Lumbar fusion — overview and options

Lumbar fusion is major surgery used to treat spinal instability and the symptoms associated with nerve compression in the lower back.

Spinal instability and nerve compression can be caused by many different conditions, like a herniated disc or an arthritic bone spur, that are usually related to the natural aging process. The lumbar (lower) region of the spine is especially vulnerable to this kind of wear and tear because it must be strong enough to support the upper body but flexible enough for everyday movement.

Although lumbar fusion is a common location for traditional open spinal fusion surgery, it normally will not be considered until a patient has undergone weeks or months of conservative treatment. If options like physical therapy, pain medication or exercise prove ineffective in treating lower back pain or radiating symptoms, a doctor may recommend a traditional open back surgery like fusion as an option.

Lumbar fusion procedure overview

Lumbar fusion involves the removal of a large portion of the bone, disc material, ligaments, cartilage or tendons that are contributing to nerve root irritation in the lower back. Then, the vertebrae within the damaged area are connected, or fused, using material like metal screws, metal plates and bone grafts.

Depending on the location of the affected nerve, 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 traditional open spine lumbar fusion can potentially take a year or longer. This is because the large incision needed to access the spine requires the severing of supporting muscles, leading to the possibility of excessive scarring and a long, often difficult, rehabilitation period.

There are also certain factors that can make a lumbar fusion even riskier, including the following:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Osteoporosis
  • Receiving radiation treatment in the lower back

Minimally invasive lumbar fusion alternatives

Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, offering patients an alternative to traditional open lumbar fusion. Our surgeons perform minimally invasive procedures that use a smaller incision and have a shorter recovery time and lower risk of complication^ than traditional open neck or back surgery. As an alternative to fusion procedures, we provide minimally invasive stabilization surgery that is an outpatient alternative to traditional open spine fusion. Reach out to us today to learn more.

To see if you are a candidate for one of our procedures, ask us today for a free MRI review.*