Spine fusion, also called disc fusion, is a surgical procedure to treat degenerative disc disease in the lower back. By fusing two or more vertebrae reduces or eliminates movement that is causing pain by pressing against nerves, muscles and ligaments. Fusion is a common surgery that can have outstanding results if the patient is carefully selected and the procedure is performed by a skilled spine surgeon.
Nearly half a million spine fusions are conducted in the United States annually. Unfortunately, many of these surgeries do not have the desired effect because a clear diagnosis of a condition that would benefit from fusion cannot be made. That’s because many conditions causing lower back pain either can’t be seen on imaging or may look similar to other conditions. The decision to have spinal fusion is a decision that you should make carefully with a full understanding of the probable outcomes.
As back pain specialists and spine fusion experts, the neurosurgeons at Neurosurgery One take every step necessary to recommend back pain treatment options that will offer you the best benefit. If we recommend spine fusion, we will be sure you understand the reason for our recommendation, the risks and benefits, and the research supporting our recommendation. You can be assured that our recommendation is based on the most current evidence-based research and our extensive spine surgery experience.
FAQs About Spine Fusion
Continue reading below to learn more about lumbar spine fusion, or click on one of these links to go directly to the information that interests you.
Conditions We Treat
What is lumbar spinal fusion?
Spinal fusion permanently fuses two or more vertebrae together through a surgical procedure. While spine fusion can occur anywhere on the spine, it is most commonly performed in the lower back (lumbar fusion) and neck (cervical fusion). This page discusses fusion in the lower back. To read about fusion in the neck, please see this page.
How is spinal fusion done?
Spinal fusion can be performed in one of two ways:
- With human bone either from other areas of the body or through donor bone. The bone is used to create a bridge between the vertebrae.
- With metal implants that hold the vertebrae together.
Based on the patient’s diagnosis, spinal fusion surgery can be performed either through open surgery (also known as traditional surgery) or minimally invasive surgery.
What conditions can be effectively treated through spine fusion?
While all patients must be evaluated for spine fusion surgery on an individual basis, the following conditions may benefit from spinal fusion surgery more than other back pain conditions:
What are the benefits of spinal fusion?
Spinal fusion is certainly not recommended for everyone, yet the spine procedure can provide several benefits for properly selected candidates who have not found sustainable relief through other nonsurgical back pain treatment options. Between 60 percent and 90 percent of spine fusion patients who have been carefully selected have significantly reduced back pain or their back pain has completely been eliminated after receiving a spine fusion, according to numerous studies. Spine fusion also has been shown to prevent back pain recurrence rates. Newer titanium and plastic intervertebral implants provide greater stability, allowing quicker and more fully fused grafts.
What are the risks of spine fusion surgery?
Like all surgeries, spine fusion surgery carries risks, such as anesthesia reaction, infection, or a negative impact on other pre-existing health conditions. These risks are minimized by careful consideration of your health history and also by partnering with select hospitals to ensure the highest level of quality standards. Neurosurgery One neurosurgeons currently perform spine fusion surgery at Littleton Adventist Hospital, St. Anthony Hospital, Parker Adventist Hospital, Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, and OrthoColorado Hospital.
Another risk is that new pain and/or degeneration of the discs above or below the fusion can occur. However, medical research has not yet been able to determine if the additional degeneration is due to genetics or is a result of fusion.
While no surgeon can guarantee the level of back pain relief you will experience after spine fusion, the Neurosurgery One experts carefully assess and qualify all spinal fusion candidates to provide you with the best opportunity for improvement in your back pain.