Spinal fusion surgery is essentially a welding process, permanently joining two or more vertebrae, or bones, in the spine. Fusing the vertebrae prevents movement between the bones, which keeps them from causing pain. While spinal fusion decreases spinal flexibility, most procedures involve small segments of the spine, so most people find that their mobility is only minimally affected. At Mount Sinai, we are highly skilled with this procedure.
Conditions Treated by Spinal Fusion
At the Spine Hospital at Mount Sinai, we use spinal fusion to treat several conditions, including:
- Bone fractures
- Unstable spines due to infection or tumor
- Abnormal curvature from various conditions such as scoliosis (lateral curvature in the lower back that leads to swayback) or kyphosis (an exaggerated rounding of the back)
- Issues stemming from arthritis, including spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column)
- Vertebrae slippage, such as spondylolisthesis, which squeezes the spinal cord or nerve roots
Spinal fusion surgery has been used for more than a decade. Our surgeons may approach the site from the back or the side. We insert a bone graft between the vertebrae, holding it in place with metal plates and rods until the vertebrae fuse. Bone grafts traditionally come from the patient’s own pelvic bone or rib, though surgeons also use allografts from a bone bank. To stimulate bone growth, our surgeons use artificial bone graft materials. The procedure usually takes three or four hours.
Recuperation from spinal fusion takes longer than other types of spine surgery. Most spine fusion patients spend a few nights in the hospital after the procedure. Elderly or debilitated patients may go to a rehabilitation center after the hospital. Some doctors may prescribe back braces.
Once released, you will still need to take it easy and limit bending, lifting heavy of jects, and twisting motions. Start by taking short walks and gradually increase your level of activity. About three months after the procedure, you may begin a more aggressive exercise program under the guidance of a physical therapist.
If you are young and healthy, you may be able to return to work after six weeks. If your job involves physical activities, you may not be able to return to work for as long as six months after the spinal fusion.
During the four to nine months following the procedure, your body will produce living bone to replace the bone graft. This new bone will fuse the vertebrae and create a single bone.