Spinal Fusion

The spinal column has an incredibly complex range of tasks, from permitting a broad range of body motion to protecting the spinal cord, gateway to all communications between brain and body. When something goes wrong, spinal fusion may be the only recourse. The doctors of The Spine Center of Louisiana, located in Baton Rouge, Walker, and Prairieville, Louisiana, are the experts you can trust when you require back surgery. Call or book an appointment online.

Spinal Fusion Q & A

What is spinal fusion?

As the name suggests, spinal fusion is a procedure through which two or more vertebrae are permanently connected. This becomes necessary for several reasons, and the fusion process mimics the way bones naturally heal, or fuse, to accomplish the connections. The main component of fusion surgery is a bone graft that, once healed, combines the affected vertebrae.

Plates, screws, or rods may also be used to stabilize the area around the bone grafts, since these take months to heal. In some cases, synthetic material may be used to encourage bone growth, speeding the fusion process.

Traditionally, spinal fusion was done through open surgery. That is, the doctor accessed the affected vertebrae through an incision that exposed the entire work area. Endoscopic procedures are now used as well, minimizing the size of the incision and reducing damage to surrounding tissue.

Why are spinal fusions performed?

Usually, the decision to perform spinal fusion comes down to instability of the vertebrae. This may happen for many reasons. Herniated discs are perhaps the most common. When the cushioning disc between vertebrae is damaged beyond the ability to naturally heal, it may be removed, and the adjoining vertebrae are fused so that the loss of the disc doesn’t cause bone-on-bone movement. Other reasons for spinal fusion include:

  • Broken vertebrae – not all fractures require fusion unless instability is introduced due to the injury
  • Spinal deformities – abnormal spinal curvature conditions, scoliosis and kyphosis, may be partially corrected or limited through spinal fusion
  • Arthritis – severe arthritis may introduce spinal instability as wear and tear introduces more motion between vertebrae
  • Spondylolisthesis – a condition where adjacent vertebrae slip in relation to each other, cause direct bone contact or compressing nerves of the spinal cord.

Does spinal fusion carry any complications?

Yes. As well as the risks associated with any surgery, the fusion process has several complications. Some fusions, though not all, can greatly restrict the motion of the spine, which may impact your daily life. The fused vertebrae transfer strain to the vertebrae above and below, which may cause these adjacent structures to deteriorate prematurely, necessitating further surgery in the future.