Spinal degeneration occurs as a natural part of the aging process and can cause areas of the vertebrae to weaken and become unstable and nerve roots to become pinched. When this occurs, the vertebrae can be healed (fused) together in order to restrict movement. This is called a spinal fusion, and it’s considered one of the most traditional forms of spinal surgery to help stabilize the back and reduce pain.
Reasons for Spinal Fusion Surgery
More than 250,000 lower back, or lumbar, spinal fusion surgeries are performed annually in the United States to treat conditions involving back pain caused by spinal degeneration. Some of the conditions that may contribute to spinal degeneration include:
- Spondylolisthesis – occurs when a vertebrae slips forward over the vertebrae below
- Spinal fractures – occurs because of osteoporosis
- Lumbar spinal stenosis – involves overgrown bone and tissue pressing on nerves in the spinal column
- Degenerative disc disease – occurs because of the gradual wear and tear on spinal discs due to aging
The Spinal Fusion Procedure
During spinal fusion surgery, two or more adjacent spinal vertebrae are fused, or healed, together to restrict movement and decrease the pain caused by instability. The surgeon will typically use metal implants such as pedicle screws and rods that provide a source of bracing and support to immobilize the diseased vertebrae. Additionally, the surgeon will implant a substance called bone graft at the fusion site to help promote the growth of new bone, which fuses the vertebrae together.
For more advanced cases of spinal degeneration, the surgeon may need to implant an interbody device between the vertebrae. The interbody device provides a greater level of stability to the area as the spinal fusion takes hold. Interbody devices restore spacing between the vertebrae and serve as a holding chamber for a substance called bone graft that helps the body create new bone.