If you have a degenerative spine condition that affects the L3-L4 vertebrae, a fusion procedure may not become a treatment option for you. Why? Because the majority of patients experiencing symptoms associated with degenerative spine conditions affecting the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae (which are located in the lower back) find some measure of relief with a regimen of conservative (non-surgical) treatments.
What, then, makes someone a candidate for an L3-L4 fusion?
In addition to having attempted all forms of conservative treatments (anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medication, physical therapy, low-impact exercise, epidural and/or facet joint injections, etc.) for several weeks or months without a measurable decrease in discomfort, your quality of life must be significantly altered before you can be considered for any spine surgery.
For example, if you’re dealing with intermittent episodes of lower back pain that eventually fade away, you may not be a candidate for an L3-L4 fusion procedure. However, if your level of discomfort remains consistent or worsens despite conservative treatment efforts and has affected your ability to participate in normal, everyday tasks, you may be a candidate for a fusion procedure.
What does spinal fusion aim to accomplish?
A spinal fusion procedure to treat degenerative conditions affecting the L3-L4 vertebral junction aims to accomplish several tasks. First is nerve decompression, which is achieved by removing a herniated or bulging disc, bone spurs, calcified ligaments or other anatomical material that has entered the spinal canal and compressed the spinal cord or its nerve roots. Neural compression in the lumbar spine is usually what causes pain, numbness, weakness and tingling in the lower body.
A spinal fusion can also provide added stability to the L3-L4 vertebrae and restore their proper positioning in the spine so that there is less chance they can pinch spinal nerves. This is achieved by first removing a damaged disc and replacing it with a supportive implant. Next, bone graft material is added to promote fusion of the two bones, and finally, screws and rods are inserted to affix the adjacent vertebrae.
Consult with a spine specialist
Only a qualified spine specialist can determine whether you’re a candidate for an L3-L4 fusion procedure. However, it’s in your best interest to obtain multiple medical opinions and research the surgical options that may be available to you, including minimally invasive fusion procedures.