Spinal fusion is the surgical technique of combining two or more vertebrae. Fusion of the vertebrae involves insertion of secondary bone tissue obtained either through auto graft (tissues from the same patient) or allograft (tissues from the other person) to augment the bonehealing process.
The human spine provides support to the body allowing you to stand upright, bend, and twist. The spine is made up of a series of 24 bones called vertebrae which are stacked on top of one another. Between two vertebrae there is a disc of cartilaginous tissue called intervertebral disc. Intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers and protect the spine from the strong forces of movement during activities such as jumping, running and lifting.The spine can be broadly divided into cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.
The cervical spine comprises the first 7 vertebrae of the spinal column, which form the neck.
The cervical spine is highly mobile compared to other regions of the spine such as thoracic or lumbar spine. In contrast to other parts of the spine, the cervical spine has transverse foramina in each vertebra through which the vertebral arteries supply blood to the brain.
Cervical spine fusion is a surgical procedure in which two or more bones (vertebrae) of the cervical spine are joined together so as to eliminate the movement between them. This is done by placing bone grafts or bone graft substitutes in between the affected vertebrae to stimulate bone healing. This promotes bone growth and eventually fuses the vertebrae into a single solid bone, permanently. Instrumentation such as plates, screws and rods are also used to hold the vertebrae together while the bone graft heals and fuses them together.
Bone grafts can be taken from the patient’s own hip bone (auto graft) or from a cadaver bone (allograft)acquired through a bone bank.Several artificial bone grafts substitute such as demineralised bone matrices (DBMs) and bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) and ceramics are also available and may be used.
Spinal fusion surgery is mostly performed along with other surgical procedures, to stabilize the spine. These surgical procedures include foraminotomy or laminectomy for spinal stenosis or discectomy for degenerative disc disease. It may also be recommended for treatment of the following conditions when nonsurgical measures have failed to be effective:
- Injury or fracture of the vertebra
- Instability of the spine caused by infections, tumours or spondylolisthesis (a condition in which a bone (vertebra) in the spine slips out of position onto the bone below it.
- Correction of abnormal spinal curvature (kyphosis)
Risks and Complications
Some specific complications after cervical spinal surgery includes infection in the spine, nerve damage, non-union (not enough bone formation) of the vertebrae fused and persistent pain at the fusion site.
Follow your doctor’s instructions and maintain a healthy lifestyle to achieve better outcomes.