Lumbar Fusion

Fusion is a big operation and we only recommend this as a last resort. Fusion can be performed well or badly and the experience of the surgeon is paramount.

Watch our videos of two patients who were back on their feet within just a few hours of a Lumbar Decompression performed as day case surgery at the UK Spine Centre.

We fuse the spine most commonly to stop excessive painful spinal movement at one or more levels of the spine.

Metal work (typically rods and screws) are used to hold the spine together allowing the spine to fuse.

Uses

We fuse the spine for several different reasons including spinal instability or deformity (spondylolisthesis or scoliosis) where other simpler conservative treatments have not worked.

Procedure

We can fuse the spine in different ways, accessing your spine from the front, side, or back. Our options depend on the level of the spine being fused and the problem being treated.

The most versatile and commonly performed fusion is through the skin of the back (posterior).

We specialise in minimally invasive techniques to reduce damage to the muscles.

Typically we place titanium screws into the spine and connect these with a strong metal rod which holds everything securely.

Sometimes it is helpful to remove the disc and replace this with a block of material (called a cage). This may provide more support to the spine and helps us to correct a spinal deformity better.

We use a combination of your own bone (from the site of the operation) and synthetic bone graft to encourage the spine to fuse together. Fusion between the bones will prevent any further movement at the treated level.

A single level fusion operation can take anything from 1.5-3 hours to perform.

Success

Fusion surgery at The UK Spine Centre is normally successful with an 80% chance that you will be better.

We always take great care in deciding that fusion is the appropriate treatment for our patients, and the operation must be performed well.

Re-creating the natural curvature (lordosis) in your lower back is really important because it helps you to stand up straight and reduces the chance of you developing problems at adjacent levels of your spine 5-10 years later.

Risks

There is a 10-15% chance that you improve but are still not quite as good as you would wish to be.

Overall there is a 5% or 1 in 20 chance that you could be worse off by having a spinal fusion.

Like all operations there are some risks. These amount to a 1-2% chance of infection, nerve injury, spine fluid leak, infection, failure of metalwork or fusion, blood clots, bleeding, medical problems.

Patients understandably worry about being paralysed but thankfully the chance is exceedingly low (<1 in 18,000) and not something we have thankfully encountered.

Recovery

Our specialists at The UK Spine Centre always use minimally invasive techniques to reduce muscle damage and post-operative pain.

However, your back will still feel sore and we will give you strong painkillers which you will find helpful over the first few weeks.

We will get you up and walking within a few hours of surgery and you will be able to go home on the same day.

You may have a small drain in the back which we simply remove after a few hours or the following day. We usually use dissolvable stitches or sometimes a stitch which we trim or remove at two weeks.

We will encourage you to take regular short walks each day building this up over six weeks.

You can return to non manual work from 6 – 12 weeks or when you feel ready.

You will continue to improve for at least 12 months and we would expect you to return to doing everything with a better overall quality of life.

We will see you regularly in clinic after the fusion and follow you up routinely for one year.

Our team will support you before and after surgery and your specialist remains available to you at any time.

Further Reading

Please see our Patient Stories which describe real patients, their problems, diagnosis and successful treatment under our care at The UK Spine Centre.

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