Anterior lumbar interbody fusion
Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is a traditional open spine surgery aimed at removing the source of neural compression in the spine and immobilizing a section of the back so that pain triggered by movement (mechanical pain) is eliminated. The process might be clearer if we break down its 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.
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 tissues are moved aside so that the surgeon can have access to the spine. A discectomy is performed to remove all or part of the damaged disc. The intervertebral space is widened, both to make room for a bone graft and implants and 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—in time, the bones should 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
Clearly, fusion of the spine is an extremely involved and massively invasive process. The operation itself is followed by hospitalization and intense physical rehabilitation. 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. Our minimally invasive procedures are an effective alternative to traditional surgery. Request a review of your MRI or CT scan and find out how we can help you find relief from back pain.