If you suffer from chronic low back pain and need spinal fusion surgery, there is good news for your golf game. A new study shows an overwhelming majority of spinal fusion patients returned to play golf as well, if not better, than before surgery.

During spinal fusion surgery, two vertebrae are joined together using a bone graft taken from another part of the body. In traditional open surgery, a large incision is made to cut through muscles surrounding the spine. Minimally invasive surgery allows for a smaller incision with less muscle damage, resulting in less blood loss, shorter hospital stays and a quicker return to activities.

A paper presented at the International Society for Advanced Spine Surgery (ISASS) annual meeting found 65 percent of golfers operated on returned to play within a year after lumbar spine (lower back) fusion surgery. Within 12 months of surgery, 75 percent of patients were playing the same amount of golf as before surgery and 80 percent of golfers returned to or improved their handicap. Preliminary data suggested that patients with minimally invasive surgery returned to the game faster than those with traditional open surgery.

The study was conducted over four years beginning in 2008. Qualified patients had fusions on one or two spinal discs. The average age was 57. Ninety-one percent of patients were recreational golfers and fifty percent said golf was a primary reason for surgery.

"This is the first study that specifically looked at outcomes of lumbar fusion in golfers," says Dr. Frank Phillips, co-director of the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center Chicago. "We were excited to see how quickly golfers began playing after surgery and delighted the majority played the same, or even better. Minimally invasive surgery provided the best results."