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Arthrodesis and Artificial Ankylosis

What is a Lumbar Arthrodesis?

Arthrodesis, sometimes called artificial ankylosis or joint fusion surgery, is a procedure that immobilizes a joint by fusing two or more bones together. Your physician may recommend this surgery if you have severe arthritis or pain that medications and physical therapy fail to improve. When the joint issue involves the spine, the procedure is called a lumbar arthrodesis or spinal fusion. Two or more vertebra in the back can be permanently connected to treat a fracture, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, or disk disease. The procedure mimics the natural healing process of broken bones.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

The UTHealth Houston Neurosciences Spine Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists who work together to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. People who suffer from radiculopathy, spondylosis, spinal stenosis, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, peripheral nerve disorders, spinal cord injury, or other trauma benefit from our collaborative expertise in managing spine disorders.

Our multidisciplinary teams of specialists share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Anatomy of the neck and spine

The spine is divided into the following regions:

  • The cervical region (vertebrae C1-C7) encompasses the first seven vertebrae under the skull. Their main function is to support the weight of the head, which averages 10 pounds. The cervical vertebrae are more mobile than other areas, with the atlas and axis vertebra facilitating a wide range of motion in the neck. Openings in these vertebrae allow arteries to carry blood to the brain and permit the spinal cord to pass through. They are the thinnest and most delicate vertebrae.
  • The thoracic region (vertebrae T1-T12) is composed of 12 small bones in the upper chest. Thoracic vertebrae are the only ones that support the ribs. Muscle tension from poor posture, arthritis, and osteoporosis are common sources of pain in this region.
  • The lumbar region (vertebrae L1-L5) features vertebrae that are much larger to absorb the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects. Injuries to the lumbar region can result in some loss of function in the hips, legs, and bladder control.
  • The sacral region (vertebrae S1-S5) includes a large bone at the bottom of the spine. The sacrum is triangular-shaped and consists of five fused bones that protect the pelvic organs.

Reasons for a Lumbar Arthrodesis 

This procedure might be considered when a patient is suffering from unrelenting pain from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or an injury to a joint. Your doctor may recommend a lumbar arthrodesis to repair a fracture, correct scoliosis, to improve weakness or instability caused by arthritis, or after removing a herniated disk. Spinal surgery is usually only advised when your doctor can pinpoint the exact cause of the pain. This will be done with X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.

The best candidates for arthrodesis have strong bones on either side of the joint. Patients are typically in pain that can no longer be resolved with medication or physical therapy. Your doctors will discuss whether the risk of surgery, including possible limited motion of the joint, is worth undergoing the procedure, which is considered safe and has a high success rate.

What to expect during surgery and recovery

While the patient is under general anesthesia, the surgeon places a bone graft between two or more vertebrae. It is then secured with screws or other metal hardware that serves as a bridge between them. Most patients remain in the hospital for one to three days, and it takes several months for the vertebrae to fuse into a solid structure.

Until that happens, you may be asked to wear a brace or cast, and to use crutches or a walker. Physical therapy might be prescribed. When fused, the joint should be able to bear more weight and function better for the patient. Your surgeon will give you specific information related to your condition and lifestyle goals, as well as a detailed description of the surgery and instructions on how to make the best recovery.

Spine Disease and Back Pain

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8100, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.