The vertebrae that make up the spine can become worn and arthritic over time, leading to persistent pain and compromised physical function. It can be caused by injury and a range of conditions such as spondylolisthesis, stenosis, scoliosis, infection, tumour, or degeneration.
The result is that the spine doesn’t maintain its stability and the discs between the vertebrae, which act as shock absorbers, become damaged and shift out of position.
Pain radiates across the body depending on the site of the damage and patients will experience discomfort to severe pain and a restriction of their normal movement.
Consultants will check for range of movement and determine the source of the pain. A range of non-operative approaches will be considered before surgery. MRI, X-rays and CT scans may be used to judge the extent of the damage and suitability for spinal fusion.
The operation involves a surgeon using a bone graft to hold the damaged vertebrae in place. Screws, rods or plates may be needed to create a solid joint and restore pain-free function in a deformed, damaged or diseased spine.
The bone graft material can be positioned around or in the spine, or packed into a special cage that sits between the vertebrae. Your body then takes over, healing the bone around the graft to permanently fuse the vertebra.
A bone graft may be needed from the hip area or a synthetic substitute can be used to accelerate bone growth and the speed of fusion.
It is carried out under general anaesthetic and patients normally need a two to three-day stay after spinal fusion and it may take several months before the bones fuse completely.
The operation is effective and relieving the pain but immobilizing part of the spine does have an impact on areas around the fused portion so extra care will be needed in terms of physical activity in the future.