What Is Spinal Fusion?
is a surgical procedure in which two or more vertebrae are permanently joined
into one solid bone with no space between them. Vertebrae are the small,
interlocking bones of the spine.
fusion, extra bone is used to fill the space that usually exists between the
two separate vertebrae. When the bone heals, there’s no longer space between
is also known as:
- anterior spinal fusion
- posterior spinal fusion
- vertebral interbody fusion
Uses of Spinal Fusion
is performed to treat or relieve symptoms of many spinal problems. The
procedure removes mobility between the two treated vertebrae. This may decrease
flexibility, but it’s useful for treating spinal disorders that make movement
painful. These disorders include:
- spinal stenosis
- herniated “bulging” disks
- degenerative disk disease
- fractured vertebrae that may be
making your spinal column unstable
- scoliosis (curvature of the spine)
- kyphosis (abnormal rounding of the
- spinal weakness or instability due
to severe arthritis, tumors, or infections
- spondylolisthesis (a condition in
which one vertebra slips onto the vertebra below it, causing severe pain)
fusion procedure may also include a diskectomy. When performed alone, a
diskectomy involves removing a disk due to damage or disease. When the disk is
removed, bone grafts are placed into the empty disk space to maintain the right
height between bones. Your doctor uses the two vertebrae on either side of the
removed disk to form a bridge (or fusion) across the bone grafts to promote
fusion is performed in the cervical spine along with a diskectomy, it’s called
cervical fusion. Instead of removing a vertebra, the surgeon removes disks or
bone spurs from the cervical spine, which is in the neck. There are seven
vertebrae separated by intervertebral disks in the cervical spine.
Preparing for Spinal Fusion
the preparation for spinal fusion is like other surgical procedures. It
requires preoperative laboratory testing.
fusion, you should tell your physician about any of the following:
- cigarette smoking, which may
reduce your ability to heal from spinal fusion
- alcohol use
- any illnesses you have, including
colds, the flu, or herpes
- any prescription or
over-the-counter medications you’re taking, including herbs and supplements
to discuss how the medications you’re taking should be used before and after
the procedure. Your doctor may provide special instructions if you’re taking
medications that could affect blood clotting. These include anticoagulants
(blood thinners), such as warfarin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs), including aspirin and ibuprofen.
given general anesthesia, so you’ll need to fast for at least eight hours
before your procedure. On the day of surgery, use only a sip of water to take
any medications your physician has recommended.
How Is Spinal Fusion Performed?
is performed in the surgical department of a hospital. It’s done using general
anesthesia, so you won't be conscious or feel any pain during the procedure.
procedure, you’ll be lying down and have a blood pressure cuff on your arm and
heart monitor leads on your chest. This allows your surgeon and anesthesia
provider to monitor your heartbeat and blood pressure during surgery. The whole
procedure may take several hours.
will prepare the bone graft that will be used to fuse the two vertebrae. If
your own bone is being used, your surgeon will make a cut above the pelvic bone
and remove a small section of it. The bone graft may also be a synthetic bone
or an allograft, which is a bone from a bone bank.
where the bone will be fused, your surgeon will make an incision for placement
of the bone.
having a cervical fusion, your surgeon will often make a small incision in the
horizontal fold of the front of your neck to expose the cervical spine. The
bone graft will be placed between the affected vertebrae to join them.
Sometimes, the graft material is inserted between the vertebrae in special
cages. Some techniques place the graft over the back part of the spine.
Once the bone
graft is in place, your surgeon will may use plates, screws, and rods so that
the spine won't move. This is called internal fixation. The added stability
provided by the plates, screws, and rods helps the spine to heal faster and
with a higher rate of success.
Recovery from Spinal Fusion
spinal fusion, you’ll need to stay in the hospital for a period of recovery and
observation. This generally lasts three to four days. Initially, your doctor
will want to observe you for reactions to the anesthesia and surgery. Your
release date will depend on your overall physical condition, your physician’s
practices, and your reaction to the procedure.
While in the
hospital, you’ll receive pain medication. You'll also get instructions about
new ways you may need to move since your flexibility may be limited. You may
need to learn new techniques to walk, sit, and stand safely. You also may not
be able to resume a normal diet of solid food for a few days.
leave the hospital you may need to wear a brace to keep your spine in proper
alignment. You might not be able to resume your normal activities until your
body has fused the bone into place. Fusing may take up to six weeks or longer.
Your doctor may recommend physical rehabilitation to help you strengthen your
back and learn ways to move safely.
from spinal fusion will take three to six months. Your age, overall health, and
physical condition affect how quickly you’ll heal and be able to return to
Complications of Spinal Fusion
fusion, like any surgery, carries the risk of certain complications, such as:
- blood clots
- bleeding and blood loss
- respiratory problems
- heart attack or stroke during
- inadequate wound healing
- reactions to medications or
also carries the risk of the following rare complications:
- infection in the treated vertebrae
- damage to a spinal nerve, which
can cause weakness, pain, and bowel or bladder problems
- additional stress on the bones
adjacent to the fused vertebrae
- persistent pain at the bone graft
- blood clots in the legs that can
be life-threatening if they travel to the lungs
serious complications are blood clots and infection, which are most likely to
occur during the first weeks following surgery.
doctor or seek emergency help if you experience any of theses symptoms of a
- a calf, ankle, or foot that
- redness or tenderness above or
below the knee
- calf pain
- groin pain
- shortness of breath
physician or seek emergency help if you experience any of the following symptoms
- swelling or redness at the edges
of the wound
- drainage of blood, pus, or other
liquid from the wound
- fever or chills or elevated
temperature over 100 degrees
Outlook for Spinal Fusion
is typically an effective treatment for certain spinal conditions. The healing
process may take several months. Your symptoms and comfort level will gradually
improve as you gain strength and confidence in your movements. And while the
procedure might not relieve all of your chronic back pain, you should have a
general reduction in pain.
the procedure changes how the spine works by immobilizing one portion of it,
the areas above and below the fusion are at an increased risk for wear and
tear. They may become painful if they deteriorate and you may experience
overweight, inactive, or in poor physical condition can also put you at risk
for more spinal problems. Living a healthy lifestyle, with attention to diet
and regular exercise, will help you achieve the best results.