Spinal fusion is surgery to permanently join together two bones (vertebrae) in the spine, eliminating motion between them. It involves placing extra bone (bone graft) to fill the space between two spinal vertebrae, held in place with plates, screws or rod, and over time heal into a single, solid bone.

Understanding the procedure

There a variety of approaches for performing spinal fusion surgery depending on the location of the vertebrae to be fused and the reason for the procedure.Generally, the procedure involves making an incision (cut) in one of three locations: in the back directly over your spine; on either side of the spine; or in the abdomen, so the surgeon can access the spine from the front. Once the surgeon can clearly see the spine, the bone graft material is placed between the vertebrae. The bone grafts that actually fuse two vertebrae together may come from a person’s own body (autograft), usually from a pelvic bone, or from a donor (allograft). Instruments such as small wire cages containing the bone graft material, as well as plates, screws or rods, may be put in place to help hold the vertebrae together while the bone graft heals.

In some cases, a minimally invasive technique may be used to perform spinal fusion through several smaller incisions. The same procedure is performed through these small cuts as with the larger incision procedure. However, the minimally invasive technique often results in less scarring and a shorter recovery time.

Indications for the procedure

Your doctor may recommend spinal fusion if you have a broken vertebra, a spinal deformity, spinal weakness, spinal instability or chronic low back pain.