Posterior lumbar interbody fusion

Posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) is an open back surgery used to alleviate the symptoms associated with a pinched nerve in the lumbar spine (lower back). Often, this procedure is used to help patients who have moderate or severe degenerative spine conditions, such as a herniated disc, spondylolisthesis or spinal stenosis.

While there are several possible benefits of this procedure, such as relieved back pain and a return to full mobility, there are also several risks that should be considered before you move forward with the procedure. This is a traditional open back fusion, which means that the incision to reach the spine is very large and invasive, requiring the muscles surrounding the spine to be detached and then later reattached. This leaves patients at an increased risk for infection, large amounts of blood loss, postsurgical complications and an unnecessarily long recovery time while the spine and muscles both heal.

Take a moment to research what you can expect during a posterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery.

What to expect during a posterior lumbar interbody fusion

There are several ways to access the lumbar spine during a lumbar fusion procedure. In this particular surgery, the spine is accessed through an incision in the back (posterior). Other types of lumbar fusion involve surgical entry from the abdomen (anterior lumbar interbody fusion) and from the side of the body (lateral lumbar interbody fusion).

For patients considering a posterior lumbar interbody fusion, take a moment to review a list of the steps involved during a PLIF surgery:

  • A 3- to 6-inch incision is made along the lower back, usually parallel with the lumbar spine.
  • The laminae (two small bones that create the arch of the vertebra) and a portion of the facet joint are removed from the vertebra to allow access to the damaged disc.
  • The damaged portion of the disc is removed (called a discectomy), but a section of the outer disc wall is left intact to aid in bone graft fusion.
  • Bone grafts are inserted into the empty disc space and metal screws are attached to the surrounding vertebrae. Rods are inserted through the screws to hold the vertebrae in place.
  • The bone graft grows over time, forming a bridge or fusion between the vertebrae.

Complete recovery from posterior lumbar interbody fusion or any other type of spinal fusion can take a year or more due to the invasive nature of the procedure.

Fortunately, there is another option for lumbar fusion surgery that is safer, effective and offers a shorter recovery time^ than traditional lumbar fusion. The minimally invasive lumbar stabilization procedures at Laser Spine Institute offer a surgical alternative that procedures a higher patient satisfaction score with lower risk than a PLIF procedure.

The type of lumbar fusion performed will depend on the location and severity of your condition. All of our minimally invasive lumbar stabilization procedures are performed through a small incision that does not impact the muscles surrounding the spine. Once the spine is accessed through the small incision, the damaged disc is removed and replaced with an artificial disc and, if necessary, bone grafts. The artificial disc allows the spine a more natural recovery than a metal fusion, because a metal fusion results in limited mobility in that area of the spine.

For more information about the advantages of minimally invasive lumbar stabilization, please contact Laser Spine Institute today.