Spinal Fusion Procedure
What is spinal fusion?
Spinal fusion is the surgical joining of two vertebrae in your neck or back. Your vertebrae are the bones that make up your spine (backbone). Spinal fusion permanently stops movement between two or more vertebrae. It is a treatment for a variety of diseases and conditions of your spine. All spinal fusions use a bone graft to fuse or join two vertebrae. Sometimes your doctor will also use screws, rods or plates to hold your vertebrae in place. Spinal fusion can help restore pain-free function in a deformed, damaged or diseased spine.
Spinal fusion is a common but major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options available depending on your specific circumstances. You should consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having a spinal fusion.
Types of spinal fusion
Generally, all types of spinal fusion procedures use bone graft material. This involves placing bone graft material in strips along your vertebrae, in pieces between your vertebrae, or packed into a special cage that goes between your vertebrae. Your body heals the bone around the graft over several months. Spinal fusion is not immediate with surgery. It takes time for your body to form enough bone around the graft to permanently fuse your vertebrae.
The types of spinal fusion procedures include:
- Allograft fusion uses a piece of cadaver bone for the bone graft. Allografts come from a bone bank. Allograft fusions require only one incision and cause less pain than an autograft fusion. However, bone fusion and healing is less predictable with an allograft.
- Autograft fusion uses a piece of your own bone for the graft. Your doctor will usually take bone from your hip. This type of spinal fusion was the only option available in the past. However, an autograft requires an additional incision, lengthens surgery time, and causes more post-operative pain.
- Synthetic, or artificial graft fusion uses synthetic (totally man-made) materials and modified natural bone. Some artificial bone graft materials are used alone and others are combined with an allograft or autograft.
Other procedures that may be performed
In addition to spinal fusion, your doctor may also perform one or more other procedures. These procedures are usually done first and include:
- Discectomy is the surgical removal of part or all of a spinal disc. A discectomy treats degenerated, herniated or ruptured spinal discs.
- Foraminotomy is the widening of the opening where the nerve roots leave the spinal canal. Your doctor may use this procedure when the opening (foramina) is narrowed causing pressure on the spinal nerves.
- Laminectomy is the removal of the lamina. The lamina is the back part of each vertebra of your spine. A laminectomy makes your spinal canal larger. This reduces pressure in your spinal canal and nerves.
Why is spinal fusion performed?
Spinal fusion is a major surgical procedure that your doctor may recommend to treat a variety of diseases and conditions of the spine. Your doctor may only consider spinal fusionfor you if other treatment options with less risk of complications are ineffective. Talk with your doctor about all your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion.
Your doctor mayrecommend spinal fusion for persistent spinal pain caused by:
- Degenerative disc disease, a breakdown of the cushioning discs between the vertebrae. This can lead to compression of the spinal cord and nerves.
- Fracture of a vertebra
- Infections of the spine
- Scoliosis or kyphosis, which are abnormal curvatures of the spine
- Spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal column causing pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
- Spondylolisthesis, which isdislocation of one vertebra over the one below it
- Tumors of the spine
How is spinal fusion performed?
An orthopedic surgeon will lead the surgical team and perform your spinal fusion in a hospital setting. An orthopedic surgeon specializes in the surgical treatment of diseases of the bones and connective tissues. To fuse your spine, your orthopedic surgeon will place a bone graft material in strips along your vertebrae, in pieces between your vertebrae, or packed into a special cage that goes between your vertebrae.
© Copyright 2012 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.