Definition of Anterior Interbody Fusion (AIF)

In an anterior interbody fusion (AIF), the surgeon gains access to the spine through the front of the body, usually with a large incision in the abdomen. The damaged intervertebral disc that is causing neural compression is removed, and in its place, a bone graft is inserted. The graft and the vertebrae are stabilized with implants. Over time, the bone graft will stimulate the growth of new bone, and that segment of the spine will become a fused piece of solid bone. Ideally, this new bone’s lack of flexibility — as opposed to other levels of the spine that still have the cartilaginous elasticity of intervertebral discs — will eliminate neural compression, mechanical pain and prevent future degeneration.

The process of interbody fusion

Traditional open spine fusion surgery is a complex procedure that involves many components, including:

  • Bone graft — With the help of your physician, you will need to decide if you want to get an autograft or an allograft. If you choose to have an autograft, a harvesting surgery will need to be performed before the fusion surgery.
  • Hospitalization and general anesthesia — Fusion is an inpatient procedure that requires general anesthesia and hospitalization for several days after the operation.
  • Tissue dissection — In addition to a large incision for the surgeon to gain access to the spine, surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons will be cut.
  • Disc removal — An anterior fusion removes the intervertebral disc. The disc is replaced with a titanium cage that contains morselized bone. Rods and screws are used to hold the vertebrae and the cage in place.
  • Lengthy rehabilitation — It can take many patients up to a year to regain full mobility after a fusion surgery. Once the soft tissues have healed, the patient must learn to maneuver with reduced spinal flexibility.

Alternative treatments

If you are one of the millions of people seeking relief from neck or back pain, but you feel the drawbacks of a traditional open spinal fusion outweigh its potential benefits, contact Laser Spine Institute today. Our more effective outpatient procedures utilize the latest minimally invasive technology.