A type of spinal fusion surgery performed through the tummy.
ALIF key points
- ALIF or Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion is a type of spinal fusion surgery whereby the incision is made from your front, through the tummy.
- It is one of the few truly keyhole surgeries; none of the back muscles, bones or ligaments are injured.
- Technically this type of spinal fusion surgery is demanding and surgeon experience is key.
- In experienced hands, ALIF surgery is a safe procedure and the vast majority of patients are very happy with the result.
ALIF | Spine surgery Brisbane
The surgeon said ALIF. What exactly is that?
ALIF stands for Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion, but that’s not even the full name of the surgery. It’s actually “anterior lumbar interbody fusion, rhizolysis, vertebral body fixation.” Fancy names aside, it describes spinal fusion surgery whereby the surgeon simply approaches the spine from your front (through the tummy).
There are several advantages to approaching the spine through the tummy. The biggest and most obvious advantage is that none of the back muscles, bones or ligaments are affected by surgery. In fact, other than a skin cut, no other spinal tissue has to be cut to perform this operation. It is one of the few truly keyhole operations.
Learn more about the important, and commonly misunderstood concept of keyhole surgery here.
ALIF is technically more demanding than the other ways of approaching the spine and this is why experience is paramount. Each ALIF at my centre is performed by two surgeons per case. Two sets of experienced eyes make this a much safer, successful and quicker operation for you.
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There are complex factors dictating why a spinal fusion should be performed from the front in one patient, and in other cases from the side or from the back.
When I see you I will look at all these factors and work out what is best for you, your symptoms and your lifestyle.
ALIF surgery success rate Brisbane
Is it successful?
Yes, it is.
It is not like in the past where the surgeries were very big and invasive, with really long recovery times. Modern technology and techniques have vastly improved this operation, making the surgery smaller, and the recovery more rapid.
The vast majority of patients that go through the modern ALIF position are very happy with the result. The goal of surgery is to improve your quality of life: for some patients this may mean they’re just pain-free, for others it may mean to be back on the golf course or in the gym, and for some it may mean they’re able to walk and move freely again.
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ALIF surgery risks
Is it safe?
There are 2 long term side effects I will talk to you about when I see you:
- Adjacent level disease
- Failure of fusion
In Australia, the ALIF operation is much less common than the other spinal fusion operations because of the experience required to do it safely and effectively. Each ALIF procedure at my centre is performed by two surgeons per case. Two sets of experienced eyes make this a much safer, successful and quicker operation for you.
You will have a general anaesthetic (i.e you will be ‘knocked out’ for the whole surgery).
The incision is made below the level of the belly button and just off to either the right or left (it depends on your specific case as to which side I will use). After this there is nothing else that gets cut, making this one of the few truly keyhole operations.
After dissecting down underneath all the muscles, all the tummy contents (including the intestines) get swept over to one side. This reveals the spine. There are large blood vessels that still stand in the way, and these get gently swept to one side to completely uncover the spine. After this the disc gets removed and a spacer with some small screws gets locked in place.
The anterior approach has minimal pain as no muscle is cut during the surgery. Occasionally some flank discomfort is felt for a couple of weeks, and occasionally thigh discomfort is felt, but this usually returns to normal.
ALIF surgery alternatives
Are there any other good options?
This is always an option. I will explain to you what this would look like for your symptoms and quality of life moving forward so you can make an informed decision.
ALIF surgery recovery time
What can and can't I do afterwards?
This really depends on how fit you are and how many parts of your spine are fused. On average, plan for about 1-4 days in the hospital.
The scar in this part of the lower tummy region actually heals up quite nicely. It will never disappear but often it is hard to see after a few months.
I recommend a minimum of 2 weeks off work to get your confidence back and feel comfortable.
Physiotherapy has a very important role postoperatively. It helps reduce the muscle soreness and stiffness from the surgery.
Spinal surgeon Brisbane
What else do I need to know?
Ready to make an appointment?
Ramsay Specialist Centre
Greenslopes QLD 4120
(07) 3397 4185