Many patients suffering from lower back pain find relief from a series of conservative treatments. At our lumbar spine practice in New Jersey we believe that identifying the treatment that is most effective and least invasive is always the best option. That’s why we offer medication, exercise, massage and other protocols before moving on to exploring surgical treatment.
Despite these efforts, there are some situations where surgery is simply the best answer, and in some cases the best surgery is a little-known procedure known as ALIF, or anterior lumbar interbody fusion.
ALIF is used to address pain that other procedures have failed to effectively address and that arises from movement and instability within the spine. It may come from degenerative disc disease, failed back and neck surgery, tears in the disc, and facet joint syndrome, among other conditions. Unlike more familiar approaches, ALIF approaches the spine from the patient’s front rather than their back side. Once the incision is made, the surgeon fuses the patient’s impacted vertebrae into a single bone, providing increased stability and providing almost immediate improvement and resolution of pain.
There are multiple reasons why ALIF offers superior results to those achievable through other minimally invasive spinal surgery approaches. Perhaps most important of all is the fact that because it approaches the spine from the front, it leaves back muscles and the nerves that are associated with them untouched. From the perspective of the surgeon the surface area available is larger, and therefore easier to access, and the disc space is more effectively elevated so that the pressure on the nerves in the area is almost immediately relieved. The implant, once placed, provides tremendous stability that alleviates the pain that comes from the vertebrae shifting and putting pressure on the nerves.
If your lumbar spine surgeon in New Jersey recommends ALIF surgery, the procedure that they are suggesting involves making a tiny incision in your lower abdomen. Your abdominal muscles, organs and blood vessels will be gently pushed to the side to allow access to the spine and the area that requires repair. Damaged discs will be removed and replaced with a special implant called a cage that is specifically designed to return your spine to its natural spacing and positioning. When the surgery is completed the structures that were moved out of the way will be returned to their original location and the incision closed.
The total time in the hospital for surgery will likely be up to three days. You’ll be released once you are able to walk on your own, and though your pain will be resolved quickly, the strength and stability that represents total recovery will take significantly longer. As is true with other spinal fusion surgeries, recovery from ALIF is not immediate: the fusions are the result of a bone graft, which needs time to meld and form the bridge that eventually provides stability to the spine. Some patients’ surgeries will include the use of rods or screws to strengthen them. Whatever the particulars, it is important that as a patient you comply with all of your physician’s orders, whether they involve exercises, medication, or prohibitions against specific motions.
There are many reasons why your physician may recommend ALIF for your lumbar spine surgery, but most frequently it is to provide you with faster recovery and a long-lasting solution to your pain. For information on how this surgery can help you, contact our lumbar spine practice today to set up an appointment.