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When discs wear out, bones along the spine, called vertebrae, begin to slip and rub against each other. For most patients, the first course of action aimed at relieving pain and improving standing/walking ability is to free the nerves affected by the slipping bones. However, if the instability in the spine is too great, spinal fusions may be performed to immobilize the vertebrae and relieve the pain.
During a spinal fusion, the vertebra that has been slipping is fused to another vertebra. Small pieces of bone are removed from elsewhere in the body and then added to the gap between the two vertebrae. The physician may use plates, rods, screws, or a brace to hold the vertebrae together while new bone grows from the bone graft between them. The new growth will eventually connect the two vertebrae to form one bone.
Spinal fusions may be used for people with a long history of back pain that has been unresponsive to non-operative care. Additionally, those with degenerative disc disease, fracture, scoliosis, spinal stenosis, or spondylolisthesis may also be candidates for spinal fusion.