Anterior lumbar interbody fusion, often abbreviated ALIF, is a type of spine surgery performed to treat low back disorders including degenerative disc disease (DDD) and spondylolisthesis. DDD and spondylolisthesis are examples of spinal problems that may compress spinal nerves and cause instability. Compression or pinching of nerve structures may cause low back, buttock and leg pain. Other neurologic symptoms may include numbness, tingling and weakness in one or both legs. The goal of an ALIF procedure is to decompress the nerves, stabilize the lumbar spine, relieve symptoms, and enable the patient to return to regular activities of daily living.
Anterior interbody fusion is performed under general anesthesia. The low back area is cleansed and prepared for surgery. The size of the incision depends on the number of spinal levels to be treated and whether the surgery is open (3- to 5-inch incision) or minimally invasive (one or a few tiny incisions).
The entire remaining diseased disc is removed out to its borders. The height of the disc space is restored and nerves are unpinched. A spacer is filled with bone graft and inserted to maintain the restored alignment of the spine and to allow for fusion.
Sometimes, an ALIF procedure is combined with posterior instrumentation. Posterior fusion means the instrumentation (screws and rods) are implanted in the back of the spine.
After surgery, the patient is moved into the recovery area. In recovery, nurses and other members of the medical team closely monitor the patient’s vital signs – pulse, respiration, blood pressure, and pain. Some post-operative pain should be expected and patients receive pain medication either through their IV (intravenous line) or by mouth. Dr. Stieber discusses the likelihood of hospitalization with patients before their surgery date.
Dr. Stieber provides ALIF patients with information about what to expect and self-care after hospital discharge. This information includes instructions to control pain, medications, diet and managing constipation, bathing and incision care, activity restrictions, and the surgical follow-up appointments. As always, Dr. Stieber and his staff welcome questions and ensure that all patient concerns are thoroughly addressed.