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Spinal Fusion for Severe Back Pain

What is a Spinal Fusion?

Spinal fusion is a surgical option that may be recommended to treat severe pain from vertebral fracture, scoliosis, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, and similar conditions. The surgery provides stability and reduces back pain by permanently joining two or more vertebrae in the spine with the use of bone grafts, metal plates, and rods. The procedure mimics the natural healing process of broken bones.

Spinal fusion may be considered when more conservative therapies, such as medication and physical therapy, fail to improve severe neck and back pain that accompanies motion. Symptoms that prompt the consideration of the surgery are usually severe, and can include sharp pain, weakness, tingling, and numbness in one or both legs.

The surgery is typically successful when the source of the spinal pain, such as a fracture, deformity or instability, is clear. A fusion immobilizes that portion of the spine.

What to expect during a Spinal Fusion

Prior to the procedure, patients will typically undergo blood tests and imaging, possibly including X-rays, an MRI and a CT scan. Several methods of spinal fusion are available, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition, the location of the pain, and the number of vertebrae that need to be fused. The surgery is performed under general anesthesia, and most patients remain in the hospital two to four days, depending on a number of factors including the number of vertebrae fused. Some patients wear braces for spinal support during healing, and outpatient physical therapy may be prescribed to help with pain and inflammation, and to help regain mobility.

The average recovery time is 6 to 12 weeks. Your spine 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.

What you can expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

The UTHealth 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. Your team will 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 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.

Spine Disease and Back Pain

Contact Us

At UTHealth 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.