Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) is effective for treating motion related lower back pain. It is the molding of two spinal vertebrae together into a unified structure. By welding the two vertebrae together, movement is restricted, and the deteriorated joint immobilized. While spinal fusion can be approached from both the posterior and lateral spine, the anterior approach is generally preferable. An incision is made in the lower abdomen, directly above the affected vertebrae. The organs and surrounding tissue are moved aside in order to allow access to the degenerated disc which resides between the vertebrae. Anterior approach often expedites the recovery process, gives direct access to the intervertebral disc, allows for various surgical approaches in the future, and provides greater swayback potential for the spine. In addition, vulnerable spinal nerves and surrounding tissue are preserved. A vascular surgeon often accompanies the orthopaedic surgeon during this procedure to ensure optimal results.
During surgery, the degenerated intervertebral disc and surrounding tissue are removed. Your surgeon will then insert a “spacer” composed of medical grade plastic, metal, or composite material. This device contains bone graft, taken from either the patient’s own pelvis, or a bone bank. This bone graft is the tissue which molds the two separate vertebrae together. Essentially, the body is tricked into believing these vertebrae are a bone fracture. It responds by conjoining them.
Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion typically lasts 1-3 hours and requires general anesthesia. You will be encouraged to walk within 24 hours after surgery. Patients are often able to return home within 1-3 days. The surgeon may prescribe a brace to increase comfort and stability. Patients can expect to return to daily activities in the weeks and months following surgery. Strenuous activity and heavy lifting must be avoided until complete recovery is established.