How It Works
At each level in the spine, there is a disc space in the front and paired facet joints at the back that together create multiple degrees of motion. Lumbar fusion surgery involves using bone graft to help designated vertebrae grow together into one long bone by mimicking the healing process of a broken bone.
The surgery is completed under general anesthesia. To gain access to the vertebrae, the surgeon can make an incision in one of three locations: in the back directly over the spine, on either side of the spine; or in the abdomen. During the procedure, bone graft is placed into the space between the vertebrae, then metal plates, screw and rods are used to hold the vertebrae together until the bone graft heals and the vertebrae are fused.
Bone graft can be taken from a patient’s pelvis or hip area during the surgery or harvested from cadaver bone. Another option is to use a synthetic compound rather than bone graft.
Lumbar fusion may be recommended to treat the following spine problems and conditions:
- Broken vertebrae
- Deformities of the spine: includes scoliosis, which is a sideways curvature of the spine, and kyphosis, which is an excessive, outward curve of the spine that results in an abnormal rounding of the upper back.
- Spinal instability: term that describes abnormal movement between one vertebra and another.
- Spondylolisthesis: crack or stress fracture in one or more of the vertebrae.
- Degenerative disc disease: gradual deterioration of the disc between the vertebrae, which is part of the normal aging process.
- Spinal Stenosis: narrowing of the spaces within the spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine.
- Herniated or bulging disc: condition in which the outer portion of the vertebral disc is torn, allowing the inner portion of the disc to extrude through the fibers of the outer portion.
Benefits of Treatment
The treatment benefits associated with lumbar fusion include:
- By creating more space around the spinal cord and nerve roots, nerve pain is relieved.
- In the long-term, multicenter SPORT study that compared surgical patients to those who received conservative care, surgical patients—including those who received lumbar fusion—showed greater improvement in pain and function both shortly afterward and several years later.
- Bone spurs, another source of pain, may no longer be able to form near the fused vertebrae.
Are You a Candidate?
You may be a candidate for lumbar fusion if:
- Your pain is chronic.
- Your spine condition only affects one or two discs or vertebrae.
- Non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy and non-steroidal,anti-inflammatory medications haven’t worked for you.
In order to be a candidate, it’s also important that you don’t smoke, you’re not obese and you live a relatively healthy lifestyle.