Leg swelling after back surgery can cause alarm. There are some serious causes of this symptom, but others are less serious and easy to resolve. It’s important to take note of swelling that occurs anywhere in the body following a surgical procedure and to seek out a medical professional to rule out or confirm the more hazardous causes first, then proceed to consider less serious causes.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a serious condition in which a blood clot forms in the lower leg. Blood clots are more common after surgery, because 1) your body is pumping out clotting substances to heal up the incision site, and 2) your mobility will be limited for a while. Blood that is not flowing normally through the veins can form a mass called a clot, restricting blood flow back to the heart from the leg. This can result in pain and swelling.
The serious concern with DVT is that the clot can break free and get caught in the lung on its way back to the heart; this can cause a partial lung collapse, or pulmonary embolism, which may be fatal. Medical professionals can use X-ray or MRI technology to identify the presence of blood clots.
Inferior Vena Cava Obstruction
This cause of leg swelling can lead to the formation of blood clots, but before that can cause the legs to swell by not allowing blood to flow out of the legs as quickly as usual. The inferior vena cava is a large blood vessel that carries blood away from the legs back up to the lungs to be re-oxygenated.
Because it travels near the spine, the vein may be obstructed as a result of spine surgery. The vena cava can be obstructed by the presence of blood pooling in a nearby blood vessel that was injured during the surgery or any other nearby protrusion. If no blood clots are found in the legs, then the vena cava may be assessed with imaging tests to seek out possible obstruction.
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The above are three potential causes of leg swelling following spinal fusion surgery. Be vigilant about any changes in your body, and be knowledgeable about spinal fusion risks.