During spine fusion surgery, your surgeon locks together, or fuses the bones in your spine. This limits the movement of these bones, which may help to relieve your pain. Your back or neck may not be as flexible after a fusion but may feel more flexible because you can move with less pain.
Approaches to Spine Fusion
There are many surgical methods and approaches to spine fusion, and they all involve placement of a bone graft between the vertebrae. The spine may be approached and the graft placed either from the front (anterior approach) or from the back (posterior approach).
Anterior Approach for Cervical Spine Fusion
For fusion of vertebrae in the neck (called cervical fusion) the anterior approach is more common. Anterior cervical discectomy (ACDF) procedures are performed to relieve the pressure on nerves from disc herniations. A disc herniates when the outer portion of the disc ruptures and some of the softer disc nucleus material squeezes out. The herniated disc pushes against the spinal cord or spinal nerves and causes pain in the neck or arms. Removing the herniated disc alleviates pressure on the nerves or spinal cord relieving the pain.
To remove the herniated disc an incision is made to one side of the front of the neck. Through this incision the front of the cervical spine and the herniated disc is exposed. Surgical instruments are used to remove a portion of the herniated disc to alleviate pressure on the nerve.
Posterior Approach to Spine Fusion
Fusing vertebrae in the lower back (referred to as lumbar fusion) is usually performed posteriorly. A posterior approach means that the surgeon will make an incision on the back of the body to perform the spine fusion.
The ultimate goal of all approaches to spine fusion is to obtain a solid union between two or more vertebrae to relieve pain. Fusion may or may not involve the use of supplemental hardware (instrumentation) such as plates, screws and cages.