What are the risks of lumbar spinal fusion surgery?

Intermountain Registered Dietitians
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The risks and potential complications of lumbar spinal fusion surgery (a surgery to join two or more spinal bones—vertebrae—so that they eventually grow into one solid bone) include:

  • Blood loss. With any surgery there is always the potential for life-threatening blood loss, but with current techniques this is rare.
  • Damage to the nerve sac, with leak of spinal fluid (2 to 5 in 100 cases). If the nerve sac is unintentionally opened during surgery, it will be repaired. This should not have any effect on your long-term outcome, but you may have to spend a day or two flat in bed to allow the repair to strengthen. Rarely, further treatment may be necessary.
  • Infection (1 or 2 in 100 cases). Even with antibiotics and careful sterile technique, there is still a small risk of developing a wound infection.
  • Damage to spinal nerves (fewer than 1 in 1,000 cases). This could cause ongoing pain, numbness, or weakness in your legs.
  • Failure of fusion. If the fusion fails, you may need to have more surgery.
  • Failure to relieve symptoms. Your surgeon will do everything possible to give you the best results. Even so, surgery may not relieve all your symptoms.

Potential complications of lumbar spinal fusion surgery include: infection, poor wound healing, bleeding or blood clots.

Other complications include injury to blood vessels or nerves in and around the spine or pain at the site from which the bone graft is taken.

The most common risk in any type of surgery is infection. Nerve damage following spinal surgery, another risk, rarely happens.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.