ALIF: Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion
This procedure stabilizes the spine and fuses vertebrae with bone graft material. ALIF treats back and leg pain from conditions caused by degenerative disc disease.
- What is ALIF Surgery?
- Why is ALIF Surgery Performed?
- How to Prepare for ALIF Surgery
- What Happens During ALIF Surgery?
- Are There Risks Associated with Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion Surgery?
- Post ALIF Surgery and Recovery
What is ALIF Surgery?
Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) is a procedure that treats spinal conditions like degenerative disc disease and related issues that cause spinal curvature and instability. ALIF is also effective with conditions such as sciatica, scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, spondylosis, and spinal stenosis. The procedure can be done as a minimally invasive treatment, or as major surgery.
During ALIF surgery, your surgeon removes all or part of a damaged disc from your lower spine. Then they replace the damaged disc with bone graft. As your spine heals, the bone graft will fuse with the surrounding vertebrae. This procedure is known as a bone fusion. Fusing your spinal column creates stability in the spine and can help alleviate symptoms from the condition.
Your doctor will be able to provide you with a more thorough account of ALIF surgery. Book an appointment to talk to one of our spine physicians.
Why is ALIF Surgery Performed?
There are various reasons your physician may recommend ALIF for your condition. One reason is that most spinal surgeries access the spine through your back. However, ALIF allows your surgeon to access your spine through an incision in your belly. ALIF allows your surgeon to access your spine without disrupting your nerves. ALIF can help people who have sciatica, scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, spondylosis, stenosis, degenerative discs.
Accessing the spine from your belly can be helpful for many reasons. For example, if you have had multiple surgeries in your back and want to avoid having more operations in that area, ALIF can help you avoid a second incision. ALIFs also help treat difficult-to-reach areas of the spine and provide direct access to the intervertebral disc. Some people may also recover more quickly with ALIF than other procedures.
If a Resurgens Physician recommends ALIF, they will be able to thoroughly explain the procedure to you. Book an appointment at one of our 24 metro Atlanta locations.
How to Prepare for Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion Procedure
Before undergoing surgery, you will need to take a few precautions to ensure a speedy recovery.
You will need to be cleared by a physician before your surgery. Being cleared may involve diagnostic screenings like blood tests, MRIs, and X-rays. These tests will help evaluate your condition and current health. Be forthcoming with your physician and mention any drugs you are taking or lifestyle choices that could affect your recovery. If you are a smoker, make sure you quit smoking at least two weeks before your surgery.
It is also important that you stop taking anti-inflammatory medications like Aleve, Motrin, or Advil. Also, if you are currently taking blood thinners, then ask the doctor who prescribed them to you when you can stop taking them.
The surgery will require you to stay in the hospital for 2-5 days as you recover. After that, you will need to be careful not to overexert yourself. Make arrangements for personal care and a less physically demanding recovery.
What Happens During ALIF Surgery?
During ALIF, typically, your doctor will follow a specific protocol. First, you will be anesthetized so you will not feel or remember the surgery. You will also receive pain relievers.
The procedure will begin with your surgeon making a three-to-five in incision on your stomach. The incision is usually made directly over the center of your stomach, or slightly to the side of it. These incisions help your surgeon access the afflicted spine.
Your surgeon will remove the afflicted vertebrae. Then they will place a special bone spacer in the gap between your missing vertebrae. Your vertebrae join with this spacer.
In some patients, this will be enough to secure the vertebrae. For others, the surgeon may need to implant a series of screws and rods along the back of the spine for additional support. Your surgeon will stabilize the spine with screws to hold the bone spacer in place. Over time this bone spacer will fuse with your bone creating a more stable spine.
Are There Risks Associated with Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion Surgery?
All surgeries have an inherent amount of risk. No matter what procedure, there is no such thing as a guaranteed safe surgery. Every procedure comes loaded with its own set of risks and complications.
One benefit of the minimally-invasive and anterior (on your belly) approach is that there is no muscle stripping. ALIF allows your surgeon easy access to the lumbar spine and the operative disc space. As a result of this method, patients tend to report less pain.
Risks associated with ALIF include:
- Damage to blood vessels
- Hardware or interbody device fusion
- Spinal cord damage
- Damage to nerves, nerve roots, causing pain and even paralysis
- Men may experience retrograde ejaculation
Your doctor will give you a more thorough risk assessment before your procedure. Schedule an appointment now.
Post ALIF Surgery and Recovery
Your recovery begins with at least 2-5 days in the hospital. The length of your visit will depend on your pain level and your ability to stand up and move around. By the end of your first day, you will be encouraged to stand and move around.
As you recover, your surgeon may recommend you wear a back brace. A back brace will help insulate your fusion and aid your comfort level during recovery. To help your recovery, you will eventually need to do basic exercises. These can include activities like routine walking. Do not bend or perform heavy lifting as you heal.
Most people who receive ALIF have improved movement of their lower back in the months following their surgery.
Learn more about the benefits of ALIF by visiting our Resurgens Spine Center.