What Is Spinal Fusion? How Can It Help With Chronic Back Pain?

Some patients with chronic back conditions receive a spinal fusion procedure to address their symptoms. This surgery can relieve specific back issues when conservative approaches don’t improve them. Learn more about spinal fusion surgery and how it can reduce chronic back pain below.

How Spinal Fusion Works

Spinal fusion can occur as a result of a spine condition or as a deliberate effect of surgery.1 The majority of spinal fusions happen due to surgeries meant to connect the spine bones (vertebrae). A spinal fusion surgery uses the body’s healing mechanisms to fuse vertebrae. During the procedure, the surgeon places a small piece of bone between the affected vertebrae to stimulate healing.2 Successful spinal fusion surgeries result in the vertebrae healing into a single bone.

Types of Spinal Fusion Procedures

Doctors categorize a spinal fusion surgery by the incision site and location of fusion in the spine.3 The categories of incision site include:

  • Anterior: Anterior incisions refer to cuts made in the front of your body. A doctor might make an anterior incision when working on the front of the lumbar or cervical spine.
  • Posterior: Posterior incisions happen on the back of your body. Surgeons make posterior incisions to operate on the back of the lumbar or cervical spine.
  • Lateral: A doctor makes a lateral incision on the side of your body. Lateral incisions mainly happen when the surgeon needs to treat specific parts of your upper or lower back.
  • Anterolateral: An anterolateral incision occurs in an area between the lateral and anterior parts of your body. Doctors may make an anterolateral cut to access your lower back.

During spinal fusion, the doctor can use one of two locations in your spine. They can fuse the area between vertebrae parts called the transverse processes in intertransverse fusion. Fusion can also occur in the space between vertebrae disks in a process known as interbody fusion.

How Does Spinal Fusion Relieve Chronic Back Pain?

A spinal fusion procedure relieves back pain by adding stability to the spine or limiting movement that causes pain. It also prevents the nerves in the vertebrae and nearby ligaments and muscles from stretching. By eliminating motion in the affected area, your doctor can reduce the related symptoms. If you receive a spinal fusion, you may also get a decompression (laminectomy) if you have accompanying leg or arm pain. Laminectomies relieve pressure on spinal nerves by removing diseased tissue and bone.

When to Consider Spinal Fusion as a Treatment Option

Your orthopedic doctor can help you determine if you need a spinal fusion to relieve your back pain symptoms. Many professionals will first try non-surgical techniques such as pain relievers and physical therapy before opting for surgery. Doctors can use spinal fusion to treat the following back issues:

  • Scoliosis
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Vertebrae fractures
  • Infection
  • Herniated disk
  • Tumor

Consult an orthopedic specialist to learn your options if you have chronic back pain.

Get Back Pain Treatment From Regional Orthopedics

The medical professionals at Regional Orthopedics help patients understand their back pain and treatment options. Patients in New York can schedule an appointment by contacting us online today.

Reference List:

1. Spinal Fusion: An Overview. Hospital for Special Surgery. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_spinal-fusion-overview.asp. Published June 8, 2009. Accessed July 17, 2019.

2. Park DK. Spinal Fusion – OrthoInfo – AAOS. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/spinal-fusion/. Published June 2018. Accessed July 17, 2019.

3. Park DK, Fischer SJ. Spinal Fusion Terms and Glossary – OrthoInfo – AAOS. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/spinal-fusion-glossary/. Published June 2018. Accessed July 17, 2019.

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