Disability secondary to disorders of the spine is a significant problem worldwide. In the USA, there has been a recent surge in the costs associated with caring for spinal pathology; from 1997 to 2005, there was a growth of 65% in healthcare expenditures on spinal disease, totalling $86 billion in 2005. Increasingly, there has been media and public scrutiny over the rapid rise in the volume of procedures with spinal instrumentation; some have suggested that this rise has been fuelled by non-medical drivers such as the financial incentives involved with the use of instrumentation; others suggest that innovation in spine technology and devices has led to improved options for the treatment of spine pathology. In this context, we conducted a review of the literature to assess the use of instrumentation in lumbar procedures and its relationship to successful fusion and patient outcome. Our review suggests that there is data supporting the thesis that lumbar instrumentation improves rates of fusion. However, there is no consistent correlation between increased rates of fusion and improved patient outcomes.