What is a Spinal Fusion?
A Spinal fusion is a surgical treatment with the goal of permanently connecting two or more vertebrae in your spine, eliminating motion between them. The treatment is designed to mimic the normal healing process of broken bones (eg. vertebrae), ultimately strengthening and stabilizing your spine.
How is a Spinal Fusion performed?
During a spinal fusion, Dr. Morrison makes a minimal incision, then places hardware and bone graft — a bonelike material — in the space between two spinal vertebrae. Metal plates, screws and rods may also be used to hold the vertebrae together, so they can heal into one solid unit — helping you re-gain your spinal stability and quality of life.
The Morrison Clinic™ possesses the expertise to afford you a variety of treatment options, and performs these specific types of spinal fusions:
Cervical spine fusion:
A cervical (neck) fusion may be performed from the front (anterior) with a small titanium cage filled with bone graft and a plate, ors from the back (posterior) with, rods and screws. The cage, plate, and rod/screws is placed between the spinal bones needing to be fused.
Anterior cervical spine fusion:
An anterior cervical spine fusion is a very common method for fusing the spine. It is performed via incision anterior in the cervical area. An anterior spine fusion is performed with an interbody cage and a plates, which are used to fuse the vertabrae.
Posterior cervical spine fusion:
A posterior spine fusion is another common method for fusing the cervical spine. It is performed via an incision in the posterior cervical region. A posterior spine fusion is performed with rods and screws to fuse the vertabrae.
360°/combined spine fusion:
Also called a “360° Fusion” (Anterior and Posterior), this procedure is a common method for fusing the cervical spine. It is performed via incision in the anterior cervical spine and an incision in the posterior cervical spine. As it combines both anterior and posterior spinal fusion methods, it utilizes interbody cages with bone graft, a plate, rods, and screws.
Performing Lumbar spinal fusions
The Morrison Clinic™ also is experienced performing these very specialized types of lumbar spinal fusions:
- ALIF (anterior lumbar interbody fusion)
Performing an ALIF spinal fusion involves making incisions to access the spine from the front (anterior) of the body. The initial step removes all or part of a herniated disc from in between two adjacent vertebrae (interbody) in the lower back (lumbar spine). The second step then fuses vertebrae on either side of the remaining disc space using an titanium cage and bone graft. A plate or screws to secure the cage may be part of the placement.
- XLIF (extreme lumbar interbody fusion) or LLIF (lateral lumbar interbody fusion)
Performing an XLIF or LLIF spinal fusion involves accessing the intervertebral disc space from the side of the body. An incision is made on the flank and the psoas muscle is gently dissected with finger dissection. The disc from in between two adjacent vertebrae (interbody) is removed. Dr. Morrison then fuses vertebrae on either side of the remaining disc space using bone graft. A plate and screws may be utilized to secure the implant.
- TLIF (transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion)
Performing a TLIF spinal fusion involves accessing the spine via a midline or paramedian incision on the back of the body. The facet joint is decompressed and the disc space accessed. After all or part of a herniated disc is removed from the rear of the spine, Dr. Morrison then fuses the front and back of the spine using bone graft.
The Morrison Clinic™ Prefers Centinel Spine Hardware
Determining if a Spinal Fusion is necessary
The Morrison Clinic™ often orders these common imaging tests to determine if a spinal fusion treatment is necessary for you:
- MRI Scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
- CT/CAT Scans (Computer Assisted Tomography)
Below are additional steps we can take to determine if you need a spinal fusion procedure:
- Myelogram: A myelogram uses a special dye to outline the spinal cord and nerve roots during an X-ray
- Bone Scan: A bone scan uses a radioactive chemical, sometimes called a tracer, to identify hotspots in the bone structure. A hotspot is an area where there’s a lot of radioactivity
- EMG/SSP (Electro-diagnostic Study): An electromyogram (EMG) looks at the function of your nerve roots leaving the spine, by inserting tiny electrodes into your muscles. The electrodes can identify abnormal signals in the muscles which indicates if a nerve is being irritated or pinched as it leaves the spine
- Facet Joint Block: The facet joints are the joints in your spine that make it easy to move. If they’re irritated or inflamed, they can cause back pain. The facet joint block is a procedure where a local anesthetic medication is injected into the facet joint to numb the area around it
- Discogram: A discogram is an X-ray procedure that looks at the discs in your spine. The test is conducted by injecting dye into the center of the injured disc to make it clearly visible on film and screen
- Labs: Your doctor may order a complete blood count, inflammatory markers, urine analysis, fecal occult blood testing or other labs
- Spinal Tap: During a spinal tap, a needle is inserted into your spinal canal. Spinal taps are conducted to get a sample of the clear fluid that surrounds your spinal cord. The presence of an increased count of white blood cells, an increase in protein level, or inflammation can indicate an issue in the spine.
Conditions a Spinal Fusion treatment resolves
Spinal fusion treatment is known to help relieve symptoms of many back conditions, including:
- Degenerative disk disease
- Spinal stenosis
- Fractured vertebra
- Herniated disk(s)
- Spinal tumors
Dr. Morrison views spinal fusions as a particularly relevant treatment for these conditions:
- Deformities of the spine: Spinal fusion can help correct spinal deformities, such as a sideways curvature of the spine (scoliosis)
- Spinal weakness or instability: Your spine may become unstable if there’s abnormal or excessive motion between two vertebrae, a common side effect of severe spinal arthritis
- Disk herniation: A spinal fusion can be used to stabilize the spine after removal of a damaged (herniated) disk or disks
If you have any of these conditions, a spinal fusion may be part of a care plan for your best quality of life. Schedule an e-consult here.
Spinal Fusion treatment aftercare: Positively influencing your recovery
- Pain management and would care:Spinal fusion surgery recovery typically takes anywhere from three to six months, and this time frame includes the various types of physical therapy that each patient must undergo.The period of rehabilitation in the hospital consists of a few days of wound care, managing pain, and learning to get in and out of bed without twisting or bending the spine in a dangerous manner.Recovery at home will consist of continued wound care and reintroducing various movements back into your regular routine.
- Physical therapy: After approximately four weeks, a physical therapist will begin to help you as you learn some helpful stretching exercises. This will continue for about three months into your spinal fusion recovery. Over time, and at a pace that Dr. Morrison has determined to be appropriate for you, you will be able to return to the activities and sports you love as you regain your strength while allowing the spinal fusion to complete effectively.
- Avoid strain and hazardous movements:
It is recommended that you not attempt to lift heavy objects during the first few weeks of recovery. This can compromise the success of your spinal decompression and fusion surgery. Driving is permitted after a couple of weeks, but if you have an anterior cervical spinal decompression and fusion surgery, you may have to wear a neck brace. After a few months of recovery and physical therapy, patients are usually able to return to more intense physical activity and even to competitive sports. However, this varies by patient.
- Healthy diet
Make sure to eat foods that are rich in calcium and essential vitamins and minerals. Likewise, stay away from unhealthy foods that can negatively affect your recovery process. Avoid smoking at all costs, as nicotine can prevent your vertebrae and bone graft from fusing properly.
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Immediately following surgery, I was standing and walking pain free. I am enjoying my life again and have Dr. Morrison to thank!
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