Dynamic Stabilization and Lumber Fusion Surgery

Dynamic stabilization is a surgical technique designed to allow for some movement of the spine while maintaining enough stability to prevent too much movement. This type of operation is considered an alternative to lumbar fusion surgery in some situations. While dynamic stabilization surgery has become more common, it is still controversial since studies have not been able to demonstrate consistent outcomes with these techniques.

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Spinal Stabilization

Spinal stabilization may be considered when:

  • A congenital or acquired defect causes spine instability (spondylolisthesis)
  • Surgery requires removal of the normal stabilizing structures of the spine

If your spine is unstable, excessive motion can cause the nerves adjacent to the spinal column to become pinched. This can lead to leg pain, numbness, and weakness. Surgical stabilization of the spinal column is designed to limit abnormal motion of the spinal segments and to prevent nerve impingement.

Dynamic Stabilization vs. Lumbar Fusion

Fusion surgery of the spine is a procedure that places the spinal structures in alignment so that post-operative bone growth between two or more adjacent spinal segments will prevent future motion. Often, metal instrumentation is used to stabilize the spinal segments while the bone eventually forms between the vertebrae.

Even when all goes well with spinal fusion, problems can arise down the road. When two spinal segments fuse, extra physical stress is transferred to the discs above and below the fusion. These adjacent segments tend to wear out more quickly, which can necessitate additional surgical procedures down the road. This is especially problematic if you are young and expect to remain active.

Dynamic stabilization may be an alternative to fusion in some situations. The instrumentation used in dynamic stabilization is designed to control the amount of motion between adjacent vertebrae, but it is not positioned to promote complete elimination of movement.

Dynamic Stabilization Surgery

Access to the spine and removal of degenerated disc material is done similarly during dynamic stabilization surgery and during spine fusion surgery. After the preliminary steps, the procedures differ.

During a dynamic stabilization operation, your surgeon would place a dynamic stabilization device to limit motion at the affected disc level. One commonly implanted device is called Dynesys.

  • With Dynesys, your surgeon would use screws to anchor to the vertebrae at two adjacent spinal levels.
  • The screws are connected with a surgical rope to prevent excessive tension, and plastic tubes to prevent excessive compression.

You would have supervised rehabilitation during your healing and recovery period after your dynamic stabilization surgery.

Results of Surgery

This procedure is used as a way to help prevent some of the problems seen with spine fusion, although the results have not been clearly demonstrated. It is important to note that long-term studies assessing the effects of dynamic stabilization have not been performed, and therefore dynamic stabilization is controversial and is still considered experimental.

In addition, there are concerns with dynamic stabilization devices, including higher rates of implant failure and loosening.

More work needs to be done to better define the role of dynamic stabilization in lumbar spine surgery. Further investigation into dynamic stabilization may help answer some of these unanswered questions.

A Word From Verywell

Low back pain problems are typically treated with non-surgical interventions. However, in some circumstances, noninvasive treatments may not provide adequate relief. If you need to undergo surgery for spinal disc problems, you may also need added stabilization of the spine to prevent additional problems.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.