Spinal fusion is a major surgery that’s used to treat chronic neck or back pain, and also to help stabilize the spine after other surgical procedures. The purpose of spinal fusion, therefore, is sometimes twofold: (1) to reduce pain in the spine by limiting movement in damaged areas, and (2) to add more structural integrity to the spine after bone, disc material, or other spinal elements have been removed.
Spinal fusion permanently immobilizes a portion of the spine by connecting, or fusing, two or more vertebrae together – often at a point where diseased disc material, ligaments, and bone material have been removed. For example, during a discectomy, surgeons might remove a herniated disc that is causing a patient extreme pain. Since the removal of a disc leaves an open space between two vertebrae, surgeons might perform spinal fusion to permanently connect the vertebrae and provide them with more stability. Or, during a laminectomy, surgeons might remove an entire lamina from a vertebra, which can leave the vertebrae weakened. Spinal fusion can help strengthen the vertebra.
Spinal fusion also helps prevent movement in the spine, which in turn can alleviate pain caused by extreme cases of:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spondylosis, or osteoarthritis
- Herniated disc
- Spinal injuries, such as vertebral fracture
- Spinal tumors
Spinal fusion generally is accomplished using bone grafts and immobilization with metal rods and screws. The bone grafts are taken either from another spot on the patient’s body (autogenous bone) or from a donor or cadaver (allograft bone). The massively invasive nature of spinal fusion surgery and the unpredictability of the body’s acceptance of the bone graft contribute to extremely long, potentially painful recuperation, as well as the possibility of spinal fusion failure.
Laser Spine Institute (LSI) offers a gentle, endoscopic alternative to spinal fusion. Procedures such as laminotomy, foraminotomy, or endoscopic discectomy at LSI involve removing only tiny portions of tissue that are causing symptoms, eliminating the need for open back surgery like spinal fusion. Contact LSI for a free MRI or CT scan review and to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure can help you rediscover a life without pain.