Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF)

Description of Lumbar Fusion

Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is a surgical procedure in which part of the lumbar spine is fused from the front. The surgeon makes an incision in the abdomen and gently retracts the abdominal contents to visualize the front part of the spine. Disc material is removed and a fusion graft is placed into the disc space. The graft is usually bone or a cage combined with bone.

Conditions Treated with Lumbar Fusion

ALIF is most commonly performed for the treatment of painful disc degeneration or disruption. It is also used in the treatment of spondylolisthesis, scoliosis and other spinal conditions.

What to Expect Before ALIF

Once you have decided to have surgery, the following events take place:

  • A medical exam.
  • Chest X-ray, EKG and blood work.
  • You may be asked to have a neurological or psychological examination.
  • Stop any aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications you take daily at least one week before surgery
  • If you take prescription medications or other drugs, including herbals, ask your doctor how soon before surgery you should stop taking these.
  • Do not have anything to eat or drink for 6 to 8 hours before surgery.
  • You will check into the hospital the morning of surgery.
  • Prior to surgery, you will be asked to sign permits for surgery, anesthesia, blood and blood products.

What to Expect During Lumbar Fusion

  • An incision is made by a general surgeon in the abdomen to expose the front part of the spine.
  • Fluoroscopy (live X-ray) is used to determine the correct level(s) to be operated.
  • The disc is approached after carefully separating away the abdominal contents and moving major blood vessels off to the side.
  • The disc is removed.
  • A fusion cage or wedge of bone is placed in the disc space.
  • Normal compression of the spine will hold the bone or cage in place. A screw may be placed into the vertebrae for additional fixation.
  • Surgery takes approximately 1-3 hours.

What to Expect After ALIF

  • You will be in the recovery room from 1 to 1½ hours.
  • The surgeon will contact your family while you are in recovery.
  • After going to a hospital room, you will be able to use a PCA pump to get medication for pain control. This machine controls the amount of medication that can be received.
  • Staff will usually get you out of bed shortly after surgery.
  • The hospital stay is usually 1-2 days.
  • A brace or corset is prescribed to restrict bending and promote healing of the fused area.
  • You will be given any needed prescriptions and discharge instructions.
  • A set of exercises that you can do at home will be provided.
  • You will be able to ride in a car or plane upon leaving the hospital.
  • It is important to avoid twisting and bending backward.
  • Physical therapy is usually initiated after the first office visit with your doctor following surgery.

Recovery from lumbar fusion (ALIF) varies greatly among patients and is dependent on the extent of the surgery as well as the age and health of the individual. Return to work also varies greatly among patients and is related to overall health and the type of work you do. It is important to note that back pain is seldom completely eliminated – the objective with fusion surgery is to reduce pain.

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