Spinal fusion

To alleviate back pain and increase stability, your HonorHealth neurosurgeon may recommend spinal fusion if you have:

  • Instability of one vertebra over another.
  • Malalignment of two vertebral bodies (spondylolisthesis).
  • A fracture in your spinal column.
  • A deformity in your back.

A type of spine surgery, spinal fusion stabilizes two or more vertebrae – the building blocks of the spine – that have been damaged by disease, degeneration or injury. By stabilizing the building blocks of the spine (the verterbral bodies) an environment is created to allow bone to naturally grow between them resulting in a fusion. Spinal fusion permanently eliminates movement between the affected vertebrae thereby eliminating pain caused by instability, malalignment or deformity. It also prevents stretching of the nerves, ligaments and muscles originating from, or surrounding, the fused area.

Spinal fusion surgery

During spinal fusion surgery, your HonorHealth surgeon will insert your own bone along with a bone-like material between the vertebrae being fused. Titanium screws and/or rods will be used to help hold the vertebrae together and prevent movement. As the bones heal in the months following surgery, they form a solid unit (a fusion) and reinforced by the metal support components.

The two most common procedures are:

  • Cervical spinal fusion, which treats damaged vertebrae in your upper back or neck. This procedure typically includes removing the damaged disc (known as cervical discectomy).
  • A lumbar fusion, which treats damaged discs in your lower back. Your surgeon will determine the location of your incision (whether in your back or your abdominal area) based on the damage to your vertebrae and your overall health.

Recovery after spinal fusion surgery

You'll probably spend a day or two in the hospital. Pain and discomfort are likely due to the incisions and bone grafting taking place during surgery.

After you're discharged from the hospital, your doctor may require you to wear a neck or back brace to help stabilize and support the fused area. You'll also need physical therapy to help you learn to move, sit, stand and walk in ways that promote back stability and alignment.

By permanently connecting two or more vertebrae in the back, spinal fusion decreases back mobility. The surgery has the potential to increase stress and strain on the segments above and below the fused segment. This can speed up wear and tear in those portions of the spine, an entity known as adjacent segment disease. For this reason, the need for future back surgery may occur.

Find a neurosurgeon in the Phoenix area or call 623-580-5800 for a referral.