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Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is spinal surgery approached from the front of the body instead of the back. The purpose is to remove damaged disc or bone from the space between two adjacent vertebrae in the lower back. ALIF surgery can be performed using traditional surgical methods, or with newer minimally invasive techniques.

What is ALIF surgery?
Typically in ALIF surgery, a herniated disc is removed from between two lumbar vertebrae and then the vertebrae are fused together using bone graft. The graft material is a bonding agent that also helps simulate normal disc height. As the body heals from surgery, the vertebrae and bone graft fuse together to provide spine stability. The surgeon may use instruments like screws, rods, plates, or wire to support the structure as the body heals. It is vital to see a qualified and experienced spine physician such as Dr. Fischer at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City to ensure you have the best procedure for your condition and the most skilled professional performing your surgery.

What is minimally invasive surgery?
Dr. Fischer will make recommendations and help you decide whether open ALIF surgery or minimally invasive ALIF surgery is right for you. Open surgery is more invasive and painful because of the larger incisions required and the potential to damage other tissues during the process. The minimally invasive approach involves small incisions, less impacts on neighboring tissues, less blood loss, reduced pain, shorter hospital stays, and quicker recovery.

 Why do I need ALIF?

This type of surgery is most often used for patients with one of these conditions:

  • One or more fractured vertebrae
  • Degenerated or bulging discs
  • Spine instability
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Abnormal spinal curvatures

Lower back or leg pain are common symptoms of a problem that could require ALIF if the issue hasn’t been resolved with more conservative treatments like medications, physical therapy, or rest. The ideal patients for ALIF are those with severe spinal instability or debilitating nerve compression in the spine. Patients with osteoporosis or arthritis are often not good candidates for ALIF. A spine physician like Dr. Fischer will take all aspects of your diagnosis, health, lifestyle and more into consideration before recommending a treatment plan.

Are there risks to ALIF?
Any type of surgery has risks, such as infection or a bad reaction to anesthesia. Other complications may include nerve damage, blood loss, or blood clots. ALIF could also lead to further surgery if the vertebrae and bone graft do not fuse properly. Dr. Fischer at NYU Langone Medical Center will make sure you understand the ALIF procedure and have all your questions answered before proceeding with any treatment.

What about recovery?
The time it takes for you to resume your normal activities depends on the type of surgery and your body’s ability to heal properly. The good news is that ALIF does not harm the nerves or muscles in the back, which allows for potentially faster and less painful recovery than some spine surgeries. Hospital stays usually last for up to a few days, and transfer to a rehabilitation facility is sometimes advised for best results. Pain medication, bracing, or physical therapy may be part of the recovery process if needed. Many ALIF patients plan to take 3 to 6 weeks off from work, especially if the job involves physical activities, but each patient’s recovery is unique. Adhering to Dr. Fischer’s instructions following surgery will help get you on a successful road to recovery.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Fischer, contact us today.