Is Surgery Needed For Lower Back Pain?

Lower back pain continues to be one of the most significant ailments today. While most persons have minor aches, some have long-term spinal conditions. These often show no signs of letting up, and surgery ends up being the only solution. Surgeons can correct certain conditions using lumbar interbody fusion. If a doctor brings up surgery, future patients will hear the terms ALIF and PLIF. Having a clear understanding of the difference can help patients feel more at ease.

Minnesota Valley Surgery Center ALIF vs PLIF Understanding Lumbar Interbody Fusion For Lower Back Pain

What’s happening in the spine

The spine has 33 interlocking bones called vertebrae. These bones support the neck, ribs, lower back, and pelvis. In between each bone is an intervertebral disc. These discs have a fibrous outer layer and a gel-like inner layer. The outer layer acts as shock absorbers, while the inner layer helps with rotation. The vertebrae make a long tunnel called the spinal canal where the spinal column runs. Nerves branch out at each vertebra to communicate with different parts of the body. Some conditions compromise the disc and nerves, causing intense pain.

The irreversible damage causing back pain

Sometimes, the shock-absorbing discs in the lower back can become herniated or degenerated. Herniated discs press on the nearby nerves, causing intense pain. Degenerative disc disease creates a loss of disc height, causing bulging onto nerves. Conditions like stenosis, sciatica, or spondylolisthesis can cause pain, tingling, and numbness. These severe conditions often require fusion surgery.

Fixing lower back pain with ALIF

Anterior lumbar interbody fusion or ALIF seeks to restore the natural height of a disc. This will relieve any pressure on nerves or surrounding bone. The name anterior comes from the site of the surgery. The surgeon accesses the damaged vertebra through the stomach. A portion of the spinal ligament gets removed to access the damaged disc. The surgeon removes the damaged disc and inserts a prosthetic in the space. Plates and screws are used to hold the vertebrae in place. Over time, the bones will fuse over the implant.

A backdoor approach with PLIF

ALIF starts from the front of the body. Posterior lumbar interbody fusion or PLIF approaches the procedure from the back. The surgeon makes an incision from the back to access the discs. Next, the surgeon removes parts of the affected vertebra, moving the spinal column to the side to access the discs. The degenerated disc gets removed and replaced with a prosthetic. Screws keep the spacing so fusion can take place. For both ALIF and PLIF, the doctor will advise of the proper steps for recovery.

ALIF vs PLIF; what’s the difference?

The biggest difference, of course, is the area the surgeon needs to operate. ALIF happens in the abdomen, while PLIF happens from the lower back. Choosing where to enter depends on which side has the most damage. There’s no significant difference in the success rate of the surgeries. However, PLIF can be riskier as the vertebrae and spinal cord must be moved. ALIF works around large blood vessels, which can be dangerous. Each procedure comes with risks that will be explained by the surgeon.

Are you ready for surgery?

Lower back pain due to spinal conditions can put a damper on the quality of life. If doctors notice significant disc damage, then fusion surgery can help. The doctor will advise if ALIF or PLIF will be used. Fusion surgery has changed the life of many persons with a 94% success rate. Speak with a doctor about surgery today.

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