Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure used to correct problems with the small bones in the spine (vertebrae). It is essentially a “welding” process that fuses together the painful vertebrae so that they heal into a single, solid bone, either by using existing bone to make a bridge between adjacent vertebrae or by using metal implants (rods, hooks, screws, etc.) to secure the vertebrae together until new bone grows between them.
While spinal fusion has been performed for decades, several different techniques have been developed that may be used to fuse the spine as well as different “approaches” your surgeon can take for your procedure.
Anterior: Approach your spine from the front. Requires an incision in the lower abdomen. With this approach, the organs and blood vessels must be moved to the side. This allows your surgeon to access the spine without moving the nerves.
Posterior: Approach your spine from your back or side (lateral approach). A spacer may be inserted from the back of the spine. With this approach, your surgeon gains access to your spine by removing the bone (lamina) and retracting the nerves. Then the back of the disk can be removed and a spacer inserted.
Minimally invasive techniques have also been developed. These allow fusions to be performed with smaller incisions.
The right procedure for you will depend on the nature and location of your disease.