Sarah Lewis, PharmD
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 spine disorders.
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. Consider getting a second opinion about all of 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:
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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. H