Spinal fusion is typically an effective treatment for fractures, deformities or instability in the spine. But study results are more mixed when the cause of the back or neck pain is unclear. In many cases, spinal fusion is no more effective than nonsurgical treatments for nonspecific back pain.

It can be difficult to be certain about what exactly is causing your back pain, even if a herniated disk or bone spurs show up on your X-rays. Many people have X-ray evidence of back problems that have never caused them any pain. So your pain might not be associated with whatever problem has been revealed on your imaging scans.

Even when spinal fusion provides symptom relief, it can eventually result in more back pain in the future. Immobilizing a section of your spine places additional stress and strain on the areas around the fused portion. This may increase the rate at which those areas of your spine degenerate — so you may need additional spinal surgery in the future.

Oct. 25, 2012