An anterior lumbar spinal fusion is a surgical procedure used to fuse some of the lower spinal vertebrae together. Unlike some other spinal fusion surgeries, doctors access a patient's spine through his abdomen, rather than through the skin on his back. This procedure is generally performed as a last resort on patients who suffer from lower back pain. Like any other surgical procedure, there are some risks involved with an anterior spinal fusion.
The lumbar region of a human's back consists five large vertebrae. It is located behind the abdomen. This section of the spine carries and supports the majority of a person's body weight.
During an anterior lumbar spinal fusion, this section of the spine is accessed through a small incision in the abdominal wall. Muscle tissue and vital organs are then pushed aside so the surgeons can see the spine. Two or more vertebrae are then fused together.
The vertebrae are often fused together using pieces of donor bone or metal. In some cases, spacers may be placed between the vertebrae. These can be made from bone, metal, or plastic.
Spinal discs are cartilage-like discs that are positioned between each vertebra. These act like shock absorbers when a person is walking. They also help the spine move. Generally, an anterior lumbar spinal fusion is performed on patients whose back pain stems from problems with these discs.
Patients with herniated discs are often good candidates for anterior lumber spinal fusion. Degenerative disc disease may also be treated with this type of procedure. Also, scoliosis patients may find that a spinal fusion procedure can help relieve their pain.
Before this procedure, a patient will usually have undergone physical therapy and traction. He will also have tried wearing a back brace. An anterior lumbar spinal fusion is typically performed only after other methods of relieving back pain have failed. Most doctors put this surgery off for a time because it often limits a patient's mobility.
Several risks are associated with an anterior lumbar spinal fusion. One risk unique to this type of spinal fusion is bowel perforation. This is rare, but it can happen when surgeons either insert or remove surgical instruments from the abdominal cavity.
Nerve damage may also occur. Cerebrospinal fluid may also leak, if the sac surrounding the spinal cord is punctured during the surgery. Also, other discs may be damaged during a spinal fusion. Finally, there is a chance of infection with any surgical procedure.