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Deciding if Lumbar Fusion is Right for You

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Deciding if Lumbar Fusion is Right for You

  • Dr. Charla Fischer
  • Jul 14, 2020

If you’re facing the possibility of having lumbar fusion surgery to treat lower back pain, you may find that it is a tough decision whether to proceed or not. There are some misconceptions about the surgery that may make it seem scarier and more debilitating than it really is. Medical advancements have made lumbar fusion sometimes the most successful and effective treatment for some patients.

The purpose of lumbar fusion surgery is to connect adjacent vertebrae so that they become one solid piece of bone. This allows the part of the spine that is causing pain to become more stable and have less movement. Dr. Charla Fischer at NYU Langone in NYC performs this procedure on patients with conditions such as:

  • Degenerative disc disease – the discs between vertebrae become worn over time, often collapsing and pinching nerves. A fusion recreates proper spacing between discs and relieves pressure on related nerves.
  • Spondylolisthesis– when a vertebrae slips out of its correct location over another vertebrae, resulting in back or leg pain and weakness. A fusion corrects this type of abnormal spinal bone movement.
  • Decompression surgeries – patients who have undergone repeated decompression surgeries or microdiscectomies may not have enough stable bones in the spine to have another surgery of the same type. A fusion may be a better option for success in this case.

Artificial disc replacement is another common surgery for patients with lower back pain. How do you know if this might be a better choice for you? Dr. Charla Fischer has found that, although artificial disc replacement can be a great treatment, it may not be ideal for every patient. The specific portion of the spine and its condition helps determine the best treatment plan. For example, artificial disc replacement is typically more effective on the cervical (or neck) portion of the spine instead of the lumbar (lower back) region. Also, when the spine is significantly unstable such as with spondylolisthesis, lumbar fusion can be a better option. Arthritis patients are sometimes not good candidates for artificial disc replacement either.

One of the misnomers about lumbar fusion is that movement and quality of life will be majorly diminished. This depends on the fusion location and how many vertebrae are fused. Many patients need only one level of their spine fused together, which does not cause a major change in their ability to move. Lumbar fusion does not necessarily mean that your life will be dramatically impacted, other than eliminating your pain and restoring your ability to perform your normal activities.

It is important to see a trusted specialist like Dr. Charla Fischer at NYU Langone to help you choose the best treatment plan for you. It may involve lumber fusion, but don’t be scared off by that news. It may be just what you need to successfully eliminate your back pain for good.

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