Back Pain - Lumbar Fusion

This is surgery to fuse, or join, two or more of the bones that make up the lower part of the spine (lumbar vertebrae).

This is surgery to fuse, or join, two or more of the bones that make up the lower part of the spine (lumbar vertebrae).

Lumbar spine fusion is surgery to join two or more of the bones that make up the lower part of the spine (lumbar vertebrae). Fusing or joining the vertebrae prevents the bones from moving and putting pressure on other areas of the spine. Prior to joining the vertebrae, the surgeon almost always removes the cushion (disk) between the vertebrae being fused (diskectomy). After the disk is removed, the vertebrae are joined and kept in place using a:

  • Bone graft from a bone in your body (autograft), a bone from someone else's body (allograft) or a man-made substance
  • Metal cage filled with bone graft material or
  • Screws, rods and plates

During a lumbar fusion, the surgeon may also perform other surgeries on the lower spine. Some examples include a:

  • Foraminotomy, which increases the size of the opening a nerve passes through
  • Laminectomy, which removes part of one or more vertebrae

Even without medical treatment, most episodes of back pain will usually go away within six to eight weeks. A lumbar fusion may be recommended if all other treatments have failed for nonspecific low back pain. Failure of all other treatments is indicated by persistent pain that significantly interferes with sleeping, working and other daily activities. Low back pain can happen when one of the bones in the spine moves and slips over the bone (vertebrae) beneath it. This is called spondylolisthesis, which can lead to pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. Some other reasons for a spinal fusion include:

  • Injury or fracture of spine
  • Unstable or weak spine
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column) with spondylolisthesis
  • Abnormal curves in the lumbar spine (scoliosis)

If surgery is necessary, prior to the surgery you should tell your healthcare provider about any medications you are taking (including over-the-counter medications and supplements). Ask about specific instructions you should follow before surgery. These may include:

  • Meeting with a physical therapist to learn how to use a back brace and walk with crutches
  • Medications you should not take before the surgery, such as blood thinners
  • Regular medications you should take on the day of your surgery
  • How many hours you should stop eating and drinking before the surgery

If you are a smoker, you should quit. Smoking can interfere with your recovery.

During your surgery, you will receive general anesthesia to keep you comfortable and pain free. With general anesthesia you are put into a deep sleep and are unable to see, hear or feel anything. A lumbar fusion usually takes three to four hours. You will spend a few days in the hospital after surgery. It may take from a few weeks to a few months before you are back to your normal activity level.

  • While you are in the hospital, the people caring for you will teach you the right way to move, sit, stand and walk after a lumbar fusion.
  • You may have to wear a back brace or cast for a period of time.
  • Physical therapy is often recommended for several weeks after back surgery. This is to help increase your strength and mobility.
  • You may also need pain medication and help at home while you recover.

What should I ask my healthcare provider before having a lumbar fusion?

  • What is my diagnosis and reason for the surgery? Are there any alternatives? What are the benefits and risks of each?
  • What is the likelihood my surgery will be successful?
  • Will you need to perform other surgeries at the same time you perform this surgery?
  • What is your experience in doing this type of surgery? What is your complication rate?
  • Is there any special preparation for the surgery? (If so, get clear instructions on what you need to do.)
  • What type of anesthesia will I have? What are the possible side effects?
  • What are the possible complications for this surgery?
  • How will I feel after the surgery and will I have to modify my activity?

After your surgery, you should know what you had done, what medication was given, and what symptoms you should report to your healthcare provider after discharge. You should also understand all home care instructions (including medications and side effects) and follow-up plans. Your surgeon should also communicate with your primary care physician.


Also known as:

Vertebrae Fusion
Surgery on Back
Pain in Back
Lumbar Fusion
Join Vertebrae
Fuse Vertebrae
Curvature of Spine
Back Surgery
Back Pain - Lumbar Fusion
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