Spinal fusion


Spinal fusion is surgery to permanently join together two or more bones in the spine so there is no movement between them. These bones are called vertebrae.

Alternative Names

Vertebral interbody fusion; Posterior spinal fusion; Arthrodesis; Anterior spinal fusion; Spine surgery - spinal fusion


You will be asleep and feel no pain (general anesthesia).

The doctor will make a surgical cut to view the spine. This may be done:

Other surgery, such as a diskectomy, laminectomy, or a foraminotomy, is almost always done first.

The surgeon will use a graft (such as bone) to hold (or fuse) the bones together permanently. There are several different ways of fusing vertebrae together:

The surgeon may get the graft from different places:

The vertebrae are often also fixed together with rods, screws, plates, or cages. They are used to keep the vertebrae from moving until the bone grafts fully healed.

Surgery can take 3 - 4 hours.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Spinal fusion is most often done along with other surgical procedures of the spine. It may be done:

Spinal fusion may be done if you have:

You and your doctor can decide when you need to have surgery.


Risks for any surgery are:

Risks for spine surgery are:

Before the Procedure

Always tell your doctor or nurse what drugs you are taking, including medicines, herbs, and supplements you bought without a prescription.

During the days before the surgery:

On the day of the surgery:

After the Procedure

You will stay in the hospital for 3 - 4 days after surgery.

You will receive pain medicines in the hospital. You may take pain medicine by mouth or have a shot or an intravenous line(IV). You may have a pump that allows you to control how much pain medicine you get.

You will be taught how to move properly and how to sit, stand, and walk. You'll be told to use a "log-rolling" technique when getting out of bed. This means that you move your entire body at once, without twisting your spine.

You may not be able to eat for 2 - 3 days. You will be given nutrients through an IV. When you leave the hospital, you may need to wear a back brace or cast.

Your healthcare team will tell you how to take care of yourself at home after spine surgery.

Outlook (Prognosis)

If you had chronic back pain before surgery, you will likely still have some pain afterward. Spinal fusion is unlikely to take away all your pain and other symptoms.

It is hard for a surgeon to always predict which patients will improve and how much relief surgery will provide, even when using MRI scans or other tests.

Losing weight and getting exercise will increase your chances of feeling better.

Future spine problems are possible for all patients after spine surgery. After spinal fusion, the area that was fused together can no longer move. Therefore, the spinal column above and below the fusion are more likely to be stressed when the spine moves, and may have problems later on.


Weinstein JN, Tosteson TD, Lurie JD, et al. Surgical versus nonsurgical therapy for lumbar spinal stenosis. N Engl J Med. 2008;358:794-810.

Brox JI, Nygaard ØP, Holm I, Keller A, Ingebrigtsen T, Reikerås O. Four-year follow-up of surgical versus non-surgical therapy for chronic low back pain. Ann Rheum Dis. 2010 Sep;69(9):1643-8.

Curlee PM. Other disorders of the spine. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 41.

Weinstein JN, Tosteson TD, Lurie JD, et al. Surgical versus nonoperative treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis four-year results of the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2010 Jun 15;35(14):1329-38.

Matz PG, Holly LT, Groff MW, et al; Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons. Indications for anterior cervical decompression for the treatment of cervical degenerative radiculopathy. J Neurosurg Spine. 2009 Aug;11(2):174-82.

Daubs MD, Norvell DC, McGuire R, et al. Fusion versus nonoperative care for chronic low back pain: do psychological factors affect outcomes? Spine. 2011 Oct 1;36 (21Suppl):S96-109.

Review Date: 6/7/2012
Reviewed By: Dennis Ogiela, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon, Danbury Hospital, Danbury, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.