The spine contains 33 bones, or vertebrae, which support and protect the upper body and spinal cord. Injury to the spine, such as a herniated disc, an abnormal curvature of the spine, or an unstable spine caused by illness, may require spinal (or vertebral) fusion in order to reduce pain and improve mobility.
One method for vertebral fusion involves implanting small pieces of the hipbone between the injured vertebrae. These small pieces of bone will combine or fuse with the existing vertebrae to create one solid bone.
Until the bones fuse together, the spinal column must be kept immobile; oftentimes a metal rod is inserted to keep the spine in place. An external cast or brace can also be used for additional support.
After vertebral fusion, it is important to follow up with physical therapy. Patients who have undergone vertebral fusion should not attempt to lift anything weighing more than 10 lbs (4.5 kg), and should not squat or twist until the spine is completely healed. There are risks and complications to this procedure that should be discussed in detail with the physician prior to surgery.