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