Not All Spinal Surgeries Are Spinal Fusions

It has been established that many of the patients I see, especially for a second opinion, are successfully cared for without surgical intervention. Sometimes, however, I will recommend surgery to patients if I feel it offers the greatest chance of resuming normal activities. This does not mean the only option is a spinal fusion! In spinal care the word ‘fusion’ is tossed about so often, many patients forget that there are other surgical options available.

For example, a spinal fusion would not be the best treatment if the patient suffers from a pinched nerve. If you think about the anatomy of the spine, it is a series of bones and discs stacked one on top of another. The purpose of the discs is to hold the bones apart, providing a cushioning effect, and allowing space for the nerves to run inside the spine. The nerves within the spinal cord travel to all parts of the body {i.e. arms, chest, pelvis, legs} and act like electrical cables; if an individual develops an issue with the nerves in the spine, they may experience symptoms anywhere that nerve runs, including pins and needles, burning, numbness, or weakness. Pain from this situation can be extreme, and may require surgery, but fusion of the spinal column would not be necessary in this case. Instead, a minimally invasive surgery to “un-pinch the nerve” would be effective at alleviating a patient’s symptoms without moving forward to a spinal fusion. These procedures can be performed through very small incisions using a microscope or fiber optics.

There are many other examples in which a fusion would be the last resort as a treatment option. Make sure you and your doctor discuss all surgical options that correspond with your lifestyle.

Topics covered

About the Author

Featured Resources

Insights to Achieve a Pain-Free Life

Join the Patients We’ve Helped on the Road to Recovery