9 Facts About Spinal Fusion

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Wyatt Myers on June 11, 2021
  • doctor-discussing-x-ray-with-patient
    Knowing these nine spinal fusion facts can help ensure a successful outcome.
    Spinal fusion is a spine treatment that fuses or joins two vertebrae in the neck or back. The goal is to improve pain and function for people suffering from a variety of spine problems. Here are the spinal fusion facts you need to know, including information on recovery and spinal rehab. 
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    1. Spinal fusion has the potential to eliminate or seriously reduce your pain.
    The term “spinal fusion” might sound like a frightening medical procedure. But for many people with a major spinal problem or deformity, it's a spine treatment that offers a new lease on life. People with a spinal disorder can have pain with the slightest movement. After spinal fusion surgery, which can sometimes be done with a minimally invasive technique, they may have much less pain than before and may even be able to live pain-free.
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    2. Spinal fusion creates a larger, healthier bone.
    Spinal fusion involves permanently fusing together two vertebrae (bones) in the spine, with a bone graft acting as the connector. Often the vertebrae themselves or the nerves, ligaments, and muscles between them are rubbing together, causing extreme pain and limiting mobility. By fusing the bones, the surgeon can limit this movement and create a larger, healthier bone.
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    3. There are three different techniques for spinal fusion.
    An autograft fusion requires your own bone, usually taken from your hip, as the bone graft between the two vertebrae. An allograft fusion uses human bone from a cadaver. In a synthetic graft fusion, your surgeon uses artificial bone, sometimes along with an autograft or allograft fusion. Your surgeon may also be able to use a minimally invasive technique with a few small incisions, rather than the traditional open approach of one large incision.
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    4. Spinal fusion is a spine treatment for a variety of disorders and trauma.
    You might be a candidate for spinal fusion if you have a disease that causes a disorder in the back and spine, including degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, kyphosis, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis. If you have a fractured bone in your spine from an injury or an infection in the spine, spinal fusion also may be an appropriate procedure. Another reason you may need a spinal fusion is if you have a tumor on your spine.
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    5. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons perform spinal fusion.
    A spinal fusion is a serious surgery performed by a surgical team, usually led by an orthopedic surgeon. Spinal fusion is also performed by neurosurgeons, doctors who specialize in neurological surgery involving the brain, spine and nerves. Let Healthgrades help you find a surgeon in your area.
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    6. There’s a risk of complications both during and after spinal fusion surgery.
    Talk to your doctor about the risks of spinal fusion, including bleeding, infection, a blood clot, nerve damage, and pain at the bone graft site. Particularly if you smoke, there’s a chance that the fusion won’t “take,” meaning there won’t be enough healthy new bone formation, and you’ll need a second surgery. Perhaps the most frustrating risk is that despite the surgery, there is a chance you will still have pain and mobility problems.
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    7. Preoperative tests help ensure you are healthy enough for surgery.
    You’ll undergo tests, such as X-rays and blood tests, to help your surgeon plan the procedure and to make sure you’re healthy enough for surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medications beforehand and not eat or drink after midnight the night before the surgery. If you’re a smoker, you’ll want to quit at least a few days in advance. Your doctor’s office should go over all instructions with you.
  • Surgeons Standing Over Patient
    8. There are different surgical approaches for spinal fusion.
    You’ll be given general anesthesia and will be asleep during surgery. Your surgeon will approach your spine from the front, back or side, depending on the best technique for you, and will make one or more incisions to reach the vertebrae. The surgeon places a bone graft in the space between two vertebrae to fuse them together and may use plates, screws, or rods to hold the spine still after the procedure.
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    9. A spine rehab—or rehabilitation—program is part of an overall recovery plan.
    Spinal fusion is a major surgery. You'll probably stay in the hospital for a few days, and you’ll need time for recovery and rehab afterwards. In the days right after the procedure, it’s important to sit, stand and walk to keep your spine in proper alignment. Over the course of weeks and months, most people see their pain level decrease as their activity level and quality of life improve. Follow your doctor’s instructions closely for the best outcome.
9 Facts About Spinal Fusion

About The Author

  1. Spinal Fusion. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/spinal-fusion/about/pac-20384523
  2. Spinal Fusion. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00348

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Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 11
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