When a person suffers from degenerative disc disease, spine trauma, or cancer of the spine, the result is decreased stability that can produce pain — often severe — during normal activities. Surgeons will first attempt conservative measures such as cortisone injections and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles of the lower back, but if these conservative treatments are unsuccessful, the only alternative is to address the pain through surgery. This procedure, known as a fusion and fixation, prevents movement in the unstable portion of the spine, thus reducing the pain.
A standard fixation device consists of plates and rods that are attached to the vertebrae with wire, pedicle screws, and hooks. Bone graft material is often used to promote fusion for long-term stability and relief from pain. Unfortunately, these fixation devices often require the use of bulky instrumentation, which surgeons may find awkward and difficult to use.