Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion is a procedure to make 2 or more of the bones in your spinal column (vertebrae) grow together (fuse). This procedure stops movement between the vertebrae and can relieve pain and prevent deformity.

Spinal fusion is used to treat the following conditions:

  • Fractures of the spine.

  • Herniated disk (the spongy material [cartilage] between the vertebrae).

  • Abnormal curvatures of the spine, such as scoliosis or kyphosis.

  • A weak or an unstable spine, caused by infections or tumor.

RISKS AND COMPLICATIONS

Complications associated with spinal fusion are rare, but they can occur. Possible complications include:

  • Bleeding.

  • Infection near the incision.

  • Nerve damage. Signs of nerve damage are back pain, pain in one or both legs, weakness, or numbness.

  • Spinal fluid leakage.

  • Blood clot in your leg, which can move to your lungs.

  • Difficulty controlling urination or bowel movements.

BEFORE THE PROCEDURE

  • A medical evaluation will be done. This will include a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging exams.

  • You will talk with an anesthesiologist. This is the person who will be in charge of the anesthesia during the procedure. Spinal fusion usually requires that you are asleep during the procedure (general anesthesia).

  • You will need to stop taking certain medicines, particularly those associated with an increased risk of bleeding. Ask your caregiver about changing or stopping your regular medicines.

  • If you smoke, you will need to stop at least 2 weeks before the procedure. Smoking can slow down the healing process, especially fusion of the vertebrae, and increase the risk of complications.

  • Do not eat or drink anything for at least 8 hours before the procedure.

PROCEDURE

A cut (incision) is made over the vertebrae that will be fused. The back muscles are separated from the vertebrae. If you are having this procedure to treat a herniated disk, the disc material pressing on the nerve root is removed (decompression). The area where the disk is removed is then filled with extra bone. Bone from another part of your body (autogenous bone) or bone from a bone donor (allograft bone) may be used. The extra bone promotes fusion between the vertebrae. Sometimes, specific medicines are added to the fusion area to promote bone healing. In most cases, screws and rods or metal plates will be used to attach the vertebrae to stabilize them while they fuse.

AFTER THE PROCEDURE

  • You will stay in a recovery area until the anesthesia has worn off. Your blood pressure and pulse will be checked frequently.

  • You will be given antibiotics to prevent infection.

  • You may continue to receive fluids through an intravenous (IV) tube while you are still in the hospital.

  • Pain after surgery is normal. You will be given pain medicine.

  • You will be taught how to move correctly and how to stand and walk. While in bed, you will be instructed to turn frequently, using a "log rolling" technique, in which the entire body is moved without twisting the back.