Alternatives to Spinal Fusion

Annual Bone & Joint Section

Bones and joints are easily taken for granted, but they’re absolutely vital to our health and day-to-day activities. In the following section, learn how to keep your bones and joints healthy so that you can keep an active lifestyle for many more years to come.

By Anna Hill


Is persistent back pain affecting your day-to-day life? These treatment options can provide relief while preserving motion in your spine. 

Spinal fusion is a surgical technique designed to join two or more vertebrae – a bit like “welding” components of your spine together. The goal of this procedure is to fuse damaged vertebrae into a single, solid bone to reduce pain and restore stability to the spine. 

In the past, spinal fusions were standard for many back problems, such as degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, herniated discs, and more. However, the procedure is an invasive one, which often means reduced motion and a longer recovery period. Over the years, orthopedic surgeons have learned that spinal fusions may not always be necessary, and that back pain can be eliminated without having to limit your motion by fusing bone.


Weighing the Options

Depending on your individual needs, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following alternatives to alleviate pain while preserving range of motion: 

Physical Therapy – Physical therapy is designed to improve muscle strength and endurance while reducing pain. Furthermore, it is great for your overall health, mobility, and aerobic fitness.

Steroid Injections – These quick and relatively painless injections can temporarily relieve pain in the neck, arms, back, and legs caused by inflammation of the spinal nerves. 

Radiofrequency Ablation – With this minimally invasive procedure, heat is used to “ablate,” or burn, the nerve causing pain in the lower back, neck, or arthritic joints. This prevents pain signals from reaching the brain.

Surgical Options – If the above options aren’t sufficient, sometimes surgery is necessary to relieve nerve compression causing pain or weakness, but non-fusion options are available that are less invasive and offer quicker recovery times.


Exploring the Benefits

One of the considerable downsides of spinal fusion is a potential loss of mobility in the spine. Fusions can also put pressure or stress on the vertebrae above and below the fusion, which can cause them to break down and degenerate sooner than they otherwise might. This leads to an increased likelihood of further surgery down the road.

Through nonsurgical alternative methods, you can find improvement without the risks of surgery and anesthesia. If surgery is required, non-fusion options can be performed using minimally invasive techniques that allow for shorter operating time and quicker recovery; in most cases, patients can go home the same day. HS

Dr. Candace McKee quote on alternatives to spinal fusion

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