Spinal fusion is surgery to join, or fuse, two or more vertebrae.
Spinal fusion is major surgery, usually lasting several hours. There are different methods of spinal fusion.
You will need to be watched in the hospital for a few days after surgery.
Bed rest is not usually needed while you recover at home.
Your doctor may recommend that you wear a back brace while you recover.
Rehabilitation can take a long time. It includes walking, riding a stationary bike, swimming, and similar activities.
Spinal fusion may be done by itself or along with surgery to remove bone and tissue that are narrowing the spinal canal and squeezing the spinal cord.
Spinal fusion was first used to treat fractures or other problems. It is now also used to treat age-related spinal problems and spinal stenosis.1
Spinal fusion is often needed to keep the spine stable after injury, infection, or a tumour.
But there is not a lot of research about how well it works for other spinal problems. One study showed no clear difference between spinal fusion and intense rehabilitation for treating chronic low back pain.2
As you decide about having spinal fusion, talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks. The surgery costs a lot and has serious risks. Although this type of surgery is common, there is no guarantee it will work to relieve your pain.
The risks of this surgery depend on your age and overall health, what you're having the surgery for, and the type of procedure you have.
Because there are so many things to consider when spinal fusion is recommended, seek a second opinion before making a decision.
- Deyo RA, et al. (2004). Spinal-fusion surgery—The case for restraint. New England Journal of Medicine, 350(7): 722–726.
- Fairbank J, et al. (2005). Randomised controlled trial to compare surgical stabilisation of the lumbar spine with an intensive rehabilitation programme for patients with chronic low back pain: The MRC spine stabilisation trial. BMJ, 330(7502): 1233–1239.
Last Revised: May 24, 2012
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