Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that involves the joining, or fusion, of two or more vertebrae, the bones that make up the spine. The purpose is to correct abnormal movement between vertebrae to prevent potential damage to the spinal cord.
Who is a candidate for the procedure?
Spinal fusions are performed on people who have unstable vertebrae, which may be caused by:
a congenital abnormality present at birth
a progressive spinal disorder, such as spondylolisthesis
Someone who has recurrent slipped discs may also need a spinal fusion to prevent future herniations of the disc. Spinal fusions are also performed on unstable spinal fractures to prevent harm to the spinal cord or nerve roots.
How is the procedure performed?
With the person lying face down on a table in the operating room, an incision is made in the affected area of the spine. The bones to be fused are then roughened to create a raw surface on which a bone graft can grow. The bone graft, which usually consists of bone chips taken from the person's pelvis, is placed on the roughened surface. Metal plates or rods are used in most fusions to immediately stop motion in the spine. In some cases, the surgeon performs the fusion through an incision in the chest or abdomen.