A lumbar fusion procedure involves joining two or more vertebrae in the low back. It is designed to permanently eliminate motion between two vertebrae so that the lumbar spine is permanently stiffer. The doctor can use a bone graft with a bone piece taken from your hip or a cadaver bone piece to fuse the bones with your regular bones. The doctor can also make use of rods, plates or screws to seal the bones together.
Lumbar fusion is not uncommon but it carries many risks and possible complications. For this reason, it should only be undertaken for serious pain control or severe injuries.
There are, as mentioned, different types of lumbar fusion surgeries. Most use bone graft material to eventually have the bone seal to other bone. It takes time for the bone to heal that way. The fusion often takes weeks to achieve fusion. A cage is often used to hold the bony pieces together until the fusion occurs.
An allograft fusion is used when cadaver bone is prepared for the fusion. The allografts come out of a bone bank and create lesser pain because they involve only one incision. An autograft fusion involves the use of your own bone, usually gotten from your pelvic bone. Synthetic or artificial grafts are made of modified natural bone.
Other procedures might be considered instead of fusion. Other possibilities for lumbar pain relief that don’t involve fusion include:
- Having a discectomy that removes a portion or all of a spinal disk. This is commonly done when just the disc is damaged.
- You can have a foraminotomy, which widens the hole that the spinal nerve travels through to get to the rest of the body.
- A laminectomy involves the removal of the lamina at the back of the vertebra so that the spinal canal is larger and the spinal cord has more room.
Why do a lumbar fusion?
This is considered a major surgical procedure that can be used to treat a number of lumbar disorders. Many of these disorders include the following:
- Osteoarthritis, which means joint inflammation and pain when moving the joints;
- Congenital spinal deformities, which occur at birth;
- Fracture from a car accident or sports injury;
- Degenerative disc disease, which involves the cushioning discs of the spinal column;
- Infections of the spine;
- Loss or deterioration of the muscles and ligaments of the spine, called spinal degeneration;
- Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine;
- Spinal stenosis, where the spinal canal is narrowed;
- Spinal tumors;
- Spondylolisthesis, which means that one vertebra slides over the one beneath it.