Spinal fusion surgery is among the commonest when it comes to the treatment of painful spinal issues. Despite having a similar goal, this type of surgery can be performed with different techniques. Here, the way by which the spine is approached is different, and that classifies spinal fusion into various types.
Besides severe spinal injuries, fusion is also performed when non-surgical methods fail to relieve the condition. Spinal fusion may also require Orthopaedic Implants like metal plates, orthopedic screws, and spinal implants.
The type of spinal fusion surgery that we are going to talk about here is anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF). It is often performed to fix spinal issues caused due to disc problems. Let get detailed insights into this condition.
What is Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF)?
ALIF is a spinal fusion technique that is recommended for the treatment of spinal problems that cause recurrent pain and other issues. The surgery is aimed at fusing two vertebrae at the problematic location of the spine using a bone graft. But the point to be noticed here is why this procedure is known as anterior lumbar interbody fusion. Don’t worry, we’ll clear this out.
During this spinal fusion surgery, the doctor makes an incision in the front of the belly (anteriorly) to access the spine, and hence, the procedure is known as anterior lumbar interbody fusion. This procedure is carried out by a team of vascular and spine surgeons.
The vascular surgeon is required to carefully move the vessels to the leg aside to create a space to access the spine. Now comes the role of the spine surgeon as he/she will remove the problematic disc and apply a spacer bone graft to the space created.
Application of the spacer not only helps in establishing a solid fusion but also restores the height, relieves pinching of nerves, and corrects the curvature of the spine. If required, metal plates and orthopedic screws may also be applied to the graft to strengthen it. In general, it takes around 3 to 6 months for the graft to fuse vertebrae. In certain people, fusion might take a bit longer.
Spinal fusion might restrict some of the spinal movements but oftentimes, it is not noticeable.
In Which Conditions ALIF is Recommended?
ALIF is recommended in people for the treatment of:
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Flat Back Syndrome/Scoliosis
- Spinal Stenosis
What Are the Advantages of ALIF Surgery?
One of the key advantages of anterior lumbar interbody fusion is that back muscles and nerves remain undisturbed which is not the case in the posterolateral gutter spinal fusion technique. Besides this, applying a graft in front of the spine achieves better compression, and hence, bones fuse better in such a situation. Another advantage of the anterior approach is that a bigger implant if required, can easily be applied.
What Are the Complications and Risks Associated with the ALIF Surgery?
During ALIF procedure, there are risks of getting the blood vessels that go to the legs damaged. This is because they are nearer to the area where spinal fusion procedure is carried out. The rates of such complications range from 1 to 15%.
Another complication that may occur is retrograde ejaculation, and that occurs due to damage to small nerves that control a valve which helps in ejaculation to be expelled out during intercourse. These nerves are present over the disc interspace. This condition occurs only in 1% of cases and it is seen when the disc space is accessed via lumbar segment 5 and sacral segment 1 (L5-S1).
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