Lumbar fusion surgery helps a lot of patients suffering from lower back pain. In this surgery the spinal bones are fused together, usually with metal.
However, like most surgeries performed to treat pain, the success rate for fusion surgery is not very impressive. One extensive review revealed that pain relief outcomes from fusion surgeries are no better than outcomes from conservative therapies. Another review of long term fusion clinical trials came to the same conclusion that fusion surgeries are not effective.
Moreover, since it’s a complex surgery, it is associated with complications. According to one study, the rate of complications was 21% with 3% of patients requiring ICU admission. Unfortunately, there was a death rate of almost 2%. It is interesting to note that the authors report these figures are not unusual for lumbar fusion surgeries. They go on to say that based on literature review, the incidence of complications ranges from 29% to 62% among patients older than 60 years.
Lumbar fusion surgeries are also very expensive, ranging from $24.000 to $80,000. Fortune 500 companies spend over $500 million a year on avoidable back surgeries for their workers. They lose as much as $1.5 billion in indirect costs associated with these procedures in the form of missed work and lost productivity, according to a two-year study by Consumer’s Medical Resource (CMR).
Fusion surgery has 3 strikes against it. It’s not effective, it is complicated and is costly. In spite of that, there has been a2.5 fold increase in the number of fusion surgeries performed from the year 1998 to 2008.
No wonder many educated patients avoid lumbar fusions. Brenda is one of them. I have known her for more than 8 years. Over this time she under went numerous procedures like epidural injections, facet joint injections, sacroiliac joint injections etc along with physical therapy and medication management. Unfortunately, she was getting only short term relief. She saw a surgeon who recommended fusion. She refused. She opted for stem cell therapy instead.
Brenda had degeneration in her discs, facets joints and sacro-iliac joints. They were all injected with her own stem cells. Now, she’s thrilled that she had the stem cell therapy.
She’s proof that at least in some patients, stem cells can prevent lumbar fusion surgery.