Employees with degenerative disc disease from work duties over time have a workers compensation claim in Wisconsin if a doctor gives an expert opinion confirming causation. Then medical bills and temporary total disability benefits are payable. Very often the workers compensation insurer denies the claim with an independent medical exam or IME and the case proceeds with an attorney helping the injured worker. Most DDD cases are not surgical, but occasionally a fusion is necessary according to the doctors.
Fusion surgery joins two or more bones into one solid bone. This prevents the bones and joints from moving. The procedure is sometimes done with a discectomy. Mechanical pain is eased because the fusion holds the moving parts steady, so they can't cause irritation and inflammation.
The main types of fusion for degenerative disc disease include anterior lumbar interbody fusion, posterior lumbar fusion and combined fusion.
Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion
Anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery is done through the abdomen, allowing the surgeon to work on the anterior (front) of the lumbar spine. Removing the disc (discectomy) leaves a space between the pair of vertebrae. This interbody space is filled with a bone graft. One method is to take a graft from the pelvic bone and tamp it into place. Another method involves inserting two hollow titanium screws packed with bone, called fusion cages, into the place where the disc was taken out. The bone graft inside the cages fuses with the adjacent vertebrae, forming one solid bone.
Posterior Lumbar Fusion
A posterior lumbar fusion is done though an incision in the back. In this procedure, the surgeon lays small grafts of bone over the problem vertebrae. Most surgeons will also apply metal plates and screws to hold the vertebrae in place while they heal. This protects the graft so it can heal better and faster.
A combined fusion involves fusing the anterior (front) and posterior (back) surfaces of the problem vertebrae. By locking the vertebrae from the front and back, some surgeons believe the graft stays solid and is prevented from collapsing. Results do show improved fusion of the graft, though patients seem to fare equally well with other methods of fusion.
After fusion, if the worker has work-related permanent physical restrictions preventing a return to his or her former job, he or she may have a claim for more workers compensation benefits called loss of earning capacity or vocational retraining benefits. We often get the best workers comp results in DDD fusion cases by utilizing a functional capacity evaluation from a physical therapist at the end of healing.
McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin protecting workers rights in workers compensation cases.