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What Is The Role of Bone Graft in Spinal Fusion?

Patients dealing with chronic neck or back pain face numerous obstacles to achieving relief. In addition to the pain itself, mobility problems can also severely limit your ability to accomplish basic tasks. For many, the underlying cause is an age-related spine condition that reduces spinal stability and increases the risk of nerve compression. 

Spinal fusion surgery is a treatment that many patients turn to that is designed to increase spinal stability, often through the use of a bone graft and surgical hardware. Since a large number of people have questions about what bone grafts are and the role they play in spinal fusion, we’re sharing this helpful overview. 

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the treatments we have here at USA Spine Care & Orthopedics, don’t hesitate to reach out.   

What is spinal fusion surgery?

Spinal fusion surgery is a type of procedure that involves removing damaged spinal anatomy, particularly degenerative spinal discs, and replacing them with material designed to stabilize the spine. The spine consists of a stack of vertebral segments connected by joints and cushioned by rubbery discs. 

Due to aging, these discs break down, which can cause instability that limits mobility and contributes to painful nerve compression. By fusing together two adjacent vertebral segments, fusion surgery can stabilize the area even though it does reduce some flexibility. 

One of the most common approaches to fusion involves placing a bone graft between the two vertebral segments where the disc was previously. The bone, which can come from either the patient or a donor source, works to stimulate bone growth that fuses the spinal segments together. Hardware, including a metal cage and screws, acts to hold the vertebral segments in place and provide additional stability while they fuse together.  

When to consider spinal fusion with bone graft

Patients will generally become candidates for spinal fusion surgery if they have severe neck or back pain related to a spine condition that does not respond to conservative therapies. Spinal fusion will be recommended over other types of surgery, such as decompression when there is significant instability and degeneration in the discs and other spinal anatomy. 

Patients should expect to undergo a thorough medical screening and physical evaluation to determine if surgery, including spinal fusion, is the appropriate course of treatment. 

Types of bone graft 

There are two primary types of bone graft that are used in spinal fusion surgery:

  • Autograft — This type of bone graft comes from the patient themself. Common sources include the pelvis, legs, and other parts of the spinal column.
  • Allograft — This is bone graft material that is donated from another source, typically a cadaver. 

The specific type of graft your procedure involves depends on the type of fusion, location on the spinal column and the preference of your surgeon. 

Minimally invasive spinal fusion 

Traditional approaches to spinal fusion involved a large incision, significant soft tissue disruption, and overnight hospitalization followed by a long and often difficult recovery period. Thanks to the continued advancement of surgical techniques and the development of new technology, surgeons can perform many types of spinal fusion using minimally invasive methods

These procedures will often still use bone grafts and can even be performed on an outpatient basis at ambulatory surgery centers. You should always discuss the possibility of minimally invasive, outpatient spinal fusion with a prospective surgeon to determine if you are a potential candidate. 

Reach out to USA Spine Care to explore your treatment options for back pain

If you’re dealing with chronic neck or back pain, you don’t have to just settle for a diminished quality of life. No matter where you are on your treatment journey, the caring and dedicated team at USA Spine Care can help you develop a personalized treatment plan that fits your wellness goals and lifestyle. 

Patients who have exhausted conservative therapies may be candidates for minimally invasive fusion procedures performed at our state-of-the-art outpatient centers. Contact our team to learn more. 

Bone Graft and Spinal Fusion Quick Answers

What is bone grafting in spinal surgery?

Spinal fusion surgery very often involves a bone graft to stabilize two adjacent vertebral segments. After removing a degenerative spinal disc, the spine surgeon will place bone graft material between the two vertebrae, along with hardware to help promote the fusion. Over time, the bone graft will fuse the vertebral segments together, which can improve stability and reduce painful symptoms. 

Where does bone graft come from for spinal fusion?

The bone graft material can either come from the patient, known as autograft, or from a donor source, which is known as an allograft. Common sources for bone grafts include the pelvis, ribs, or leg. In some cases, the bone graft can even come from another location in the spine. 

How long does it take for a bone graft to fuse?

Fusion involving bone graft typically takes approximately three months or longer, although this varies according to certain individual factors. During the recovery period of spinal fusion, you will receive regular follow-ups to monitor the progress of the fusion. To ensure a proper fusion, patients should follow post-surgical instructions and avoid strenuous activity until cleared by a surgeon. 

What is the recovery time for spinal fusion with bone graft? 

Recovery times for spinal fusion surgery vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the type of procedure, initial spine diagnosis, patient age, and other factors. In addition to recovering from the surgery itself, the bone graft needs time to fuse, which can take three months or longer in most cases. Committing to rehabilitation and a spine-healthy lifestyle during recovery are key steps to maximizing a positive outcome and achieving the shortest possible recovery time. 

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