People often experience muscle pain after spinal fusion surgery due to the surgical techniques involved. However, different techniques can cause less pain, and medications can help reduce the effects as well.

Spinal fusion surgery (SFS) is a procedure to correct problems with the vertebrae. Vertebrae are the small interlocking bones in a person’s spine.

During SFS, surgeons operate to fuse two or more vertebrae into a single solid bone. They insert extra bone material between these vertebrae. This is called a bone graft. They collect this bone material from elsewhere in the body or from other artificial or natural bone sources.

The aim of SFS is to improve symptoms of several back conditions by stopping movement between vertebrae. There are various kinds of SFS. Which type a surgeon performs depends on the nature and location of the back condition.

People may experience pain after SFS, including muscle pain. This pain can result from the operation itself, as surgeons operate on muscle to gain access to the vertebrae. Healthcare professionals use several different medications to help relieve pain after the operation.

This article discusses the causes and treatments of muscle pain after spinal fusion. It also discusses the prevalence of muscle pain after spinal fusion.

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Spinal fusion operations typically involve cutting through the muscles. This can cause muscle pain following SFS.

During SFS, surgeons lift, cut, or move muscles in the back away from the backbone. This can involve detaching muscles from the spine. Surgeons may also need to put pressure on a person’s muscles during the operation.

These methods expose the back of the spine and allow surgeons to operate on the vertebrae. At the end of the operation, surgeons stitch these muscles back into place.

This part of the operation can also involve disrupting normal blood supply and nerves to the back muscles, which can also lead to muscle pain.

Some SFS methods may cause less muscle damage and less muscle pain after the operation. There are several different techniques surgeons may use to perform SFS.

These techniques may involve approaching the spine from different directions or cutting or moving fewer or different muscles. The techniques are named for the direction the surgeons use to access the spine:

  • The anterior approach is from the front.
  • The posterior approach is from the back.
  • The lateral approach is from the side.

These different techniques may affect the level of pain a person experiences following surgery. Which technique a surgeon uses depends on the reason the surgery is required.

Read about spinal fusion for scoliosis.

Healthcare professionals often prescribe medication for pain relief after SFS, such as:

Healthcare professionals may prescribe a combination of these medications to help manage pain.

Although opioids can help relieve pain after surgery, they may also be addictive. Healthcare professionals will generally aim to minimize the use of opioids for pain relief. They will give a person clear guidance on how to take them and when to stop doing so. People who are already taking opioids should tell the surgeon or healthcare team before their procedure.

In 2022 research, scientists analyzed 44 clinical trials to investigate pain relief for people after SFS. They found that several pain medications reduced pain when at rest. However, they found that most of the available studies had biased data or did not have high quality evidence. This means they could not identify which medication was the most effective option.

A person should discuss pain management following SFS with their healthcare team.

People may have pain after SFS for several reasons. It is also normal to feel some pain as part of the healing process.

According to a 2022 review, people undergoing spinal surgery have a high risk of pain that persists for some time after their surgery.

Researchers also reviewed studies into chronic pain after spinal surgery in 2023. They evaluated 85,643 people across 16 studies. They then conducted a statistical analysis to estimate the prevalence of persistent pain among these people.

They concluded that the prevalence of persistent pain in people after spinal surgery was 14.97%, or about 3 in every 20 people.

The following are answers to some questions people frequently ask about pain after spinal fusion.

What is normal pain after spinal fusion?

People typically feel some pain and soreness after SFS in or near where the surgeons operated. It should improve within a few days but may last for up to 6 weeks.

What helps nerve pain after spinal fusion?

According to a 2017 scientific article, gabapentin is effective in patients with failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS). FBSS is a term for nerve pain after SFS, also called neuropathic pain. Gabapentin is a prescription anticonvulsant medication that can also help treat nerve pain.

When should I be concerned about back pain after surgery?

It is best to seek medical advice if a person experiences pain that does not start improving within a few days of their surgery.

Spinal fusion surgery is a procedure where a surgeon fuses vertebrae in a person’s spine together. Healthcare professionals use SFS to treat many back conditions. There are several different types and methods of SFS.

The surgical techniques a surgeon uses for SFS can change how much pain a person has after the operation. Different surgical techniques can affect a person’s muscles differently.

People may often have pain after SFS. However, healthcare professionals normally prescribe effective medication to help manage the pain.