Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure to permanently join two or more vertebrae in the spine. The connected vertebrae fuse together to form a one solid bone and immobilize that segment of the spine.
Spinal fusion may be indicated to reduce significant pain and symptoms that have not responded to non-surgical treatment, to improve spine stability, or correct a significant spinal deformity.
A spinal fusion procedure may be suggested in cases of:
- Fractured vertebrae
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
- Abnormal Curvatures of the spine
- Weakened spine due to infection or tumor
Immobilizing adjacent vertebrae with spinal fusion reduces the pain associated with movement of that spinal segment. In order to fuse the vertebrae the placement of a bone graft and/or bone graft substitute is required. The graft will stimulate bone growth and healing, so that the vertebrae eventually fuse together into one bone. Internal fixation in the form of screws, plates, or rods, may be used at the time of surgery to stabilize that segment and promote healing. Additional procedures may be performed in conjunction with spinal fusion to address other issues such as stenosis and disc problems.
Spinal fusion can restrict spine mobility but since it is typically confined to a small segment, the overall effect is limited. However because there is no movement between the vertebrae that have been fused, additional stresses may be placed on the adjacent vertebrae.
It will take some time for the bone to fully fuse. In some cases a brace might be recommended to support the spine and keep it correctly aligned. A successful spine fusion outcome relies on appropriate post-operative care. Instructions and physical therapy to learn how to sit, stand, and walk will be given. Avoiding activities that may place the bone graft at risk is essential.