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Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion (TLIF)

What is a TLIF?

A transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) is a type of spine surgery designed to relieve pain or other symptoms caused by instability in the lower back (lumbar spine). The procedure may be performed using minimally invasive surgical techniques.

What is a minimally invasive transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion?

In transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, the surgeon approaches the lumbar spine through an incision in the back. Today, a TLIF may be performed using minimally invasive spine surgery, a treatment option that uses small incisions to:

  • Gently separate the muscles surrounding the spine rather than cutting them
  • Preserve the function of the surrounding muscles, blood vessels, and other structures
  • Minimize scarring

Why is my doctor recommending a transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion?

A spinal fusion procedure such as a transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion is used to treat conditions causing spinal instability in the lower back – such as degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or stenosis – that have not responded to conservative treatments. The symptoms of lumbar spinal instability may include:

  • Pain in the lower back, hips, and legs
  • Numbness or muscle weakness in the low back, hips, and legs

A transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion is typically recommended only after nonsurgical treatment methods fail. Your surgeon will take a number of factors into consideration before making this recommendation, including:

  • The condition to be treated
  • Your age, health, and lifestyle
  • Your anticipated level of activity following surgery

Please discuss this treatment option thoroughly with your doctor.

How is a minimally invasive TLIF performed?

  • First, your surgeon will make a small incision in the skin of your back over the vertebra(e) to be treated.
  • After the spine is accessed, the lamina (the “roof” of the vertebra) is removed.
  • The facet joints, which are directly over the nerve roots, may be trimmed to give the nerve roots more room.
  • The nerve roots are then moved to one side, and the damaged disc is removed from the front (anterior) of the spine.
  • A bone graft is then inserted into the disc space. The bone graft material acts as a bridge, or scaffold, on which new bone can grow.
  • Screws and rods are inserted to stabilize the spine while the treated area heals and fusion occurs.
  • Your surgeon will then close the incision.

How long will it take me to recover?

This minimally invasive procedure typically allows many patients to be discharged the day after surgery; however, some patients may require a longer hospital stay. Many patients will notice immediate improvement of some or all of their symptoms; however, other symptoms may improve more gradually.

A positive attitude, reasonable expectations, and compliance with your doctor’s postsurgery instructions all may contribute to a satisfactory outcome. Many patients are able to return to their regular activities within several weeks.

To determine whether you are a candidate for minimally invasive surgery, talk to your doctor.

Are there any potential risks or complications?

Every surgical procedure carries some risk. Talk with your doctor about potential risks and complications of spinal surgery, such as:

  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Blood clots
  • Blood loss
  • Bowel and bladder problem
  • Complications associated with anesthesia
  • Failure of the vertebral bone and graft to properly fuse

All treatment and outcome results are specific to the individual patient. Results may vary.

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise

Summit’s spine care team is recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for the comprehensive expertise of our patient-centered care. Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.

Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNVadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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