Persistent back pain can affect your ability to move and impact your quality of life overall. There are many causes of chronic pain in the back, but the good news is there are also numerous treatment options for addressing and minimizing the pain, so you can return to activities you once loved. At the Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio, our surgeons perform a wide range of surgical and nonsurgical treatments to help restore our patients’ mobility and posture while reducing nagging discomfort. Spinal fusion is one of the solutions we provide that allows us to tailor treatments to meet the individual needs of our patients.

What is Spinal Fusion?

Spinal fusion is a “welding” process by which two or more of the small bones (vertebrae) that make up the spinal column are fused together with bone grafts and internal devices such as metal rods that help the individual vertebrae heal into a single, solid bone. The surgery eliminates some motion between the vertebrae segments while minimizing the stretching of ligaments, muscles and nerves that may be contributing to discomfort. It also stops the progression of spinal deformities like scoliosis. Most spinal infusion procedures involve relatively small spinal segments, so the limitations on motion are typically minimal.

Risks and Benefits of Spinal Fusion

Benefits and risks accompany all surgery, and they must be carefully weighed before deciding to move forward with a procedure. Some of the benefits of spinal fusion might include:

  • Less invasive procedure minimizes damage to the surrounding tissue
  • Creates stability in the spine to prevent abnormal movement
  • Reduces the need for possible future surgeries on the same vertebrae
  • Creates better alignment to the spine by addressing spinal deformities
  • Reduces pain, increases mobility for most patients

Like any surgery, there are also some risks associated with spinal fusion. While the risks are relatively low, they should be considered when determining whether this procedure is the right choice:

  • Infection, which is reduced by administering antibiotics
  • Irregular bleeding and blood clot formation
  • Possible damage to blood vessels or nerves
  • Pain at the graft site (the area where the bone is taken)

Complications are rare and can be reduced further by closely following all pre- and post-operative instructions you receive from your surgeon. Most complications can be treated although they may extend the recovery process and possibly your hospital stay after surgery.

Is Spinal Fusion Right for You?

Your surgeon might recommend spinal fusion to treat a wide range of issues, including:

Spinal Fractures

When a fractured vertebra does not successfully heal on its own, spinal fusion is one of the treatments that may be recommended to stabilize the spinal column and promote healing of the bone.

Instability in the Spine

Fractures are not the only cause of spinal instability. Excessive motion between vertebrae, often the byproduct of arthritis, can also lead to pain and instability. Spinal fusion provides the support necessary to reverse this issue.

Spine Deformities

Common deformities like scoliosis (sideways curve of the spine) or kyphosis (abnormal outward curvature of the upper spine) can also be treated with spinal fusion in some cases. The fusion reduces the deformity as well as the pain that may accompany it.

Herniated Disc

When a disc becomes damaged or herniated, removal of the disc may be the best treatment choice. Spinal fusion provides support after the disc is removed to preserve the stability of the spine.


Spondylolisthesis occurs when a single vertebra slips forward and rest on the vertebra below, causing pain that may extend into the legs. Spinal fusion can be used to address this issue and eliminate the accompanying symptoms.

Spinal Stenosis

This condition is characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can lead to pain and other issues. In some cases, spinal fusion may be used to reduce discomfort and allow the patient to walk more naturally.

While spinal fusion is a practical solution for a variety of spine disorders, it is not the only treatment option available today. Our surgeons will provide a comprehensive assessment of your conditions as well as a detailed description of your symptoms before determining whether spinal fusion is the right method of treatment for you.

Spinal Fusion Overview

Our surgeons perform spinal fusion using general anesthesia, so you are comfortably asleep throughout the procedure. Steps for the operation are as follows:

Incision Creation

Incisions for this procedure may be made in one of three locations:

  • Posterior Approach – incisions created in either the cervical or lumbar regions of the back
  • Lateral Approach – incisions made on the side to reach the spine
  • Anterior Approach – incisions will be placed in the neck or abdomen to reach the spine from the front

The right incision placement for you will be based on a variety of factors, which will be discussed at your post-op appointments.

Bone Grafting

Bone pieces may be grafted from your own body – usually your pelvis – to fuse the vertebrae together. In other cases, your surgeon may use synthetic material rather than creating additional incisions to remove the graft from the hipbone. These materials are FDA-approved for use in spinal fusion surgeries and work with the bone to speed up the grafting process.


The final step of the process is to fuse the vertebrae together using the grafting material. Your surgeon may insert metal screws, plates or rods to hold the vertebrae in place while the graft heals.

Recovery from Spinal Fusion

You will spend a few days in the hospital after spinal fusion surgery so that attentive nursing staff can monitor you as you learn to get out of bed safely, get into and out of a chair, and walk. They will also help you to manage the discomfort that is common after spinal fusion, through oral and IV medications. Some patients may go from the hospital to a rehabilitation unit to build strength before going home. You will have follow-up appointments to ensure your recovery process goes smoothly. The entire process will take a few months, as it takes time for the bones to fuse together.

Spinal fusion helps many patients reduce painful symptoms associated with a host of spine disorders and injuries. If you would like to learn more about this surgery, contact the Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio at 419-222-6622 to schedule your initial consultation.