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Spinal and lumbar fusion

Overview of spinal and lumbar fusion

A spinal or lumbar fusion, also called arthrodesis or vertebral interbody fusion, is a procedure to join two bones (vertebrae) together in your neck or back.

Spinal fusion will permanently stop any movement between the two vertebrae to reduce pain and restore function to your back or neck.

If you have chronic back pain due to wear and tear between your vertebra, a slipped disc, or another issue that is made worse by movement, a spinal fusion can stop pain by preventing movement.

If a spinal condition is causing chronic pain, our skilled orthopedic surgeons at Dignity Health can perform a spinal fusion. If you’d like to ease your back or neck discomfort and return to your regular routine, Find a Doctor near you today.

Why it’s necessary

Spinal fusion treats chronic, severe back pain that has a known cause, such as age-related degenerative disc disease or a spinal tumor.

This pain will not have gotten better after non-surgical interventions such as physical therapy or injections.

Candidates for spinal fusion may experience pain anywhere in the spine, from the neck to the lumbar spine (lower back). The nature of this pain varies and can include sharp or dull pain, tingling, and numbness.

Common conditions treated

Chronic back pain can be caused by several different conditions. To benefit from spinal fusion surgery, you must have pain with motion.

This pain can be due to aging, disease, or injury, and can be part of a normal degenerative process or a developmental anomaly.

For example, candidates for spinal fusion surgery could be experiencing chronic back pain from any of the following:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of your spine)
  • Spinal tumors
  • Spinal infections
  • Scoliosis or kyphosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)
  • Herniated disc
  • Spondylolisthesis (dislocation of one vertebra over the one below it)
  • Fractured vertebra

If you experience chronic back pain and your pain does not respond after months of non-surgical treatment, your doctor may discuss spinal fusion surgery with you.

When motion is the source of your pain, and your doctor can show this using imaging techniques like MRI, x-ray, or CT scan, spinal fusion surgery is often the best option.

If your overall health and specific spine condition allow it, surgeons at Dignity Health may opt to perform a minimally invasive spinal fusion instead of open surgery. During a minimally invasive procedure, your surgeon will make a few tiny incisions (whereas open surgery requires a larger incision).

Your surgeon will join two vertebrae together with a bone graft. Spinal fusion surgeries use bone grafts to promote healing, increase bone production, and help the vertebrae form together into one solid bone.

Bone grafts can be taken from your own bone, which is called an autograft. Autografts are generally taken from your pelvis and require an additional incision during surgery. This can mean the procedure and recovery times are longer and can lead to further discomfort during the healing process.

Alternatively, you may receive bone grafts from a donor (called an allograft). There are also artificial options, such as demineralized bone matrices (DMBs), which is a donor bone with the calcium removed. After the calcium is removed, the donor bone can be molded into a putty with proteins that aid in healing.

Synthetic bones can also be made from calcium and phosphate materials. You will discuss with your doctor which type of graft is best for your case.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.