By Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Spine stabilization is done for a number of disorders — degeneration of the spine, tumors, and traumatic fractures.

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The spine can be stabilized from the outside with braces, or from the inside with surgery.

If the spine is unstable because of fracture of a backbone, and if the fracture fragments can be put back together, and there is no compression of nerve structures, you can use a brace from the outside until the fracture heals. Otherwise, you would have to do surgery and fuse the backbones together.

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A fusion is often done in conjunction with decompression, meaning you take pressure off the spinal cord and nerve roots. So before putting in any hardware, the surgeons take out any part of the spine that’s pressing on nerves. This can relieve pain and other symptoms, but it leaves the spine vulnerable to excess movement and injury, which is why they go on and do the fusion.

With a fusion, the surgeons will put in irradiated cadaver bone, which is held in place with screws and plates and rods, usually made of titanium or stainless steel. These are put in along the backside of the backbones, and hold everything in place while the patient’s bones and the bone graft grow together.

Typically the pain subsides greatly in the four weeks post-op, but can persist to some degree over several months. Activity is limited while the bones grow together. So no bending or lifting or twisting.

Physical therapy starts the first week post-op — walking and stretching typically, followed by two months of static stabilization exercises. These involve the arms and legs without rocking, arching, or moving the trunk.

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Generally it takes six months to fully recover. Physical therapists often will suggest adjustments to the work environment to help patients return to work if a job is strenuous.