Anyone who’s had chronic lower back pain has probably heard the term lumbar fusion. But what is lumbar fusion? Lumbar fusion is a surgical procedure performed on the lower, or lumbar, portion of the spine. Its goal is to stabilize the back after spinal decompression surgery to relieve pain, restore mobility, and/or relieve other symptoms of pinched nerves in the lower back. The procedure is also called lumbar spinal fusion, or simply spinal fusion, and takes its name from the fact that two (or occasionally more) adjacent vertebrae are fused as a result of the procedure.
Spinal problems such as traumatic injuries or natural changes in the spine associated with aging, such as spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease, can put pressure on the nerves of the spinal column. The lower back is a common site for these problems because of the bending, twisting and other physical stresses the lower back is subjected to over our lifetime. These spinal conditions cause symptoms of tingling, numbness, pain, restricted mobility and, even, paralysis. Physical therapy, medication or spinal injections can relieve many of these symptoms, but when these interventions are not effective, a spinal decompression procedure to relieve pressure on these nerves may be recommended. During spinal decompression, the surgeon trims away portions of a vertebra impinging on the pinched nerve. This compromises the strength of the vertebrae, so lumbar spinal fusion surgery has traditionally been performed in conjunction with spinal decompression therapy to stabilize the spine. The drawback is that lumbar fusion eliminates the natural independent movement of the vertebrae. But today the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System provides a clinically superior alternative to spinal fusion, which allows the individual vertebrae to maintain their full range of independent motion. That’s just one reason it’s important for candidates of lumbar spinal decompression to know exactly what lumbar fusion is, as well as the full range of treatment options available.