A spinal fusion is a surgery to weld together two or more vertebrae. Vertebrae are the bones that make up the spine.

There are several different types of spinal fusions based on factors, such as the part of the spin involved, placement of the incisions, and the parts of the vertebra that are initially fused. All fusion surgeries include the use of a graft that is made of bone material. It stimulates healing and encourages the two bones to heal together into one solid bone. The graft may be a piece of bone from the hip, a piece of bone from a cadaver, or artificial bone material.

Spinal nerves exit the spine between the vertebrae. Damage to the vertebra and the disc that sits between them can put extra pressure on these nerves. The irritated nerves can cause pain and weakness in the areas of the body affected by the nerve. Spinal fusion may be considered if all other methods of treatment (medication, rest, physical therapy) have not been able to relieve pain or disability. A spinal fusion removes damaged tissue and locks the two vertebra in place to prevent irritation of the spinal nerve between the vertebrae.

Medical conditions that may lead to spinal fusion include:

  • Spinal stenosis—narrowing of the canal that the spinal cord runs through
  • Spinal injury, including vertebral fractures
  • Spondylolisthesis—vertebra is out of line with the others
  • Scoliosis—abnormal curve in the spine
  • Weak or unstable spine, usually due to infection or tumors
  • Herniated disk