Here's a brief description from ortho-info.org:
Spinal fusion eliminates motion between vertebrae. It also prevents the stretching of nerves and surrounding ligaments and muscles. It is an option when motion is the source of pain, such as movement that occurs in a part of the spine that is arthritic. The theory is if the painful vertebrae do not move, they should not hurt.
If you have leg pain in addition to back pain, your surgeon may also perform a decompression (laminectomy). This procedure involves removing bone and diseased tissues that can put pressure on spinal nerves.
All spinal fusions use some type of bone material, called a bone graft, to help promote the fusion. Generally, small pieces of bone are placed into the space between the vertebrae to be fused.
A bone graft is primarily used to stimulate bone healing. It increases bone production and helps the vertebrae heal together into a solid bone. Sometimes larger, solid pieces are used to provide immediate structural support to the vertebrae.
Today, several artificial bone graft materials have also been developed.
Demineralized bone matrices (DBMs)
Calcium is removed from cadaver bone to create DBMs. Without the mineral, the bone can be changed into a putty or gel-like consistency. DBMs are usually combined with other grafts, and may contain proteins that help in bone healing.
Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs)
These very powerful synthetic bone-forming proteins promote a solid fusion. They are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the spine in certain situations. Autografts may not be needed when BMPs are used.
Synthetic calcium/phosphate materials are similar in shape and consistency to autograft bone.
After bone grafting, the vertebrae need to be held together to help the fusion progress. In many cases, surgeons will use plates, screws, and rods to help hold the spine still. This is called internal fixation, and may increase the rate of successful healing. With the added stability from internal fixation, most patients are able to move earlier after surgery.
Why am I bringing all this up, you may be asking? Because this is the procedure I'll be undergoing Monday afternoon (12/13/10). Well, almost ... the photos above show the procedure for removing one disk and fusing two vertebrae; I'm having two disks removed and three vertebrae fused. Yup, lucky me; I get two extra screws for the price of four! ☺
Yeah, I'm a little scared ... okay, a lot scared!
But I'm in the hands of a wonderful neurosurgeon, one of the best around from near as I can gather.
From what they tell me I'll be in the hospital for 4, maybe 5 days after the surgery. Surprisingly, they'll have me up and moving around within a few hours after getting out of recovery.
After discharge I'm pretty much shut down for the next 30 days and will have to wear a back brace while doing anything other then laying in bed. After that I'll be doing about 8 weeks of rehab before we even start thinking about things like returning to work, etc.
So, wish me luck and hey ... save me a seat for when I get back!
Gareth — The Celtic Camera Photography