Fusion procedures for collapsed discs: what are the options?

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Traditional open back surgical fusion of the spine is usually seen as a last resort option to treat a collapsed disc. The condition, which occurs when a spinal disc has broken down enough that it shrinks in height, is commonly diagnosed in the lumbar (lower) spine and can cause a wide range of symptoms, from mild discomfort to severe pain.

Typically, a collapsed disc causes pain if any disc material expands outward into the spinal canal and comes into contact with the spinal cord or nerve roots. A collapsed disc also can cause pain if it allows the vertebrae on either side of the disc to move closer together and pinch a nerve root located in between the vertebrae. Surgery is usually seriously considered when a full course of conservative treatments, such as medication, rest and physical therapy, have not brought the relief needed to comfortably engage in everyday activities. If you are presented with surgery, your physician may recommend a fusion procedure such as a transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF).

Minimally invasive stabilization for a collapsed disc

A TLIF can be performed as a traditional open spine surgery that involves muscle disruption, hospitalization and a long recovery period, but that isn’t the only approach. This procedure can also be performed on an outpatient basis as a minimally invasive stabilization surgery at Laser Spine Institute.
Instead of a large incision, as is required with traditional open spine surgery, a surgeon performing a minimally invasive TLIF accesses a collapsed disc through a small incision in the lower back.

A series of dilating tubes and direct visualization equipment are used to help the surgeon remove any material compressing neural structures and open up nerve pathways in the spine. Next, the surgeon removes the collapsed disc, positions the adjacent vertebrae back into place, and prepares the empty disc space to insert bone graft material so the surrounding vertebrae can fuse together. Finally, tiny screws are inserted to secure the adjacent vertebral processes together.

When to consider minimally invasive TLIF for a collapsed disc

In a large number of cases, a course of conservative treatments can relieve the pain, numbness, tingling and weakness that can arise as a result of nerve compression caused by a collapsed disc. However, transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion of the spine may become an option if your symptoms persist after several weeks or months of fully attempting conservative treatments.

The board-certified+ orthopedic spine surgeons and neurosurgeons at Laser Spine Institute are proud to offer TLIF and the other minimally invasive stabilization surgeries we perform. These outpatient procedures accomplish the same goals as a traditional open spinal fusion, but with fewer risks and faster recovery times.^

Contact us today to learn more. Our team will gladly provide a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to help determine whether you’re a candidate for our procedures.