Lumbar (lower) spine fusion surgery has progressed dramatically over the last ten to fifteen years. The newer spine fusion surgery techniques allow for improved fusion rates, shorter hospital stays, and a more active and rapid recovery period. Additionally, better diagnostic tools and better understanding of indications for a spine fusion are improving outcomes.
Before discussing the new spine fusion surgery techniques, it is important to note that very few people with low back pain actually require surgery. While 80% of adults will develop low back pain at some time in their life, the painful symptoms are most often brief and require little or no medical treatment. Most individuals can contain their back pain through a self-directed active physical therapy (exercise) program, including stretching, strengthening, and importantly, a good aerobic conditioning program. Choosing an aerobic program that is both interesting and realistic will be most effective in the long run.
Unfortunately, for a small percentage of people, even the most dedicated exercise program does not suffice to alleviate low back pain. In those situations where low back pain continues and, most importantly, substantially limits a patient's activities, a spine fusion surgery may be considered.
It is important to remember that despite everyone's best efforts - including those of the spine surgeon, therapists, and patients - fusion of the lumbar spine does not create a normal back. Unlike other medical procedures, such as treating a urinary tract infection with antibiotics, lumbar spine fusion does not "fix" a low back. Instead, the objective of lumbar spine fusion is to stop the motion at a painful motion segment in the spine, thereby minimizing the pain and allowing the patient to increase his or her ability to function and enjoy everyday activities.