What is spinal fusion surgery?

Spinal fusion surgery is a procedure that stabilizes or secures two or more bones of the spine together. The stabilized bones will then heal or “fuse” together over time. The procedure is often performed for the treatment of mechanical instability of the spine that is causing pain. We perform spinal fusion procedures when we can pinpoint a specific area of the spine that is causing pain that the patient cannot solve through physical therapy, medication, or other nonsurgical options. Spinal fusion surgery is not a “last resort,” but rather an effective option for certain patients in our toolbox as spine experts.

Spinal fusion is a safe and effective procedure. Spinal fusion surgery encompasses a range of procedures that are dependent on each patient’s specific case. There are several nuances to the surgical approach that your doctor will discuss with you, depending on what condition we are treating and what would be the least invasive and most effective method for you. Because spinal fusion is an umbrella term for procedures in any part of the spine, your doctor will walk you through the details that are specific to your case–Lumbar Fusion Surgery is one example of a sub-category. 

When is spinal fusion a necessary treatment?

Spinal fusion is a treatment option for certain patients with mechanical instability of the spine who are seeking relief from ongoing back pain or neck pain. If you suffer from mechanical instability of the spine and you’re interested in improving your quality of life, exploring spinal fusion is a good next step.

There are a range of spinal injuries and conditions that cause the pain that spinal fusion addresses, including:

  • Traumatic spinal injuries
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Spondylolisthesis 
  • Spondylolysis
  • Facet joint disease
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Fractured vertebra
  • Infection
  • Recurrent disc herniations after surgery
  • Tumors of the spine

What are common problems after spinal fusion?

Typically, patients have a straightforward recovery process that culminates in the return to a normal schedule – or in many cases, a “new normal” that’s much better than what they experienced for years or decades prior. Patients are often able to be out of bed the same day or following day. A brace may be prescribed as well as physical therapy. However, it does often take several months after spinal fusion surgery to fully heal and complete the necessary physical therapy routines. The common problems after spinal fusion have more to do with commitment to rehab and recovery recommendations than anything else.

Infection is a possible complication after any surgery, and is therefore one of the problems that can arise after spinal fusion. Some patients also report acute pain at the bone graft site. Your doctor will be able to discuss why that pain might be occurring and what next steps would be most appropriate. 

What does spinal fusion recovery or spinal fusion aftercare look like?

Spinal fusion patients typically stay in the hospital for one to three days immediately following the surgery. Your doctor will also prescribe the appropriate pain medications during this period, because pain after the surgery is a normal part of the spinal fusion recovery process. Next, recovering patients learn about how to maintain proper alignment after the surgery. It can take several months or up to a year for the fused bones to heal together (fuse). A brace is a common tool that doctors recommend to help the spine stay aligned and heal properly–but this is a case by case determination. Most patients will also benefit from physical therapy to support correct alignment, posture and movement. The exercises you’ll be directed to do will depend on the type of spinal fusion surgery and the underlying condition that you have been treated for.

Want to get in touch?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Back to Treatments