What are the other Names for the Procedure?
- ALIF (Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion)
What is Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure?
- Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) is a surgical procedure that is performed to help relieve low back pain that may be caused due to degenerative disease of the intervertebral disc or a slippage of the vertebral bone
- A disc or an intervertebral disc is the tissue that is sandwiched between two vertebral bones acting as a shock absorber
- The damaged intervertebral disc is removed and a graft is inserted in between the vertebral bones to help them fuse together
What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?
The Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure involves the tissues in the abdomen in front of the spine and the vertebrae, along with the intervertebral disc.
Why is the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure Performed?
The Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure is performed for the following reasons
- A slipped intervertebral disc causing lower back pain and other symptoms due to nerve compression
- Spondylolisthesis: A condition in which the vertebral bone slips out of place, into a wrong position
What are some Alternative Choices for the Procedure?
An Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure is performed only when medication and physical therapy are inadequate to control the symptoms. Sometimes, while performing the procedure, an approach from the back (Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion) may be used.
What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?
There have been advancements in the materials to replace the cleared disc space called “spacers”.
What is the Cost of performing the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure?
The cost of Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities.
In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary.
When do you need a Second Opinion, prior to the Procedure?
- It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused by the information regarding an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure and on what needs to be done
- If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist and also recommend another physician, if required
- Also, if the procedure involves multiple surgeries or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently
What are some Helpful Resources?
http://www.uscspine.com/treatment/anterior-lumbar-fusion.cfm (accessed on 05/17/2015)
http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/spinal-fusion/anterior-lumbar-interbody-fusion-alif-surgery (accessed on 05/17/2015)
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00595 (accessed on 05/17/2015)
Prior to Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure:
How is the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure Performed?
The Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure may be performed under general anesthesia.
- The surgeon approaches the spine through an incision made on the abdomen from the front, hence the name anterior. An incision is made on the abdomen on the left side
- The muscles and organs in front of the spine are gently pushed to one side to visualize the spinal column
- The surgeon then identifies the diseased disc and removes it
- The surgeon then places a bony graft in the cleared disc space to aid the eventual fusion between the two vertebral bones above and below the disc space
- The procedure may be repeated again if multiple disc spaces have been affected
- The displaced tissues are again set in place and the skin incision is sutured
Where is the Procedure Performed?
An Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure is performed in a hospital.
Who Performs the Procedure?
The Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure is performed by the following medical personnel, with or without assistance from an anesthesiologist:
- A spinal surgeon experienced in performing the ALIF procedure
- A neurosurgeon
- An orthopedic surgeon
How long will the Procedure take?
The procedure may take anywhere from 2-3 hours to perform.
What do you need to tell your Physician before the Procedure?
It is very important to provide the following information to your healthcare provider. This enables your healthcare provider in assessing the risks for the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure and helps avoid unnecessary complications.
- Provide a complete list of medications you are currently taking to your physician. This information is useful for a variety of reasons. For example, it can help your healthcare provider prevent complications due to a drug interaction
- If you are allergic to any specific medication or food items
- If you are taking blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin, herbal supplements, or any other such medications
- If you or your family members have a history of bleeding disorders, or if there is a tendency to bleed more than normal
- If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, chest pains, or have previously suffered from a heart attack
- If you have ever been diagnosed with blood clots in your leg (deep vein thrombosis) or lung (embolism of lung)
- If you have a history of frequent bone fractures (this may affect bone-healing if bones are involved as part of your procedure)
- A list of all previous surgical procedures you have undergone, for example: Removal of appendix, gallbladder, or any other part, of your body; surgical repair of any body part, such as hernia repair, perforation of bowel wall, etc.
What Preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?
- The physician may evaluate the individual’s medical history to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the overall health status of the patient including information related to the medications that are currently being taken
- Some medications increase a person’s chances of bleeding and it may be recommended to discontinue them for a period of time before the procedure is performed
- Blood tests may be performed to determine if there is a bleeding tendency or any other medical conditions that prevents the person from undergoing the procedure
- Inform the physician if you are allergic to any local anesthetics, lidocaine, etc.
- Avoid application of any cosmetics, deodorant, or topical medicines on the area prior to the procedure
- It is advisable to quit smoking and the use of any nicotine based products for a while before the surgery
- Consumption of alcoholic drinks must also be avoided for a period of time, as instructed
- The patient must avoid eating or drinking at least 8 hours prior to the surgical procedure, depending on when the procedure is arranged
- For individuals suffering from diabetes, it is important that the blood sugar stays within the normal range; if not, their diabetologist may have to control blood sugar by recommending insulin and/or a combination of oral medicines
What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?
A physician will request your consent for Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure using an Informed Consent Form.
Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent.
You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied by the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.
What Tests are needed, before the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure?
Before an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure, the patient has to undergo certain tests such as:
- MRI or CT scan of the lumbar spine
- Chest X-ray
- Routine blood and urine analysis
What are some Questions for your Physician?
Some of the basic questions that you might ask your physician are as follows:
- What is an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure?
- Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
- How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
- Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
- Where is the procedure performed?
- What are the risks while performing the procedure?
- What are the complications that might take place during recovery?
- How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
- How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
- Are there any follow-up tests, periodic visits to the healthcare facility required after the procedure?
- What are the costs involved?
During the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure:
What kind of Anesthesia is given, during the Procedure?
General anesthesia by injection and inhalation is administered for this procedure.
How much Blood will you lose, during the Procedure?
The blood loss during an uncomplicated Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure is not significant. Very rarely, though, injury to one of the major blood vessels in the surgical area may lead to significant bleeding.
What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure?
There are general factors that increase the risk of getting complications during surgery and they include:
- Obesity: Generally, the greater the degree of obesity, the greater the surgical risk
- Smoking: The longer the smoking history (in pack years smoked), the greater the surgical risk
- Advancing age
- Poorly controlled diabetes, as evidenced by a high hemoglobin A1c and a high fasting glucose
- Poorly functioning kidney, as evidenced by increased BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and blood creatinine
- Poorly functioning liver, as evidenced by increased blood liver function tests
- Hypertension (increased blood pressure), especially if it is poorly controlled
- Poor nutritional status (malnutrition with mineral and vitamin deficiencies)
- Poor lung function, as evidenced by abnormal lung function tests
- History of bleeding disorders
- Longstanding illness, such as autoimmune disorders and chronic infections
- Poor immune system due to a variety of causes
The possible risks or complications that may arise during the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgery are:
- Excessive bleeding
- Infection within the surgical wound
- Anesthetic complications
- Accidental injury to the nerves, spinal cord, and abdominal organs
What Post-Operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure
- After the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure, the patients are sent to an area of the hospital called the postoperative recovery area (or PACU)
- The patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration cycle shall be closely monitored. Any additional pain associated with the procedure will be treated
- Individuals are usually discharged from the hospital within 3-4 days of the procedure, if there are no complications
After the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure:
What are the possible Risks and Complications after the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure?
The possible risks and complications that may arise after an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure are:
- Excessive bleeding
- Infection within surgical wound
- Persistence of the symptoms
- Inadequate healing of the bone graft
Very rarely, men undergoing the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure may develop a condition called retrograde ejaculation. In this condition, individuals are able to ejaculate during sex and retain sensation, but the semen does not flow in the normal route, making conception difficult.
What is the Prognosis after the Surgery?
The prognosis after an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure is generally good. The surgery helps in symptom relief in a vast majority of individuals.
When do you need to call your Physician?
Do contact your physician if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Worsening pain and swelling around the surgical wound
- Bleeding or fluid drainage from the surgical wound
- The occurrence of any symptom that causes uneasiness such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling, or constipation
- Signs of an infection
- Headache, muscle aches
- Fever, feeling sick
- Complications associated with prescription medications used in treatment
What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure?
At home, the following post-operative care is recommended, after an Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion procedure:
- Slowly resume regular/daily activities as early as possible, which aids in faster recovery
- Use a heat pad or warm compress to relieve pain due to the incision
- It may sometimes be necessary to wear a special corset to support the back during recovery
- Physical therapy and neck exercises should be done as advised
- Maintain good posture and avoid lifting of heavy weights. Avoid sitting for prolonged time periods
- Avoid driving for one or two weeks after the procedure
- Showering may be resumed after surgery provided the wound is kept bandaged, clean, and dry. Avoid taking baths until the surgical wound is completely healed
- Complete the course of prescribed medication under advice of the physician
- Take antibiotic medication to help combat or prevent infection, per your physician’s advice
- Avoid taking nonprescription medications such as aspirin. However, individuals may take acetaminophen to relieve pain (per the physician’s advice)
How long does it normally take to fully recover, from the Procedure?
A complete recovery from the procedure may take anywhere between 1-3 months.
What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?
Any tissue that is removed is disposed as per standard medical procedures. However, in some cases, the surgeon may recommend a pathological examination of the tissue.
When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding tissue taken out, during the Procedure?
Usually, a pathologist does not get involved in the care of the patient. However, if a tissue is received for further lab analysis, then:
- The tissue removed is processed in the laboratory under a pathologist's supervision
- Slide(s) are prepared once the tissue is processed and is examined by a pathologist and a pathology report issued
- Depending on the complexity of the case, issue of the report may take anywhere between 72 hours to a week's time
Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure?
It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers.
Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:
- A hospital
- An anesthesiologist (if anesthesia was administered)
- An orthopedic surgeon, or a spine surgeon, or a neurosurgeon
- A pathologist (if tissue is sent for analysis)
The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before the Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgical procedure is performed.
Thanks and Gratitude:
We sincerely acknowledge and thank Dr. Douglas J. Jones for reviewing the article. His valuable input and feedback has helped enrich the contents of this article.
Douglas J. Jones, MD FACS
Board Certified General Surgeon and Faculty Member
University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign
506 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA