ALIF or Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion

Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints in the United States today, with at least 25 percent of the nation’s adult population experiencing at least one day of pain in the previous three months. And up to 80 percent of Americans will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives.

For some people, back pain is acute and short-lived, brought on by sudden and temporary injury. For others, the pain is chronic, resulting from an injury or degenerative condition.

The American Academy of Pain Medicine reports that back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under the age of 45, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that lower back pain is the most common source of chronic pain.

For those suffering from lower back pain, many treatment options are available, including nonsurgical treatments that may include steroid injections, anti-inflammatory medications, pain medication, and physical therapy. For those with severe pain or dysfunction whose symptoms are not relieved through noninvasive methods, spine surgery may be necessary.

One surgical method for treatment of lower back pain exacerbated by motion is anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF), a type of spinal fusion surgery.

 Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) describes spinal fusion as a “welding” process intended to fuse painful vertebra together into a single bone, eliminating painful motion and supporting the spine.

Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is one approach to spinal fusion. During this procedure, a surgeon accesses the lumbar spine through an incision in the abdomen. An anterior approach may be preferable to a posterior (from the back) approach for several reasons, says the AAOS:

  • To avoid multiple surgeries in the same site for patients with previous posterior back surgeries
  • To allow better access to the intervertebral disc
  • To provide the surgeon with the ability to allow a more natural sway to the spine
  • To allow for quicker recovery

An anterior approach may not be best for every patient, and a surgeon should explain the risks and benefits of any proposed surgical procedure to help patients find the best solution for their back pain.

During the ALIF procedure, the surgeon will remove the painful, bulging, or degenerated intervertebral disc and place an implant, known as a spacer or cage, into the vertebra to restore the space. The implant contains bone graft material which will, in time, fuse the two vertebrae into a single unit.

ALIF Recovery

In most cases, a patient will remain in the hospital for one-to-three days following spinal fusion through the ALIF process, according to the AAOS. The length of time a person must stay in the hospital depends on the patient’s specific recovery, including the degree of pain they experience and their ability to stand, walk, and move.

Once discharged from the hospital, a person will likely have several weeks of recovery, which include basic exercises to restore strength, and restrictions against heavy lifting, bending, or twisting.

In many cases, those who undergo spinal fusion experience a significant reduction of pain within weeks of surgery. To learn more about ALIF or other spinal fusion techniques, talk to one of our experienced spine surgeons today.