Spine fusion surgery is when a surgeon fuses two or more vertebrae together using a bone graft. The bone tissue will continue to grow and permanently lock the vertebrae together. A spine fusion limits movement of the spine, which may help to relieve back pain. And while the spine may not be as flexible as it was prior to the surgery, patients often remark that they feel more flexible being able to move without pain.
When is spine fusion surgery recommended?
This surgery is often recommended after other means of treatment have proved unsuccessful. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following conditions are most commonly treated with a spine fusion:
- Broken vertebrae – While many broken vertebrae heal on their own, if it makes the spine unstable, a spine fusion may be recommended.
- Spine deformities – Spine fusions can help to correct spine deformities such as severe cases of scoliosis.
- Spine weakness/instability – Weakness and instability can occur when there’s abnormal or excessive movement of the spine. A spine fusion can help to stabilize the spine, helping to alleviate back pain.
- Spondylolisthesis – Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips forward and onto the vertebra directly below it. Spine fusions are often recommended in cases resulting in severe back pain.
- Herniated disc – Spine fusions may be used to help stabilize the spine after the removal of a herniated disc.
How is a spine fusion surgery done?
The ultimate goal of all spine fusions is to obtain a solid union between two or more vertebrae to relieve pain. There are several different ways to perform a spine fusion. Physicians take the location of the problem, the cause, and the individual patient into consideration when deciding which method is best.
Anterior Cervical Discectomy (ACDF)
This procedure begins with an incision made to one side of the front of the neck. Surgical instruments are then used to remove a portion of the herniated disc to alleviate pressure on the nerve.
Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF)
This method approaches the spine from the front. A large portion of a degenerated disc is removed and replaced with a bone graft to fuse the vertebrae together.
Interspinous Process Distraction/Decompression (X-Stop)
A special device or spacer is inserted to relieve pressure on the spine and nerves that are causing pain, loss of movement in the legs, and even normal bladder or bowel function.
Lateral Interbody Fusion (XLIF)
This method allows surgeons to approach the spine from the side to remove disc material and place bone grafts to the affected vertebrae.
Thoracoscopic Anterior Spine Surgery
This procedure allows surgeons to reach the area through the chest cavity with the patient lying on his or her side and is effective for various fusion surgeries.
Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion (TLIF)
A portion of a disc is removed and a single bone graft is inserted where the material has been removed to avoid moving or damaging the nerve roots during the procedure.
This post should not be taken as professional medical advice. If you or a loved one is suffering from back pain, we urge you to seek professional medical help. Use the Find a Doctor tab on our website to find a board-certified surgeon at Nebraska Spine Hospital.