What is an anterior lumbar interbody fusion?

Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is a traditional open spine surgery that removes the source of nerve compression in the spine and immobilizes a section of the back. This allows the pain triggered by movements to be eliminated. To better understand the process, we have broken it down into individual parts.

“Anterior”, meaning front, indicates that the procedure is performed through the front of the body. “Lumbar” refers to the lower back, while “interbody” means the main component of the surgery takes place in the space between two adjacent vertebrae. Read on to learn more about the spinal fusion process and alternatives available for relief.

The process of spinal fusion

As we get older and the spongy discs between vertebrae begin to deteriorate, they lose water content and disc height. As the discs begin to collapse into the spine, they can bulge or rupture into the spinal canal, exerting painful pressure on surrounding spinal nerves. For anterior spinal fusion, an incision is made on one side of the abdomen and soft tissue is moved aside so that the surgeon can have access to the spine.

A discectomy is performed to remove part or all of the damaged disc. The disc space is widened, both to make room for a bone graft and implants, as well as to enlarge the foramina, which are the open spaces on the sides of each vertebra through which spinal nerves pass. A bone graft and implants are inserted between the vertebral bodies, allowing them to completely fuse together. In some cases, the two fused vertebrae are further immobilized with rods and screws attached to the pedicles.

Alternatives to anterior lumbar interbody fusion

Fusion of the spine is a highly invasive process. The operation itself uses a large 6- to 8-inch incision that cuts or tears the muscles surrounding the spine and it is followed by a two- to five-day hospital stay. Full recovery periods could take up to a year, and failed lumbar fusion is certainly a possibility. If you feel that the risks and lengthy recovery period of a traditional open spine surgery like spinal fusion are not for you, contact Laser Spine Institute.

At Laser Spine Institute, our minimally invasive procedures are a safer and effective alternative to traditional surgery.^ We offer a minimally invasive lateral lumbar interbody fusion (LLIF) in place of an anterior lumbar interbody fusion. This procedure accesses the spine through small incisions that avoid disrupting or stripping soft tissue and muscle surrounding the spine. Request a free MRI review* today to find out if you are a potential candidate for our outpatient procedures. We can help guide you on your road to recovery.