Lateral Lumbar Fusion Removes Pressure from the Spinal Canal

Who needs this operation?

Lateral Lumbar Fusion Surgery

What is lateral lumbar fusion surgery?

In order to provide an answer to this question, it might make the most sense to start with definitions of the medical terms: “lateral,” “lumbar,” “fusion," and “surgery.”

  • Surgery: Almost everyone knows what this is. Surgery is a medical procedure in which the body is cut open so a physician can deal with a damaged or diseased part. In lateral lumbar fusion surgery, usually the procedure is performed by a neurosurgeon and an orthopedist. The diseased or damaged part(s) these physicians deal with involves the spine.
  • Fusion: This is the merging of adjacent parts. In lateral lumbar fusion surgery, the parts that merge or join as one are two or more vertebrae or backbones.
  • Lumbar: This word refers to the lower back region of the spine. It is the area between the lowest ribs and the top of the pelvis, located between the thoracic spine and the sacrum. In lateral lumbar fusion surgery, vertebrae in the lumbar or lower spine area are fused together.
  • Lateral: This word refers to a location that is “to the side” or “away from the midline.” In lateral lumbar fusion surgery, the lower or lumbar spine is approached from the side.

Using these simpler definitions, lateral lumbar fusion surgery is a medical procedure in which an incision is made in the side of the body to deal with a lower back problem. The procedure is done to merge two or more vertebrae together into one solid piece of bone. The goals of lateral lumbar fusion surgery are to:

  • Relieve the patient’s pain
  • Relieve other symptoms such as numbness, weakness, and tingling
  • Restore function to damaged or malfunctioning nerves
  • Prevent or stop abnormal movement of the spine

When surgeons perform lateral lumbar fusion, small pieces or chips of bone are taken from another location in the body, such as the hip, and are placed along the spine where damaged or diseased structures, like discs, were removed. As the body heals, these bones then fuse together.

During lateral lumbar fusion, rods and pins can also be inserted to help hold the bone chips in place. This increases the chances the surgery will be successful.

Lateral lumbar fusion surgery is done to help stabilize the spine, and it reduces the risk of future bone spurs and herniated discs in patients who have spinal surgery for ruptured discs, and it can help prevent the formation of bone spurs.

Who needs lateral lumbar fusion?

Surgical treatment for conditions of the spine is typically not recommended until other treatment options have been exhausted. Doctors usually try to treat back pain conservatively with medications, physical therapy, and epidural injections of steroid medications before lateral lumbar fusion surgery is considered.

One of the most frequent reasons doctors recommend lateral lumbar fusion is for treatment of sciatica or leg pain that fails to respond to other treatments. This pain often is the result of a vertebral disc that has herniated or ruptured in the lower back and compresses a spinal nerve.

Lateral lumbar fusion surgery is also used as a treatment of spondylolisthesis. One of the backbones slips out of alignment forward, down over the one beneath it in this condition. If this spinal instability continues, with the vertebra moving back and forth, the nerves can be affected leading to pain in the leg, tingling sensations and/or numbness and weakness. Fusing the affected vertebrae together in lateral lumbar fusion prevents this movement.

Are there risks associated with lateral lumbar fusion surgery?

There are risks associated with any surgical procedure. The possible risks associated with lateral lumbar fusion include the following:

  • Complications associated with anesthesia
  • Bleeding
  • Damage to the nerves or blood vessels
  • Infection
  • Failure of fusion to occur

Most patients who undergo lateral lumbar fusion surgery have decreased levels of pain and other symptoms following the procedure. Several factors play a role in whether the procedure is successful. These include:

  • Smoking: The use of tobacco products has a negative effective on the outcome of lateral lumbar fusion because it decreases bone healing. If you are a smoker and are planning to have lateral lumbar fusion surgery, make every effort to give up smoking.
  • Osteoporosis: This disease can also negatively influence the healing and fusion of the vertebrae. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or if you are a woman past the age of menopause, be sure to discuss this with your doctor prior to having lateral lumbar fusion surgery.

Rehabilitation following lateral lumbar fusion

The length of time patients stay in the hospital following lateral lumbar fusion depends on the patient’s overall health status. Some patients require a short stay in a rehabilitation facility before transitioning to home.

Physical therapy is usually recommended for patients who have had lateral lumbar fusion surgery to help them regain strength, mobility, and independence.

Treatments, Lateral Lumbar Fusion2-9