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 out faster than the rest of the spine.
Although lumbar fusion is the most common spinal fusion surgery, it normally is not prescribed 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 doctor might suggest 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 (LSI) offers a gentle, endoscopic alternative to lumbar fusion. LSI’s award-winning surgeons perform minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that carry a shorter recovery time and a greater rate of success than traditional open back surgery. Contact LSI for a free review of your MRI or CT scan and to learn how to rediscover a life without pain.