Spinal fusion is a procedure that essentially “welds” two vertebrae of the spine together to create one solid bone in order to relieve chronic pain. The anterior approach for lumbar fusion is through the front of the body – the abdomen – and is sometimes considered to be more ideal than the traditional posterior approach (through the back).
Not only does the anterior approach allow the surgeon to do a more thorough job at removing any damaged intervertebral disc material, it also means the surgeon does not have to damage the muscles of the back, which significantly reduces pain and recovery time for the patient.
The intervertebral discs are located between the vertebrae of the spine, and are made of a hard outer layer and a softer, jelly-like inner layer. These discs act as cushions and shock absorbers as the spine moves. Age, trauma, injury, or a condition like degenerative disc disease can cause the vertebrae to press down on the discs, which in turn causes them to bulge outward, or herniate, which is where the inner layer begins to leak through the outer layer. A bulge or herniation can compress or irritate the nerves of the spine, causing pain in the back, neck, legs, arms and hands.
Patients who have advanced degenerative disc disease or who have failed other conservative treatment options are generally good candidates for lumbar fusion. Anterior lumbar interbody fusion is one of the gold standard treatments when it comes to spine surgery.
Anterior lumbar interbody fusion is performed under general anesthesia. Following surgery, you will be instructed on any limitations required for optimal healing. Physical therapy and rehabilitation may be recommended post-operatively, on a case by case basis.