7 Symptoms of Loose Screws After Spinal Fusion Surgery

Spinal issues have an impact on everything from your ability to work to your ability to enjoy hobbies and pastimes. What if your pain levels aren’t improving after a recent spinal surgery?

Patients typically undergo spinal fusion surgery as a last resort. Because the procedure is complex and invasive, doctors will rule out other treatment methods for pain and posture problems, first.

One possible complication is that the pedicle screws used in your surgery can loosen. We’re here to talk about the symptoms of loose screws after spinal fusion and when to contact your spine doctor.

Read on for seven signs that you have loose screws after spinal fusion surgery.

1. Limited Mobility

Spinal fusion surgery is designed to correct issues like spinal weakness and instability. The procedure can alter mobility in two key ways.

Spinal fusion involves fusing two vertebrae together, which will impact the way your spine can move in that area. However, it should ultimately increase your mobility by preventing the pain caused by spinal damage and by increasing the strength of a previously weakened area.

It could be due to stiffness if you’re experiencing limited spinal mobility in the weeks after your spinal fusion surgery. If post-surgery exercises don’t increase your mobility, it’s possible that the screws have come loose before the bone has fused.

2. Back Spasms

You may experience occasional spasming in your back muscles in the early weeks of your surgery recovery. Spasms feel like twitching, fluttering, or rapid clenching in a specific muscle or group of muscles.

Infrequent back spasms may indicate that you need to perform stretches and mild activity to loosen strained muscles. You may also benefit from taking OTC pain relievers that target inflammation.

You should consult your doctor if back spasms continue or increase three or more months after spinal fusion surgery. This could indicate complications, including loose screws.

3. Nerve Damage

Pedicle screws are placed carefully in the bone after spinal fusion surgery. If they loosen, they can shift in the back and aggravate nearby nerves and muscle tissue.

Nerve irritation in the spine can lead to a number of additional symptoms. You may feel a localized pain that some patients describe as burning or sharp. Over time, this nerve irritation can start to impact other areas of the body, causing tingling sensations, numbness, or weakness in the shoulders, arms, hips, or legs, depending on where the nerve irritation is.

It’s important to have signs of nerve damage investigated immediately. Early intervention can often reverse the problem before it causes permanent damage.

4. Ongoing Back Pain

If you have severe back pain caused by weakness or shifting between two or more vertebrae, spinal fusion surgery should help to reduce or eliminate that pain. Though you will need to limit physical activity after surgery, there are a few spinal exercises you can try to address ongoing back pain.

What if these exercises aren’t making a dent in your pain levels and the pain is getting worse post-surgery, not better? If nothing seems to bring relief, it’s time to talk to your doctor about possible causes.

There is a lot of debate about the prevalence of failed back surgery syndrome as well as contributing factors. However, worsening and persistent back pain is one of the most common signs patients with FBSS express. Because pedicle screws hold the vertebrae in place as they fuse, screws that loosen in the first six months post-surgery can cause FBSS.

5. Bulges in the Back

Some patients may notice tangible signs of loose pedicle screws after spinal fusion surgery. Spinal hardware is designed to sit inside or flush with the bone and shouldn’t change the shape or appearance of your back. If you can feel bulges near your surgery site (or if someone else can see them), your pedicle screws may be loose and pushing outward.

Another tactile sign that you have loose spinal hardware is crepitus. Crepitus is a term refers to a scraping or grating sound or sensation caused by two bones (or bone and cartilage) rubbing together. Some patients assume these sensations are caused by the screws themselves. More than likely, what you’re experiencing is the friction between bone and cartilage, though this does tend to happen when screws loosen before fusion is complete.

6. Infection

Unlike the other symptoms on this list, infection isn’t typically caused by loose screws. Instead, deep implant infection can increase the chances of screws loosening.

Early signs of an infection after spinal fusion surgery appear topically. You may notice redness on the skin or weeping from an unhealed surgery site, as well as localized pain. If spinal hardware infection goes untreated, patients may develop a fever, indicating that the immune system is working hard to fight the infection.

You should not expect deep implant infection to self-heal. Early intervention can prevent serious illness and secondary problems like loose screws.

7. Sleep Disturbances

Chances are, you will notice one or more of the symptoms listed above if you have loose screws after spinal fusion surgery. That said, failed spinal surgery can lead to sleep disturbances such as insomnia. Patients may also notice increased difficulty to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up feeling rested.

This is one of the many ways that failed surgery can have a negative impact on your overall quality of life. Fortunately, many patients with loose spinal fusion screws can benefit from corrective procedures.

Don’t Neglect Symptoms of Loose Screws After Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion surgery is not a small procedure. Typically, we opt for spinal fusion surgery when other interventions do not yield the desired results. It’s important to keep up with physical therapy and keep an eye out for symptoms of loose screws after spinal fusion.

Are you living with back pain after a recent procedure? Do you want a second opinion on an MMRI before undergoing a major back surgery?

Dr. Frazier of New York City Spine earned the title of New York Super Doctor thanks to his innovative work. Take a look at our new patient portal to get started.

At New York City Spine Surgery, our standard for excellent care means treating you as a whole person, and not just another spine disorder on a chart.

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