience a failed fusion, infection, or damage to the tissues and nerves during surgery. Lumbar fusion surgery is very serious procedure, and requires in-depth discussion with a surgeon prior to making a decision.
If you suffered a lumbar spin injury in a car accident, slip and fall, or other type of incident and require lumbar fusion surgery, speak to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. A negligent party may be liable for your injuries, medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and/or disability. All spinal cord injuries are serious, and deserve the attention of skilled lawyers.