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Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion Surgery for Lower Back Pain

Dr. Anand Blog

May 15th, 2018

As far as health conditions in America go, pain in the low back is one of the most common and costly ailments when it comes to time off work and treatment. When the pain arises as the result of a problem with a spinal disc and reaches the point of warranting surgery to correct it, interbody spinal fusion techniques have been the standard treatment. This type of surgery is open, invasive, time-consuming and it requires that the surgeon strip away soft tissue and muscle during surgery to gain access to the spine. As one can imagine, this can lead to a host of complications – from a longer and more painful recovery to an increased risk of infection and worse problems in rare cases. But the good news is that modern techniques now allow skilled spine surgeons to reduce the risk of these complications by performing this procedure through a minimally invasive approach called Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion, or OLIF for short.

Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion Surgery for Lower Back Pain

OLIF surgery is a relatively new approach to spinal fusion surgery for those who have degenerated collapsed discs with or without an abnormal curvature of the spine, spinal stenosis, instability of the spine, or a condition called spondylolisthesis. The procedure is conducted under general anesthesia and allows the surgeon to perform a fusion of the lumbar spine through a single 1 inch incision on the side of the abdomen. In addition, this procedure is performed via an easier approach than the traditional spinal fusion procedures, which helps to reduce the time in surgery.

The major difference between OLIF and the more traditional direct lateral interbody fusion (commonly referred to as DLIF) is that the OLIF procedure allows the surgeon to reach the very last disc between the Lumbar 5 and Sacral bone, while in the lateral position. It allows access while avoiding the pelvic bone. In addition, the surgeon can carefully approach the spine through a small incision in the side of the abdomen, gently moving aside tissue and muscle to reach the affected vertebral level. The damaged collapsed disc is removed and a spacer along with bone graft material is placed elevating the disc space and realigning the spine. This in turn allows the vertebrae to fuse back together. In some cases, metal hardware-like screws and rods may be placed by the surgeon in order to create additional spinal support. Once the procedure is complete, the muscles and soft tissues fall back into position and the small skin incision is closed. In healthy patients, the procedure can be done in an outpatient setting or with a brief hospital stay, followed by at-home recovery instructions and a plan for physical therapy. Most patients return to an almost normal life within 6 weeks, though each patient and their recovery curve can be different.

Though most people will never need to consider surgery to relieve their low back pain, some will. These new advances in spinal medicine are allowing us surgeons to perform the surgical correction our patients need in order to return to living life normally, but in a minimally invasive way – which reduce risk and get patients back to living the lives they love, sooner.


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