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Lumbar Spinal Fusion (Arthrodesis)

Surgery Overview

Lumbar spinal fusion is surgery to join, or fuse, two or more vertebrae in the low back. The surgery is also called arthrodesis.

There are different methods of spinal fusion.

  • Bone is taken from elsewhere in your body or obtained from a bone bank. Or sometimes human-made bone is used. The bone is used to make a bridge between vertebrae that are next to each other. This bone graft helps new bone grow.
  • Metal implants are usually used to hold the vertebrae together until new bone grows between them.

What To Expect

After surgery, you will have a short hospital stay.

Bed rest usually isn't 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.

Why It Is Done

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 and/or the spinal nerves.

It may be done as a follow-up after surgery that was done to treat problems such as spinal stenosis, herniated discs, injuries, infection, and tumors.

How Well It Works

Spinal fusion is often needed to keep the spine stable after injury, infection, or a tumor.

In general, studies don't show a clear difference between spinal fusion and structured rehabilitation for treating chronic low back pain from degenerative changes in the spine.footnote 1 This type of rehabilitation can include exercise, education, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

As you decide about having spinal fusion, talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks.

Risks

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.

Risks include:

  • Pain at the bone graft site.
  • Failure of the fusion, breakage of metal implants, or both.
  • Blood clots that may also lead to pulmonary embolism.
  • Nerve injury.
  • Graft rejection.
  • Infection.
  • Excessive bleeding.
  • Risks of anesthesia.

References

Citations

  1. Chou R, et al. (2009). Surgery for low back pain: A review of the evidence for the American Pain Society clinical practice guideline. Spine, 34(10): 1094-1109. DOI: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181a105fc. Accessed June 12, 2017.

Credits

Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma

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