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Back Health: Lumbar Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion is surgery to permanently connect two or more vertebrae in your spine, eliminating motion between them, to improve stability, correct a deformity or reduce pain. Some of the most common signs that something may be wrong is lower back pain or pain in the legs, buttocks or calves when standing or walking.

If you’ve been experiencing recurring back pain, your first step would be talking to your primary care physician. If they suspect a spinal problem, like spinal stenosis, they’ll order images such as an MRI or an x-ray.

  • MRI – an MRI could reveal spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine which can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the spine.
  • X-ray – an x-ray could reveal spondylolisthesis, a spinal disorder where one vertebra slips forward and onto the vertebra below it and causes instability and pain.

Not all back pain or spinal disorders will lead to surgery or spinal fusion, but your primary care will refer you to a surgeon if that is the best treatment option.

Fifty percent of spinal fusion procedures focus on vertebrae in the lumbar region of the lower back. During the procedure, your surgeon will need to access the spine and decompress any portion that is constricted. To fuse the vertebrae together permanently, the surgeon places bone graft material between the vertebrae. These bone grafts are used to fuse two vertebrae together and may come from a bone bank or from your own body. Metal plates, screws or rods may be used to help hold the vertebrae together while the bone graft heals. Most patients will only stay overnight in the hospital, and will be able to go home the next day. Recovery can take four months, and involves wearing a brace for six weeks, avoiding lifting or twisting, followed by physical therapy.

Physician Background:

Dr. Mark Dumonski is an orthopedic surgeon in Greensboro and a member of Cone Health medical staff. He specializes in surgical and non-surgical conditions related to the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, and is board-certified in orthopaedic surgery. After completing his undergraduate training and medical school at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Dumonski completed his orthopaedic residency at Rush University in Chicago, IL. After residency, Dr. Dumonski dedicated an additional year of training at a spine surgery fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA.