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Is it common for a rod in a spinal fusion to break after 3 month

My husband had a spinal fusion in July he was healing good, till all of a sudden he got terrible pain in his back, he heard crunching noise coming from his back also. He was in terrible pain for over a month, couldn't sleep, finally called doctor and he said could be scar tissue or spasms. Finally my husband could not take the pain, called doctor's office to get a script for an x-ray. Doctor read x-ray and told my husband that the rod had broke. He said he has not ever seen this happen 2 months after surgery, and especially where the rod broke, he has never seen a rod brake in that spot. The doctor perform emergency surgery the next day to take out broken rod and replace with new rod.

Is this common for a rod to break so early in surgery. Do you think the rod could be defective?
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replied October 30th, 2012
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Jackie1279,

Sorry about your husband's problem.

It is rare for a metal implant to break that quickly, but it is not unheard of. Metallic implants are not meant to withstand too much repetitive stressing and are definitely not designed to be a replacement for the bone. The "rods" placed in the spine during spinal fusion are just there to hold the vertebrae in place till the body forms the fusion mass. It is the mass of bone that is going to support the body. Once the fusion mass has formed the rods are superfluous.


In other cases, such as fracture fixation, it is a race to see what happens first: the fracture healing or the hardware breaking. It is known that the hardware will fail if the fracture does not heal. The repeated flexing and stressing of the hardware will cause its ultimate failure, just like a paper clip will break when it is repeatedly bent back and forth.


So, most likely, your husband’s fusion mass was just not consolidating fast enough. Usually, most patients will basically have a completed fusion within about 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Thus, the rods are no longer being stressed, because the spine is fused and no longer moving. But, if the fusion did not consolidate, the rod was continuing to be stressed with any motion, and it ultimately failed.

This is one reason that spine fusion patients used to be placed in body casts or orthotics after spinal fusion. When the rods where added to the fusion, it was felt that the external immobilization was no longer needed; the rods would act as an internal splint. Some spine surgeons will still use a spinal orthosis, even when rods are used. But, this is not common. It is mainly now only used when the patient is very osteoporotic.

It is unlikely that the rod was defective. But, you could ask the surgeon if the rod looked that way when it was removed. It would be hard to tell, without a metallurgical analysis of the metal in the implant. But, I guess if you want to pay to have it analyzed, and the rod is still available, you could have that done by an independent lab.


Again, sorry that your husband had to have a second surgery. Hope he is doing okay now.
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