Lumbar fusion is major surgery used to treat the symptoms associated with impinged or irritated nerve roots in the lower back. There are five large lumbar vertebrae in the lower back (some people have four or six lumbar vertebrae), and these vertebrae are particularly vulnerable to degenerative conditions because they support most of the body’s weight, often causing them to wear out faster than the rest of the vertebrae in the spine.
Although lumbar fusion is the most common traditional spinal fusion surgery, it normally is not recommended until a patient has undergone weeks or months of conservative treatment. If physical therapy, pain medications or exercise prove ineffective in treating lower back pain or sciatica, a physician might suggest traditional open back surgery like fusion as an option.
Lumbar fusion involves the removal of a large portion of the bone, disc material, ligaments, cartilage or tendons that might contribute to nerve root irritation in the lower back. Then, the vertebrae within the treated area are connected, or fused, using metal screws, metal plates and bone grafts. Depending on the location of the affected nerve root, the surgeon will access the spine from the abdomen (anterior lumbar interbody fusion), the side of the body (lateral lumbar interbody fusion), or the back (posterior lumbar interbody fusion).
Recovery from lumbar fusion can take a year or more. Even then, rarely does a patient experience 100 percent relief from lower back pain. The success rate is lower when the patient:
- Is a smoker
- Has diabetes
- Is overweight
- Has osteoporosis
- Has received radiation treatment in the lower back
Laser Spine Institute offers more effective alternatives to traditional lumbar fusion. Laser Spine Institute’s surgeons perform minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that require a shorter recovery time and have a greater rate of success than traditional open back surgery. Contact Laser Spine Institute for your MRI review and to learn how to find relief from back pain.