Spinal fusion is surgery to permanently connect two or more vertebrae in your spine, eliminating motion between them. Spinal fusion involves techniques designed to mimic the normal healing process of broken bones. During spinal fusion, your surgeon places bone or a bonelike material within the space between two spinal vertebrae. Metal plates, screws and rods may be used to hold the vertebrae together, so they can heal into one solid unit.
Types of Back Surgery
- Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. These procedures are used to repair compression fractures of the vertebrae caused by osteoporosis. Both procedures include the injection of a glue-like bone cement that hardens and strengthens the bone.
- Spinal laminectomy/spinal decompression. This is performed when spinal stenosis causes a narrowing of the spinal canal that results in pain, numbness, or weakness. The surgeon removes the bony walls of the vertebrae and any bone spurs, aiming to open up the spinal column to remove pressure on the nerves.
- Discectomy. This procedure is used to remove a disk when it has herniated and presses on a nerve root or the spinal cord. Laminectomy and discectomy are frequently performed together.
- Foraminotomy. In this procedure, the surgeon enlarges the bony hole where a nerve root exits the spinal canal to prevent bulging disks or joints thickened with age from pressing on the nerve.
- Nucleoplasty, also called plasma disk decompression. This laser surgery uses radiofrequency energy to treat people with low back pain associated with a mildly herniated disk. The surgeon inserts a needle into the disk. A plasma laser device is then inserted into the needle and the tip is heated, creating a field that vaporizes the tissue in the disk, reducing its size and relieving pressure on the nerves.
- Spinal fusion. The surgeon removes the spinal disk between two or more vertebrae, then fuses the adjacent vertebrae using bone grafts or metal devices secured by screws. Spinal fusion may result in some loss of flexibility in the spine and requires a long recovery period to allow the bone grafts to grow and fuse the vertebrae together.
- Artificial disk replacement. This is considered an alternative to spinal fusion for the treatment of people with severely damaged disks. The procedure involves removal of the disk and its replacement by a synthetic disk that helps restore height and movement between the vertebrae.