About Complex Spine Surgery

Many people are familiar with the concept of a spinal fusion, especially in the lumbar (lower) area of the back. Spinal fusion involves forming a solid bridge of bone between two vertebrae to help stabilize the back. The operation itself does not fuse the spine — rather, rods and screws hold the spine in place so it can fuse as it heals.

Complex spine surgery before and after photos

With complex spine surgery, six or more vertebrae are fused. Depending on number of vertebrae and other contributing factors, surgery may take six hours or so and be done in one day.  Or it might take much longer — up to 19 hours — and be done in two parts on two separate days.

The Complex Spine Surgery Procedure

In simple terms, complex spine surgery involves:

  • Accessing the spine through an incision down the back
  • Removing the “lamina,” the part of the vertebra that sticks out from the spine
  • Placing bone grafts between the vertebra
  • Placing hardware — titanium rods, bolts and screws — to hold the vertebrae together to straighten the spine
  • Taking X-rays to make sure everything is correctly aligned.
  • Closing the incisions with surgical staples, which are typically removed about 10 to 14 days after surgery

In some cases — such as correcting a deformed spine — bone must be cut and realigned before the hardware is placed. The hardware stabilizes the spine and holds everything in place for healing. As the spine heals over the next several months, the bone grafts fuse with the spine to form solid bone.

Potential Complications

All surgeries involve some level of risks of complications. These can include serious medical and surgical complications along with wound infection, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and urinary tract infections.

Patients at Virginia Mason, however, are three times less likely to develop complications. That’s because our protocol requires having two specially-trained surgeons perform every complex spine surgery.

Their expertise — along with a specially-trained surgical team from nurses to anesthesiologists — reduces the time the patient spends in surgery and the chance that a complication will occur.

Learn more about complex spine surgery by calling us at (206) 223-7525.