Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) is an operation to stabilize the spine, relieve pressure on irritated nerves and ensure this pressure does not return. This surgery typically involves an incision in the left lower quadrant of your abdomen, but depending on the number of levels being fused, other incisions may be employed. The spinal surgeon will safely remove the degenerated disc between the two vertebrae. Next, a bone graft and/or cage is placed between the two vertebrae where the disc had been, allowing the two vertebrae to grow together as one (fusion) over some months after surgery. A small plate will placed onto the front of the vertebrae to hold the graft in place while it heals. After the operation, the area must be kept somewhat immobile to ensure the fusion occurs. This may be accomplished by activity restriction, the wearing of a soft support brace, or a hard plastic brace.
The purpose of this surgery is to stabilize the spine and relieve leg/back pain, numbness, weakness, or lack of coordination and motor control caused by pressure on the nerves. The success rate of relieving leg pain is very high.
The surgery typically lasts two or more hours, depending on the number of discs operated upon, whether or not previous surgery has been performed, and the severity of pressure on the nerves. The likelihood of significant blood loss is dependent on the number of levels requiring surgery; if one or two level surgery is needed, blood loss can be minimal so usually no blood donations are necessary before the operation. Time spent in the hospital is short—most patients can go home three to five days after the surgery.