Do the benefits of a lumbar spinal fusion outweigh the risks?

I am 70 and have been diagnosed with advanced OA of lumber L4and L5 and an 'unstable' spine following an MRI. I am told other vertebra are fine (although suspect problem in neck but this has not been checked) . I am advised I need a fusion.

I am reasonably mobile - but can't bend easily and radiating pain (ache) across buttock and hip and down leg, but usually tolerable. Tingling in foot. I still walk the dog most days. I was shocked to be given this diagnosis and said I didn't think necessary as in past back pain has resided. Therefore I didn't ask many questions and not easy to get another appointment and the surgeon I saw was very matter of fact. I was told maybe a 90% chance of success but have read on line that sometimes that means fusion is ok but doesn't take account of other pains, and problems due to fusion. It seems so drastic that would appreciate more details about outcomes for people so I can make a better informed decision. I do appreciate everyone is different and nothing guaranteed.

Appreciate any information that is available - not sure were else to look

Thank you



  • Hi @Marilyn1951 and thank you for posting on the forum. I am sorry to hear that fusion is being advised and understand your shock at the diagnosis. We often forget to ask the questions we wanted to at a consultation, particularly if something takes us by surprise. It’s good to hear that you are keeping reasonably mobile,

    You are right to seek further medical advice about your concerns. I wonder if you could speak to the surgeon’s secretary and let him/her know about your concerns, maybe they could be checked out that way with the surgeon, as it sounds like it might be difficult to get another appointment.

    If that isn’t an option, you can ask the Patient Advice Liaison Service (PALS) at the hospital to help get the answers you need. Maybe you could ask a few very specific questions about the things that are bothering you. Perhaps: What will happen if I don’t have the surgery? What are the risk and benefits of the surgery? What is the success rate of the surgery / my surgeon?

    We are not medically trained on the helpline and we don’t have information about spinal fusion. There’s very little on the NHS website about the surgery but I have found a leaflet produced by South Tees NHS that may give you some further insight. It is three years old though and may not relate to the exact surgery your surgeon is recommending. It may be helpful as a guide when you seek advice from a medical professional though. 

    If at any point you would like to talk things through, please give us a ring on our helpline: 0800 5200 520 (9am – 6pm weekdays)

    Best wishes


    Helpline team