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General Information

Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure in which two or more vertebrae are fused together by using bone grafts and/or metal rods to provide spinal rigidity and stabilization. Metal rods may be inserted to correct the curvature of the spine. Fusing of the bones provides a limited range of motion in the area of the fusion and decreases the person’s flexibility. Spinal fusion is used to treat a variety of spinal disorders, including:

  • Scoliosis
  • Injury to spinal vertebrae
  • Herniated, protruding or degenerative disks
  • Kyphosis
  • Other back problems secondary to other disorders or diseases
    • Arthritis
    • Infection
    • Tumors

Spinal fusion may lead to other health difficulties such as:

  • Urinary retention and difficulties
  • Decreased or absent intestinal function

Special Considerations

  • Make sure to keep the spine in proper alignment in the pool. Activities such as sitting on the tot dock, using a floater to keep upright position and having the child drape arms over a noodle help with alignment of the body.
  • Focus on proper positioning while sitting, standing and walking. Have child walk, stand and hop on tot dock. Weightlessness of being in the water helps minimize discomfort while focusing on proper positioning.
  • Avoid diving of any kind, it may cause discomfort and pressure on fused area.
  • Back strengthening and the cardiovascular workout will be of great benefit for children with spinal fusion.
  • Children with metal rods may have a limited range of motion in the neck. The aquatics specialist should plan activities that will not be hindered by it. The child may be most successful in performing floating on back, resting in ring float, or using an aqua jogger to remain upright in the water.
  • Child may have a paralytic ileus, paralysis to the ileus, which may lead to the use of a feeding tube or colostomy. Some children may use a back brace, make sure you check with parents about proper coverage while in water or other special care that needs to be taken.Ostomy, or stoma, may be covered with waterproof tape under swimsuit prior to getting in water. If a colostomy is present, it is important to empty prior to getting in the water and make sure it is securely closed.
  • Floatation devices can be used to help get used to being in the water but should not be depended on.

For more information on Spinal Fusion, try:

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Online Service Fact Sheet Spinal Fusion

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia: Spinal Fusion

North American Spine Society: Spinal Fusion Surgery

This content was created by Yvonne Enriquez
Graduate student in Adapted Physical Education
At Texas Woman’s University as part of requirements for
“Aquatics for Special Populations,” Dr. Huettig, Summer, 2004

page last updated 1/3/2017 1:00 PM