Spinal fusion is surgery to permanently join together two or more bones in the spine so there is no movement between them. These bones are called vertebrae.
You’ll be given general anesthesia, which puts you into a deep sleep so you do not feel pain during surgery.
The surgeon will make a surgical cut (incision) to view the spine. Other surgery, such as a diskectomy, laminectomy, or a foraminotomy, is almost always done first.
• On your back or neck over the spine. You may be lying face down. Muscles and tissue will be separated to expose the spine.
• On your side, if you are having surgery on your lower back. The surgeon will use tools called retractors to gently separate, hold the soft tissues such as your bowels and blood vessels apart, and have room to work.
• With a cut on the front of the neck, toward the side.
The surgeon will use a graft (such as bone) to hold (or fuse) the bones together permanently.
There are several ways of fusing vertebrae together:
• Strips of bone graft material may be placed over the back part of the spine.
• Bone graft material may be placed between the vertebrae.
• Special cages may be placed between the vertebrae. These implantable cages are packed with bone graft material.
The surgeon may get the bone graft from different places:
• From another part of your body (usually around your pelvic bone). This is called an autograft. Your surgeon will make a small cut over your pelvic bone and remove some bone from the back of the rim of the pelvis.
• From a bone bank. This is called an allograft.
• An artificial bone substitute can also be used.
The vertebrae may also be fixed together with rods, screws, plates, or cages. They are used to keep the vertebrae from moving until the bone grafts are fully healed.
Surgery can take 3 to 4 hours.