When Spinal Fusion Should (And Shouldn't) Be Considered | Neurosurgeon in St. Paul

Last updated: 03-16-2020

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When Spinal Fusion Should (And Shouldn't) Be Considered | Neurosurgeon in St. Paul

A spinal fusion operation involves the fusing together of two vertebrae in the spine that are causing pain or out of place. Through this process, the two vertebrae become one solid piece of bone. This can be a helpful operation because it limits movement in painful areas but also helps your regain mobility and live a less painful life. However, the operation isn’t for just anyone battling back pain. Today, we take a look at who is, and who isn’t, an ideal candidate for spinal fusion.

So who is an ideal candidate for spinal fusion, and who isn’t? We dive into that question below.

IDEAL – Locate Pain Source: Fusions are generally only administered to patients in which the source of the pain can be pinpointed with the assistance of an X-ray, MRI or CT scan. If pain can’t be pinpointed, then fusing two vertebrae together is unlikely to treat the root problem.

NOT IDEAL – First Option: The recommendation of a spinal fusion should never be your first treatment option. An ideal spinal fusion candidate is one who has tried a couple different conservative techniques without success. Ideally, those non-surgical interventions will take care of the issue, but if they don’t, then you can be considered for a spinal fusion operation.

IDEAL – Meets Condition Criteria: This is similar to the first point, but spinal fusion is only going to be successful if pain is caused by a certain condition. Some conditions of the spine that would benefit from a spinal fusion and a restrengthening of two vertebrae include degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, certain spinal fractures and individuals recovering after a spinal tumor excision.

NOT IDEAL – Poor Habits: That’s not to say that you’ll be disqualified from having a spinal fusion if you do any of the following activities, but these actions are associated with a decreased likelihood of having a successful outcome after fusion. The activities that negatively affect your surgical success include: smoking, steroid use, having diabetes, osteoporosis, malnutrition or being obese. If you check any of these boxes, try to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction before considering spinal fusion.

IDEAL – Experienced Surgeon:  Unless the operation is performed with extreme accuracy, the fusion may not stabilize the vertebrae as hoped and pain may still exist. So if you’re considering spinal fusion, make sure you find an experienced spinal surgeon who has successfully performed a number of different fusion operations. Dr. Chang and the team at Midwest Spine & Brain Institute have performed a variety of successful spinal fusion operations, and they know they can help you. If you’re considering the operation, trust your spine to a proven and skilled surgeon.

For more information on who is an ideal candidate for spinal fusion, or to learn more about your options, reach out to Dr. Chang on our contact page.


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