People need spinal fusions for a variety of different conditions, mostly those involving the vertebra or other parts of the spine. But if someone has troubles with their spinal fusion, they might be in pain and have difficulties working. In fact, even without complications, recovering from a spinal fusion completely can take several months to a year. Anyone who is having difficulties and has had a spinal fusion should be aware of what criteria they need to fit into to qualify for disability benefits, and they need to know what steps they need to take to receive the benefits if they need them.
What Is a Spinal Fusion?
A spinal fusion is when two or more vertebrae are connected so that the space in between them can no longer move. It’s a surgical procedure that’s done when the patient is under general anesthesia. To gain access to the area of the spine and the two or more vertebrae that need to be fused, an incision is made in the neck or back or in the abdomen or throat to get at the area to be fused from the front.
A graft of bone is actually the material that fuses the vertebrae. This piece of graft is either taken from the pelvis of the patient or taken from a bone bank. While metal screws or plates might be used in the grafting process, their function is actually to hold the graft in place until it heals. In some instances, instead of using a bone graft, a synthetic substance is used to promote bone growth so that the vertebrae fuse.
Usually, the patient has to stay in the hospital for at least a couple of days to let the spine heal. After the patient goes home, it will be normal for the body to take several months to heal and fuse completely. But if there’s any redness, tenderness, swelling, drainage, shaking chills, or a fever of higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, the patient should inform their doctor to look for signs of infection.
Why Some People Need Spinal Fusions
There are several types of reasons why someone might need a spinal fusion. For instance, if someone has a deformity of the spine, a spinal fusion can help correct the deformity. Scoliosis, which is a sideways curvature of the spine, is one type of deformity that can be benefited by a spinal fusion. This type of deformity can cause pain and strange sensations throughout the body, including the shoulders, arms, back, legs, and even feet. People with scoliosis can have either one or two curves, and this can affect how many spinal fusions are needed to correct the problem.
Some people might also need a spinal fusion if they have weakness or instability of the spine, which is often the result of severe arthritis in the spine. When this happens, the spine has an abnormal and excessive amount of motion between the vertebrae, causing them to rub together and irritate the nerve root. A spinal fusion can cause the vertebrae to be more stable so that the nerve is no longer irritated.
When a person has a herniated disk, sometimes the disk needs to be removed if it’s too damaged. In cases like these, a spinal fusion might be used to stabilize the spine after the disk is removed. The disk is the piece between the vertebrae that provides cushion. If that disk isn’t there, the vertebrae often have to be fused so that they’re not rubbing together and irritating the nerve root.
Rehabilitation After a Spinal Fusion
During the process of recovering from a spinal fusion, the patient will usually stay for about four days, but some people might have to stay for up to a week. The length of time that a person stays can be dependant on the person’s health going into the surgery. The patient will be given antibiotics through an IV at this time as well as some pain medicines and fluids. Additionally, the patient will be on bed rest to allow the back to heal. Because of this, they’ll need to have a catheter for urine.
The doctor will continually monitor the spinal fusion at specific points over the course of about two years. Additionally, it will take about six months to about a year for the back to completely heal. During this time, the patient needs to continue to do physical therapy, but patients usually need to avoid bending, twisting, and heavy lifting. In fact, anything heavier than a gallon of milk is usually too much.
The first six weeks of healing are aimed at getting the patient back to feeling good. After that, the goals of physical therapy will be to strengthen the back and increase physical fitness. For instance, the physical therapist might introduce mat exercises that are aimed at adding stability by strengthening the abdominal muscles. Exercises with bands and exercise balls might also be introduced, and the patient might eventually be encouraged to do low-impact aerobic activities, such as swimming and brisk walking.
Disability Benefits for Spinal Fusion
When a person is healing from a spinal fusion, it can take a while. Whether or not a person qualifies for Social Security disability benefits depends on what kind of physical limitations they have. Usually, spinal fusions will fall under the listing of disorders of the spine in the Blue Book. If the listing qualifications are met, the person will automatically qualify.
To meet the listing for a disorder of the spine, the applicant has to have a disorder like spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, vertebral fracture, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, or another type of spinal disorder that would cause the nerve root or spinal cord to be compromised. Additionally, there must be evidence the spinal cord root is actually compromised.
In addition to the diagnosis of spinal disorder, they will also need to fall into a few other criteria. For instance, compression of the nerve root with pain and a loss of sensory and reflex, muscle weakness, and a smaller range of motion. Another option is to have a disorder that causes inflammation in the spinal arachnoid that causes pain and sensitivity, causing a need to switch positions frequently. Having a narrowing of the spinal canal that causes chronic pain, limitation in the ability to walk, or weakness.
One reason that some people might meet this listing is if the spinal fusion didn’t fix the underlying cause for why someone needed the surgery in the first place. But it’s actually very difficult to meet the listing because there’s usually some form of treatment for spinal disorders.
The other option for people who don’t meet the listing is to apply using the residual-functional capacity test, which will look at all of the work that the applicant has done in the past and compare them to a list of the person’s limitations to determine whether or not there’s work that the applicant can do.
How We Can Help
There are several ways in which the team at Osterhout Berger Disability Law can help you receive the benefit you deserve. We help individuals who need to…
- Apply for Social Security Benefits and want to ensure everything is done right the first time
- Appeal a denial of Social Security Disability Benefits
- Appeal an existing denial of Long Term Disability (LTD) Benefits
If you are facing one of these situations due to Spinal Fusion, please do not hesitate in reaching out. Our team of experienced attorneys are here to help, and your consultation is free.