An anterior lumbar interbody fusion is a type of surgery meant to stop motion within a particular area of the spine to increase stability. The surgery is among a growing number of spine surgeries that can be performed using minimally invasive methods to minimize recovery time and reduce complications.
How an ALIF Is Performed
An ALIF is performed through the front of the body in the lower spine along the L4 through S1 segments. All or part of a herniated disc is first removed. The adjacent vertebra on each side of the disc that was either fully or partially removed are then fused together with a bone graft. A bone graft substitute is sometimes used instead.
The graft material used in an ALIF is a binding material that will restore disc height once the graft heals and a fusion is formed. Hardware, such as screws, rods, cages and plates, may be used to create an internal cast if additional spinal support is necessary. An ALIF may be performed when:
• One or more vertebra is fractured
• A vertebra has slipped over another one (spondylolisthesis)
• There’s an abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis)
• The spine is unstable from either degeneration of discs or from some type of trauma
An ALIF may be performed with another type of fusion surgery, especially if a fusion is required at multiple points along the spine. Ideal candidates for the procedure are individuals who have excessive instability or disc slippage with little or no accompanying nerve compression and limited or no narrowing of the area around the spine. ALIF alone is not recommended for instability due to osteoporosis, arthritis, or other conditions where the spine becomes weakened or soft. The following factors may also be considered:
• Overall health
As is the case with any type of spinal surgery, an ALIF is only an option if conservative treatments such as medications and physical therapy fail to provide substantial pain relief. The recovery process, which normally takes from 3 to 6 weeks, typically includes PT and a gradual return to normal activities.
To learn more about ALIF or other options for back pain relief, call The Spine Institute at (310) 828-7757 and request an in-person consultation with an experienced spine surgeon.