Will Spinal Fusion Require Further Fusion Surgery Later?

Question: Will I need an additional spinal fusion surgery years from now?

I have degenerative discs at L4 - L5 in my lower spine and have been told that I may need a spinal fusion to address the problem. I have also been told that in a couple of years after the spinal fusion, I may need the same surgery to repair the disks above the original surgery, because of the pressure it will put on those discs, causing them to fail. It sounds like a domino effect to me and I wonder where it will stop. Is this true and is there anything that can be done to avoid this? I have read all I can about disc replacement with flexible disks, but I am not finding much information that sounds promising.

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Doctor’s Response: Need for further spine fusion is possible, but unlikely

It is true that the next disc can break down after a fusion, but in cases of isolated one level degenerative disc disease this is rare. It is more common in those that have osteoarthritis of the facet joints. It also depends on how the other discs look. If they are healthy they should be able to withstand the added pressure. In my personal experience of about 700-800 lumbar fusions for degenerative disc disease, we have only had to do the next level on a couple of patients.

Artificial discs have not been proven to lessen the chance of the next level breaking down. They do carry the risks that they may wear out with time and may also accelerate facet joint degeneration in the posterior portion of the spine.

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In Spine-health’s Doctor Advice section, physicians respond to frequently asked questions about back pain issues. These responses represent the opinion of one physician, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broader medical community. The advice presented has not been peer reviewed by Spine-health’s medical advisory board.

Written by Medical Reviewer