8 Things to Know About Spinal Reconstructive Surgery

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Hedy Marks MPH on November 8, 2020
  • spine model, Lumbal spine model, vertebroplasty
    1. Spinal Reconstructive Surgery Fuses Vertebrae
    Spinal reconstructive surgery, also called spinal fusion, is the surgical joining or fusing of two vertebrae in the spine. The procedure eliminates movement between the vertebrae, forming a single, solid bone. Spinal reconstructive surgery may restore pain-free function in a damaged, deformed or diseased spine. The goal of surgery is to relieve symptoms and restore the normal anatomy and height of each affected vertebra.
  • Male Patient with Back Ache
    2. Treats Chronic Pain
    Spinal reconstructive surgery is used to treat persistent pain caused by a number of diseases and conditions of the spine, including spinal injury, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column), spondylolisthesis (misaligned vertebrae), scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine), a weak or unstable spine, and a herniated disc. Spinal reconstructive surgery is usually recommended when less invasive treatments aren’t working.
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    3. Uses Bone Grafts and Artificial Materials
    During spinal reconstructive surgery, the surgeon uses a bone graft to fuse the vertebrae. The graft material may come from a bone bank, your own bone—usually from your hip—or synthetic or artificial materials. The bone graft material is placed in strips along your vertebrae or packed into a special cage that goes between your vertebrae. Sometimes the surgeon uses screws, rods or plates to hold the vertebrae in place.
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    4. Surgery Can Be Minimally Invasive
    You may be able to have minimally invasive back surgery. This type of back surgery involves less recovery time and risk of infection compared to an open surgical approach. The surgeon inserts surgical tools and a special camera through smaller incisions compared to the larger incision with open surgery. The choice of open vs. minimally invasive surgery depends on the extent and location of spinal disease or deformity.
  • Doctor pointing anatomical spine in medical office
    5. You May Have Other Procedures During Surgery
    Other procedures may be performed before or during spinal reconstructive surgery. If you have a degenerated, herniated or ruptured spinal disc, a discectomy may be performed. If your spinal canal is narrow, your doctor may recommend a foraminotomy or laminectomy to reduce pressure on the spinal canal and nerves. A foraminotomy will widen the opening where the nerve roots leave the spinal canal. In a laminectomy, the back part of each vertebra is removed to make the spinal canal larger.
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    6. Surgery Carries a Risk of Nerve Damage
    All surgeries involve some risk, including the risk of allergic reaction, bleeding, infection, or developing a blood clot. Spinal reconstructive surgery poses additional risks including nerve and blood vessel damage. Also there is no guarantee that the surgery will significantly reduce your pain. Some people may need to have repeat surgeries.
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    7. Expect Your Spine to Be Less Flexible
    Recovery after spinal reconstructive surgery is a gradual process. It can take several months before your body forms enough bone around the graft to permanently fuse the vertebrae and stabilize your spine. Your spine will be permanently less flexible in the area where the bones fused. Certain activities may be restricted for several weeks to months. Your doctor will also likely recommend an exercise rehabilitation program to help you recover.
  • Do Your Exercises
    8. Protect Your Spine After Surgery
    Spinal reconstructive surgery may cure your condition or significantly reduce your symptoms so you can lead an active life. But spinal reconstructive surgery cannot protect your spine from future damage and other conditions, such as osteoporosis (weakening bones). Talk to your neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon about steps you can take to prevent future spine problems.
8 Things to Know About Spinal Reconstructive Surgery

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 8
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