The Southeastern Spine Institute

Surgery always is a choice of last resort, but it may provide the most relief.

It sounds scary. It sounds like you might end up walking as if you had a stick up your back. But while spinal fusion surgery is a serious treatment for complicated back problems, in capable hands, it will enhance your quality of life and allow you to increase, not lose, your ability to move around independently and pain-free.

There are a number of approaches your spinal surgeon can take, depending on the location of your pain and your overall health. Certainly, the best approach is to try non-invasive treatments first. But even spinal fusion surgery can done with minimally invasive techniques. The bottom line is that the procedure is designed to eliminate, or at very least significantly reduce, your pain.

Symptoms of Disc Movement

Spinal fusion surgery often is the recommended procedure of choice when a part of your spine moves and irritates surrounding nerves and tissue. By preventing the movement, the theory goes, you prevent the pain. This simple deduction has been working for decades — since the treatment was first performed in the early 20th century.

After a myriad of non-invasive treatments that haven’t produced sufficient pain relief, your doctor may indicate the need for spinal fusion surgery to treat:

  • A fracture that left your spine weak
  • Infection that left your spine weak and unstable
  • Scoliosis that causes uncomfortable curvature of your spine
  • Spinal stenosis, which is when new growth on your spine presses on the nerves
  • Degenerative disc disease that weakens the discs between your vertebrae
  • Spondylolisthesis, a condition that causes one disc to slip and press on an adjoining disc
  • A tumor that presses on your spine

Additionally, your spinal surgeon may recommend spinal fusion surgery sometimes while you are undergoing related procedures such as a laminectomy or foraminotomy to treat spinal stenosis. It also may be necessary after you’ve had a neck discectomy.

It’s vital that your doctor operate in the exact place where the pressure is happening. Extensive imaging tests help your doctor pinpoint the precise point where the movement occurs before performing the spinal fusion surgery. Such imaging tests include:

  • X-rays
  • CAT scans
  • MRIs

In Practice

Stopping the movement between vertebrae not only stops your pain in theory, it almost always alleviates your pain in practice. And stabilizing your back with spinal fusion surgery also prevents surrounding nerves and muscles from stretching to accommodate the movement, which normally can lead to even greater pain.

During the procedure, a bone graft is used to promote healing and encourage the fusion to take. You may need to wear a brace after spinal fusion surgery to help your back remain immobilized until the grafting takes hold. Very often, however, your surgeon will use rods, screws and plates to immobilize your spine and keep it still while you recover. Called an internal fusion, this type of procedure can improve the rate at which you heal, leading to a quicker recovery.