Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion (LLIF)

Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion San Antonio

Lateral lumbar interbody fusion is a procedure in which the surgeon accesses the affected vertebrae in the lower (lumbar) back through the patient’s side, rather than through the abdomen or the back.

This surgery is a less-invasive procedure designed to spare the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other tissue from the major disruption associated with traditional open back surgery. The purpose of this surgery is to alleviate the symptoms associated with impinged or irritated nerve roots or the spinal cord.

This operation is considered “less invasive” because the incision or incisions are generally much smaller than the 5-inch or longer cuts typically used in open back surgery. The period of recovery varies from patient to patient, but most can expect to resume normal activity within a few months.

Spinal Fusion Benefits Comparison

Here is a step-by-step look at the process of Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion:

Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion Spine Surgery
  1. Two small incisions are made on the patient’s side; one incision is for a probe and the other is to guide the surgical tools
  2. The probe is inserted and used to detect compressed nerve roots while avoiding healthy nerves
  3. A series of progressively larger tubes are inserted over the probe
  4. A retractor is inserted over the tubes and used to move muscle tissue that blocks access to the spine
  5. The damaged or diseased portion of the disc is removed through the small opening of the center tube
  6. The bone graft is inserted into the vacated disc space, either in the form of a bone block or within a metal cage implant
  7. Over time, the bone graft grows and creates a bridge between the vertebrae, helping to ensure stability

Advantages of a Lateral Approach

The LIF procedure does not require entry through sensitive back muscles, bones, or ligaments. The end result is less operative pain. LIF allows for complete disc removal and implant insertion, compared with approaches from the back. When compared to ALIF, where the surgeon enters from the front, the LIF procedure reduces the risk of vascular injury.

  • Reduced operating time: Traditional procedures can take up to 5 hours; the LIF procedure can be successfully completed in as little as 1 hour, reducing the amount of anesthesia time.
  • Reduced blood loss and minimal scarring: The less-invasive LIF procedure allows for less tissue disruption, resulting in reduced blood loss.
  • Reduced postoperative pain: The LIF procedure does not require entry through sensitive back muscles, bones, or ligaments.
  • Reduced hospital stay: Patients are typically capable of walking the same day after surgery and require only an overnight stay in the hospital. This is compared to several days of immobility and hospitalization typical of traditional open surgeries.
  • Rapid return to normal activity: For LIF, a patient is typically fully recovered around 6 weeks, compared to 6 months or more.
Surgical Time 70-90 mins 2 - 4 hours
Blood Loss <100cc 100-200cc
Patient Recovery (ambulatory) 7 - 12 hours 12 hours
Hospitalization 23 hours 1 - 2 days

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