Jason E. Smith MD
Spine Surgeon with Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic
Call Us: 225-924-2424
Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is a spine surgery that involves approaching the spine from the front of the body to remove disc or bone material from in between two adjacent lumbar vertebrae. It most often requires the assistance of a vascular surgeon for the approach through the anterior vessels.
What Is An ALIF?
Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is a spine surgery that involves approaching the spine from the front (anterior) of the body to remove all or part of a disc from in between two adjacent vertebrae (interbody) in the lower back (lumbar spine), then fusing, or joining together, the vertebrae on either side of the remaining disc space using bone graft or bone graft substitute.
The graft material acts as a binding medium and also helps maintain normal disc height – as the body heals, the vertebral bone and bone graft eventually grow together and stabilize the spine. Instrumentation may be utilized to create an internal "brace" while the bone grows together.
Why Do I Need This Procedure?
This procedure is used to treat the following conditions:
One or more fractured (broken) vertebrae
Spondylolisthesis (slippage of one vertebral bone over another)
Abnormal curvatures of the spine, such as scoliosis or kyphosis
Protruding or degenerated discs (the cartilaginous “cushions” between vertebrae)
Instability of the spine (abnormal or excessive motion between two or more vertebrae)
Dr. Smith will take a number of factors into consideration before recommending an ALIF, including the condition to be treated, your age, health and lifestyle and your anticipated level of activity following surgery. Please allow the discussion with him to be your guide.
How Is An ALIF Performed?
For an ALIF procedure, the patient is positioned on his or her back and sedated under general anesthesia. The surgeon then:
Makes an incision in the abdomen and retracts the abdominal muscles, organs and vascular structures – including such major blood vessels as the aorta and vena cava - for a clear view of the front of the spine and access to the vertebrae. (This part of the procedure may be performed by a general surgeon or vascular specialist.)
Removes all or part of the degenerated disc(s) from the affected disc space, and inserts bone graft or bone graft substitute into the disc space between the vertebral bodies, to support the disc space and promote bone healing.
Returns the abdominal organs, blood vessels and muscles to their normal place, and closes the incision.
How Long Will It Take Me To Recover?
The recovery period for a spinal fusion procedure such as an ALIF will vary, depending on the procedure and your body’s ability to heal and firmly fuse the vertebrae together. One advantage of an ALIF is that the back muscles and nerves are undisturbed.
Patients typically stay in the hospital for a few days, longer if necessary for more extensive surgery. Time in a rehabilitation unit may be required depending on your pre-surgery physical shape. Your surgeon will prescribe pain medication as needed, and may recommend a brace and follow-up physical therapy.
The length of time you will be off work will depend on a number of factors: your particular procedure and the physician’s approach to your spine, the size of your incision, and whether or not you experienced any significant tissue damage or complications. Another consideration is the type of work you plan to return to. Typically, you can expect to be on medical leave for 3 to 6 weeks; however, many innovations and advancements have been developed in the last few years that allow for improved fusion rates, shorter hospital stays and a more active and rapid recovery period.
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