Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF Surgery)

What is ALIF Surgery? What to expect during and after the procedure?

The human spine is a remarkable structure that provides stability, flexibility, and support to our bodies. However, due to various factors such as age, injury, or degenerative conditions, individuals may experience spinal issues that can significantly impact their quality of life. 

In such cases, anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) surgery is a potential solution to alleviate pain, restore function, and promote overall spinal health. ALIF, a type of spinal fusion procedure, has gained recognition as a preferred approach for addressing certain conditions affecting the lumbar region of the spine. 

At OrthoNeuro, we understand the challenges associated with spinal conditions and are committed to providing exceptional care to our patients. Our team of experienced orthopedic surgeons in Columbus, Ohio specializes in various advanced spinal fusion techniques, including minimally invasive surgeries like anterior lumbar interbody fusion. 

If you have questions about ALIF spinal fusion surgery, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with our experts. Our spine specialists will explore personalized treatment options for you and help pave the way for you to experience a healthier, pain-free life.

What Is ALIF Surgery?

ALIF surgery (also known as anterior lumbar interbody fusion) is a type of spinal fusion procedure that focuses on the lumbar spine, which is the lower back region. It is designed to treat various conditions that cause pain and instability in the spine.

The goal of ALIF surgery is to alleviate pain and restore stability in the lumbar spine. The procedure involves removing a damaged or problematic disc between two vertebrae and replacing it with a bone graft or an artificial spacer. This helps to fuse the adjacent vertebrae together, promoting spinal stability.

What Conditions Does ALIF Surgery Treat?

Some common conditions that can be treated with ALIF surgery include:

Who Is a Candidate for ALIF Surgery?

Anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery primarily benefits individuals who suffer from a range of spinal issues, particularly those affecting the lumbar region (lower back) of the spine.

Candidates for ALIF surgery typically include:

  • Patients with persistent and debilitating lower back pain that significantly affects their quality of life.
  • Individuals who have been diagnosed with conditions such as degenerative disc disease, disc herniation, spondylolisthesis, or spinal instability that have not responded to non-surgical treatments.
  • Those experiencing symptoms such as radiating leg pain, numbness, weakness, or difficulty with mobility due to nerve compression in the lumbar spine.
  • Individuals who have undergone previous spinal fusion surgery that has not achieved the desired results or has led to complications.

By considering the unique circumstances and medical history of each patient, orthopedic surgeons can determine the suitability of ALIF surgery. Factors such as overall health, the extent of spinal damage, and the presence of any coexisting medical conditions play a crucial role in evaluating the potential success of the procedure.

What Happens During ALIF Surgery?

There are several key steps that are involved during an ALIF procedure. The steps that are involved in a spinal fusion procedure are listed below. 

  1. Anesthesia: Before the surgery begins, you will be given anesthesia to ensure you are comfortable and pain-free throughout the procedure. This may include general anesthesia or a combination of general and local anesthesia.
  2. Incision and Access: A small incision is made in your abdomen, typically on the left side. A vascular surgeon may be involved in creating the incision to carefully navigate around major blood vessels. The abdominal muscles and organs are gently moved aside to reach the spine.
  3. Disc Removal: The spine surgeon then carefully removes the intervertebral disc, which is the cushioning structure between two adjacent vertebrae that may be damaged or causing pain. Removing the disc creates space for the fusion process.
  4. Bone Graft Placement: A bone graft or bone graft material is inserted into the now-empty disc space. The bone graft can be obtained from your own body (autograft) or may be a synthetic or donated bone graft material. This graft helps promote fusion and stimulate the growth of new bone between the vertebrae.
  5. Fusion and Stabilization: The bone graft, along with any additional implants such as screws, rods, or cages, is used to stabilize the spine and promote fusion. Fusion refers to the natural process where the bone graft, adjacent vertebrae, and intervertebral disc space fuse together over time, creating a solid and stable spinal segment.
  6. Closure and Recovery: Once the necessary components are in place, the surgeon carefully closes the incision. The muscles and tissues are repositioned, and the incision is closed with sutures or staples. You will then be taken to the recovery area to begin the healing process. 

Are There Any Risks Associated with ALIF Surgery?

Like any surgical procedure, ALIF surgery, which is a minimally invasive surgery, carries certain risks. While the overall complication rate is low, it is important to be aware of potential risks and discuss them with your surgeon. 

Here are some risks associated with ALIF surgery:

  • Infection at the surgical site
  • Bleeding during or after the surgery 
  • Nerve damage that causes weakness, numbness, or pain in your extremities 
  • Blood vessel injury at the surgical site
  • The bone graft not fusing properly 

However, with proper preoperative evaluation, skilled surgical techniques, and postoperative care, the overall risk of complications is low.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from ALIF Surgery?

The recovery time for ALIF surgery varies, but it typically takes several weeks to months to fully recover. 

A breakdown of the recovery process for an ALIF surgery is listed below. 

  • Hospital Stay: You will stay in the hospital for a few days after surgery for monitoring and pain management.
  • Initial Recovery: The first few weeks after surgery are focused on resting, allowing your body to heal, and gradually returning to normal activities.
  • Physical Therapy: Your surgeon may recommend starting physical therapy a few weeks after surgery. This helps strengthen your muscles and improve mobility.
  • Return to Normal Activities: It may take several weeks to months to resume regular activities, including work and recreational pursuits. Follow your surgeon’s guidelines for gradually increasing activity levels.

Schedule an Appointment with OrthoNeuro Today!

If you would like to learn more about ALIF surgery and find expert care for your spine condition, schedule a consultation with us today at OrthoNeuro, located in Columbus, OH. We are a leading orthopedic practice that specializes in spine surgery.

Our experienced team of orthopedic surgeons and spine specialists is dedicated to providing personalized, comprehensive care to help you regain mobility and live pain-free. Contact us today and take the first step toward a healthier spine!

Medically reviewed by Larry T. Todd, D.O.

Spine Care Specialists


“I recently had surgery on my lower back. I had heard that such surgery would result in pain and cause me difficulties in doing ordinary daily tasks but, I experienced no pain and was able to do normal activities at home and at church. Also, being a bee keeper, I was able to work the hives and extract the honey from most of the hives”

James B.