Lower back pain can literally be a pain in the you-know-what. It is estimated that around 80 percent of people deal with some form of back pain in their lifetime—but only certain individuals require surgical intervention to relieve their pain.
Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is a type of fusion surgery that is used to treat lower back pain resulting from spinal conditions. Below, we’ll break down what happens during the procedure, which conditions it treats, and what to expect after ALIF surgery.
What Exactly Is ALIF Surgery?
As we age, the discs between our lumbar vertebrae, which cushion the bones of the spine, begin to wear down and function less efficiently. For some, this can cause frequent pain that gets in the way of daily life. If non-surgical treatments are not an option, you might be a good candidate for ALIF, a surgical procedure that helps treat:
- Instability in the spine caused by disc degeneration or trauma
- Collapse in height of the disc space, or the space between bones
- Spondylolisthesis, a condition causing slippage of the bones in the spine
ALIF is a type of spinal fusion that is performed from the anterior side. This approach offers surgeons a larger surface area to work with and better elevated disc space to relieve painful pressure on surrounding nerves.
What Happens During an ALIF Procedure?
After you’re given general anesthesia, your spine surgeon will make a small incision on your abdomen. Organs and blood vessels in the area are then carefully moved to the side to expose the spine. It is common for a spine surgeon to work alongside a vascular surgeon, who specializes in working with blood vessels, during an ALIF procedure.
Next, the damaged lumbar disc is removed and replaced with a special implant called a cage, which helps relieve pressure on surrounding nerve roots and restore proper spacing between vertebrae. Everything is then returned to its original position, and the incision is closed with sutures. In the months following the procedure, the implanted cage fuses with the bone to provide stability to the spine and relieve pain.
What Can You Expect After ALIF Surgery?
If you struggle with chronic lower back pain and think you might be a candidate for the procedure, you’ll likely have questions about what to expect after ALIF surgery.
Most people are up and walking immediately following ALIF surgery. However, you should still expect to typically stay overnight in the surgery center. More complex cases sometimes require a longer hospital stay. Although you’ll likely feel well enough to take care of yourself, it is always a good idea to have someone available to assist you at home.
Once you’re discharged, you’ll begin to feel better with each passing week. Your physician will likely prescribe physical therapy around six weeks after surgery, with check-ins every few months to monitor your healing and review X-rays of your spine.
Why Should You Choose a Minimally Invasive Surgeon?
If you’re considering ALIF surgery, look for a surgeon who uses minimally invasive techniques as opposed to traditional approaches. At DISC Sports & Spine Center, we perform minimally invasive procedures using small incisions and special instruments, such as cameras or microscopes.
Taking a minimally invasive approach not only decreases the risk of unwelcome complications during and after surgery, but also speeds up the healing process and eases the recovery period overall. And because incisions are so tiny, minimally invasive procedures result in minimal scarring and better cosmetic results than open surgery.
Are you considering spine surgery such as ALIF to relieve your chronic back pain? Schedule a consultation with a spine specialist to learn about the minimally invasive treatment options available to provide you with long-lasting relief.
About the author
Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. Nicknamed “Dr. Fix-It” by The Red Bulletin, Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. makes an art of helping the world’s most elite athletes return to push the boundaries of performance. The neurological spine surgeon, recognized globally for his thorough diagnoses and pioneering minimally invasive approach, is quickly redefining sports medicine, one champion at a time. Dr. Bray founded the state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary DISC Sports & Spine Center (DISC) in 2006 located in Los Angeles, CA. Read more articles by Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D..