Laurie LaRusso, MS, ELS
A spinal fusion is a surgery to weld together two vertebrae. Vertebrae are the bones that make up the spine.
To treat persistent pain and disability caused by:
Spinal fusion may be done if the treatments below do not relieve pain and disability:
Imaging tests must also show a problem that can be fixed with this procedure.
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely risk-free. If you are planning to have a spinal fusion, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
Your doctor may do the following:
Before your surgery:
may be used. With general anesthesia, you will be asleep. Spinal anesthesia will numb an area of your body, but you will be awake.
Your doctor will make an incision in your back or neck. The muscles will be spread to access the spine. Your doctor may fuse the bones with either:
Your doctor will implant screws and plates or rods to hold the bones in place while they fuse together. The incision will be closed with stitches or staples.
4-6 hours (sometimes longer)
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. You will receive medicine after surgery to help manage pain.
3-4 days (sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on age, overall health, and extent of surgery)
You may receive the following care at the hospital:
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Rehabilitation may be done in a hospital or at an outpatient clinic. The program will likely include:
Time off from work ranges from 4-6 weeks to 4-6 months. It depends on your age, overall health, and the physical demands of your job.
Complete healing of the bones may take up to one year after surgery. You will likely notice less flexibility of your spine where the bones are fused. Following your rehabilitation program will speed your recovery and reduce discomfort.
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
The University of British Columbia Department of Orthopaedics
AAOS clinical guideline on low back pain/sciatica (acute) (phases I and II). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) website. Available at:
http://www.guidelines.gov/summary/summary.aspx?doc_id=5369&nbr=003672&string=spinal+AND+fusion. Accessed September 9, 2005.
Deyo RA, Nachemson S, et al. Spinal-fusion surgery—the case for restraint.
N Engl J Med. 2004;350(7):722-726.
Kim CW, Siemionow K, et al. The current state of minimally invasive spine surgery.
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Lindström D, Omid Sadr A, et al. Effects of a perioperative smoking cessation intervention on postoperative complications: a randomized trial.
Lipson SJ. Spinal-fusion surgery—advances and concerns.
N Engl J Med. 2004;350(7):643-644.
North American Spine Society. Phase III clinical guidelines for multidisciplinary spine care specialists. Spinal stenosis version 1.0. National Guideline Clearinghouse website. Available at:
http://www.guidelines.gov/summary/summary.aspx?doc_id=3609&nbr=002835&string=spinal+AND+fusion. Accessed September 7, 2005.
Spinal fusion. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00348. Updated September 2007. Accessed June 25, 2008.
Spinal fusion surgery. North American Spine Society website. Available at:
http://www.spine.org/articles/spinalfusion.cfm. Accessed August 30, 2005.
Last reviewed December 2012 by John C. Keel, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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