Some of you may have heard the segment about spinal fusion on the Diane Rehm show on NPR. If not, click here to listen.

Over the past 20 years in the United States, the rate of spinal fusion surgery has risen six-fold. Some people are questioning whether this surgery is completely necessary for many patients suffering from back pain. Spinal fusion has become so prevalent, its growth has outpaced knee and hip replacements. One major concern was the financial incentives for physicians and practices for doing the surgery.

The program featured Richard Deyoprofessor, physician and researcher at Oregon Health and Science University; Dan Keating, a reporter at The Washington Post; and Dr. Brian Subach, a spine surgeon form Virginia Spine Institute (

The show covered the reasons for having spinal fusion surgery. “As we age, every disc and joint in the body suffers from an arthritic process,” said. Dr. Subach. “Joints begin to grind. Fusion essentially halts movement. Spinal fusion takes joints that are clearly degenerative and stabilizes them so there’s no longer any grinding or wobbling.”

The point of spinal fusion is to eliminate back pain that usually occurs as people age.  But, for patients who have degenerative discs, is this surgery necessary? Richard Deyo said, “For a patient with a worn-out disc, I would argue that evidence is far less clear that spinal fusion is the best surgery.”

At Microsurgical Spine Center, we offer many types of spinal fusion – including minimally invasive procedures. We also offer artificial disc replacement for treatment of a diseased disc. It is important for patients to know and explore all of their options, as there are many non-surgical treatments and spinal fusion is just one surgical option.

“I think the real question is how valuable is spinal fusion for patients who just have degenerative discs?” said Deyo. “I’d agree with Dr. Subach that spinal fusion can be very effective for patients that have deformities such as spondylolisthesis. The real controversy comes with just degenerative discs.”

Treatment of degenerative disc disease should be done based on the individual’s health and symptoms. There are different options available and it is vital to speak with a physician, and potentially get a second opinion on what is best for you.

“A good physician will recommend all the conservative management strategies possible prior to surgery,” added Dr. Subach. “Everyone certainly does not benefit from surgery. And of the people who need surgery, a very small percentage need spinal fusion.”

If you are suffering from back pain, contact us. There are a variety of treatment options available to you. Or call our dedicated Medical Concierge at 800-890-1964.