Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) Surgery

Understanding Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) Surgery, Risks and Recovery

ALIF: Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion Surgery in Birmingham and Hoover, Alabama

At Southlake Orthopaedics, patients can receive advanced surgical care. When back pain and related symptoms do not resolve with non-invasive treatments, spinal fusion surgery may be recommended as a solution. Serving patients throughout Birmingham and Hoover, Alabama, the Southlake Orthopaedics medical team offers anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) surgery for patients with spinal instability or severe chronic pain in the lower back. Learn more about how this procedure works and the conditions it can treat.

What Is Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) Surgery?

An anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) procedure is a type of spinal fusion surgery that uses a bone graft to connect two or more vertebrae in the lumbar spine (lower back). The goal of this procedure is to eliminate the movement of painful vertebrae or to stabilize a spine that has been injured from trauma, fracture, or degeneration.

Conditions That Can Be Treated With ALIF Surgery

ALIF is a treatment option for several different spinal conditions, including:

Degenerative Disc Disease

Intervertebral discs cushion the bones of the spine, serving as shock absorbers and keeping the vertebrae correctly spaced. Over time, the cartilage in spinal discs can start to break down, shrink, and become dehydrated. They may even bulge or slip out of place, a condition known as a herniated disc.

Degenerative disc disease is common and a natural result of the aging process. However, disc degeneration can compress or irritate the nerves in the lumbar spine, leading to pain that radiates into the buttocks or legs. Nerve compression can also cause numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness.


Spondylolysis is a spinal deformity that often affects young people, especially athletes. The condition frequently appears in the lumbar area of the spine and coincides with symptoms like lower back pain and stiffness, muscle weakness, and pain that radiates throughout the thighs and buttocks.

What to Expect During the Procedure

ALIF surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia, so the patient will be asleep and will not feel any pain. This type of fusion surgery uses an interior approach, meaning the patient is placed on their back and the surgeon accesses the spine through the abdomen. Using a small incision near the belly button, they will separate the abdominal muscle tissue and shift the intestines to the side to visualize the lumbar spine. They will then remove the affected disc and replace it with a medical-grade spacer. Fluoroscopy (X-ray guidance) is used to confirm accurate placement.

The spacer may have bone grafting material to encourage the two vertebrae to fuse. Additionally, the surgical plan may include the placement of stabilization hardware to hold the spine in the correct position while it heals. Once the procedure is complete, the incision site will be closed. Surgery often takes two to three hours to complete, depending on the complexity of the procedure.

Older couple walking through park with dog on leash

ALIF Surgery Risks

Although the risk is low, ALIF surgery, like all surgeries, carries with it the possibility of complications. Common complications include wound infection, retrograde ejaculation, and ileus, a condition that impacts the normal movement of the bowels. Neurologic issues may also occur, causing pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs. The most severe complication is injury to blood vessels in the spine. Surgeons typically treat these injuries during the surgery.

ALIF Surgery Recovery

Following fusion surgery, patients typically need to stay in the hospital for a few days. While they are still in the hospital, they will begin working with a physical therapist as part of their rehabilitation care.

After ALIF surgery, a patient will need to avoid bending and twisting the spine, as well as lifting any heavy objects.

Most patients can return to work and resume light activity after two or three weeks. However, patients whose jobs require physical labor or heavy lifting may need to take up to three months off from their normal duties. It can take up to a year for the vertebrae to fuse and heal completely.

Why Choose Southlake Orthopaedics for ALIF Surgery?

Southlake Orthopaedics only recommends surgery when necessary, and treats back pain and spine conditions with conservative interventions first. If non-invasive treatments do not provide pain relief, orthopedic specialists will walk a patient through their options for surgery. Our board-certified surgeons use minimally invasive techniques wherever possible to help patients recover faster with less pain and more living.

The medical team at Southlake Orthopaedics has extensive experience treating a wide range of spinal conditions, including:


The board-certified physicians provide complete orthopedic care from diagnosis to surgery and rehabilitation.

Find Advanced Surgical Care for Spine Conditions and Injuries at Southlake Orthopaedics

For the highest level of patient care, turn to Southlake Orthopaedics. Patients in need of anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) will find a knowledgeable team of compassionate multi-level orthopedic specialists offering cutting-edge surgical techniques. With offices in Birmingham-Grandview and Hoover, AL, Southlake Orthopaedics serves patients throughout Central AL. To learn more about spinal fusion surgery, call 205-985-4111 or contact Southlake Orthopaedics today.