Spinal Fusion

The spinal column is made of vertebral bodies, discs and ligaments. Together they form a functioning unit that lends stability to the body and allow us to move. This column gets unstable for a variety of reasons. The vertebral bodies can get fractured. The ligaments no longer stabilize the joints that make up the spine. The discs can degenerate and compromise the alignment of the two bodies it cushions. This instability can cause a variety of neurological symptoms. The most common symptom that patients with spinal instability experience is back pain. This can occur with other symptoms such as leg pain, leg numbness, tingling and burning sensation and other signs such as weakness of the legs.

When conservative treatment fails to relieve this problem, a patient may be a candidate for a fusion procedure where a spine surgeon treats the spinal instability by a variety of techniques. The basic idea in treating an unstable spine is to restore neurological function by stabilizing the spine and removing pressure on nerves and spine causing the patient’s symptoms. A neurosurgeon trained in minimally invasive spinal fusion techniques can offer a variety of options to the patients depending on their condition. These may include posterior fusion where the joints in the back are “welded” together by using small screws joined by rods. This may be combined with fusion of the disc space (called interbody fusion) by putting a spacer in the space where the disc is. Other techniques of fusing the spine include XLIF and ALIF. XLIF is a minimally invasive fusion technique where a surgeon can access the side of the spine and put a synthetic cage in the disc space to promote fusion. ALIF achieves fusion across a disc space from the front.

All these techniques provide a variety of options to a modern spinal neurosurgeon to help the patients in the best way possible. With the progress of modern minimally invasive fusion techniques, the patients achieve a rapid recovery with shorter post-op stays in the hospital and quicker time to return back to normal activities.


Mudit Sharma, MD, FAANS

Founder, Virginia Spine Specialists