Are You a Good Candidate for Spinal Fusion?

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man holding his back

Spinal fusion surgery uses a bone graft to join two vertebrae in the neck or back. Joining two vertebrae permanently stops movement between them.

The goal of a spinal fusion procedure is to improve pain and restore function to the back or neck. 


Are there other treatment options before having spinal fusion surgery?

In most cases, doctors recommend less invasive treatments to restore spine function and reduce pain. Less invasive treatments include rest, physical therapy (exercises and stretches for the back), back braces, and medications.

Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on spinal fusion surgery.

When to Consider a Spinal Fusion Procedure

You may want to consider a spinal fusion procedure if your back or neck pain is severe, and pain and loss of function is diminishing your quality of life. 

Your doctor may decide that you are a good candidate for spinal fusion surgery if:

  • Your pain is chronic.
  • Your spine condition only affects one or two discs or vertebrae.
  • Nonsurgical management like physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or back bracing hasn’t worked.

If you decide on surgery, ask if you are a good candidate for minimally invasive surgery. It can involve a faster recovery and less pain than open surgery. 

Who is NOT a good candidate for spinal fusion?

You may not be a good candidate if:

  • You have been having back or neck pain or symptoms for less than six months.
  • Your spine condition affects discs or vertebrae at multiple levels of your spine. Treating multilevel disease with spinal fusion can result in losing too much spine flexibility.
  • You have a severe illness or infection. 

What to Expect

A surgeon performs open spinal fusion surgery with a large incision or arthroscopic surgery with small, button hole-sized incisions.

You may have general or regional anesthesia. And you may need to stay in the hospital for 2 to 4 days, depending on the type of surgery.

You may need to wear a back brace for several weeks after your surgery. This means you may need help with household, work, and other daily activities.

Physical therapy or an exercise rehabilitation program may be part of your recovery. Gradually, you’ll regain spine function with less pain. Full recovery times range from several months to a year.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 30
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Spinal Fusion. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00348

  2. Spinal Fusion. North American Spine Society. http://www.knowyourback.org/Pages/Treatments/SurgicalOptions/SpinalFusion.aspx