XLIF surgery is a type of spinal fusion that accesses the vertebrae through the side rather than the front or back. Short for eXtreme Lateral Interbody Fusion, this procedure is a standard option for individuals suffering from lumbar spinal disorders such as degenerative disc disease or spinal spondylolisthesis.

Because XLIF surgery cannot be used to treat all lumbar conditions, we encourage you to make an appointment with Dr. Atwater and see if this spinal fusion could help your situation. A minimally invasive procedure, XLIF has been proven to reduce chronic back and leg pain when other treatments failed. When we access the damaged discs from the side through the space between them, it avoids any risk to the major back muscles and nearby bones, tendons, and ligaments.

What is Spinal Spondylolisthesis?

Spinal spondylolisthesis happens when one or more of the vertebrae move out of place. While this can happen to any bones in the spine, we typically see it in the low back. An estimated 80 percent of the population experiencing back pain at one time during their lifetime, often stemming from problems with the spine such as spondylolisthesis.

There are two main types of adult spondylolisthesis:

  1. Degenerative – The most common type, degenerative spondylolisthesis, is caused by regular wear-and-tear
  2. Spondylolytic – This condition occurs when one of the vertebrae in the back breaks, sending the bone forward

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, just 4% to 6% of American adults experience spondylolisthesis. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe pain, but most patients do not experience any pain or symptoms. Their condition is often diagnosed through X-rays and treated with XLIF surgery in many cases.

What to Expect from XLIF Surgery

XLIF surgery, or lumbar spinal fusion, is a relatively straightforward procedure that often takes less than an hour. Some of the other top benefits include:

  • Reduced blood loss
  • Less scarring
  • Shorter recovery period
  • Less pain
  • Patients are often able to walk on the day of surgery

Because there are minimal risks associated with XLIF surgery, we often recommend it as an option for spinal fusion. Following this type of back surgery, patients can get back to enjoying life and doing what they love most, rather than lying around in a hospital bed waiting to heal.

How the XLIF is Performed

To ensure you understand what happens during XLIF surgery, let’s go over the procedure in more detail:

  • Dr. Atwater will use X-rays to locate the exact source of the damage while the patient is lying on his or her side
  • Once he has marked the disc, he makes a small incision in the patient’s side toward the back
  • A second incision is then made on your side, allowing the surgeon to access instruments to remove the damaged disc
  • Using these special instruments (tubular dilators), we will then remove the disc and replace it with an implant
  • The surgeon will once again use X-rays to ensure the implant is in the correct spot
  • At this point, we remove all instruments and close the incisions with several stitches and protective bandages

Other Conditions XLIF Surgery Treats

In addition to degenerative disc disease and spinal spondylolisthesis, XLIF surgery can treat the following conditions:

  • Spinal stenosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Post-laminectomy syndrome
  • Chronic disc herniation
  • Spinal deformity
  • Lumbar degenerative disc disease
  • Disc herniation in the thoracic region

When NOT to Perform XLIF Surgery

Although XLIF surgery is a safe procedure that can help patients suffering from a wide range of spinal conditions, it may not be an option for some individuals. If you have any of the below issues, XLIF surgery may not be for you:

  • High-grade spondylolisthesis (more advanced than grade 2)
  • The presence of a pinched nerve in the area
  • Scarring along the abdominal cavity
  • Severe spinal deformities

There are also several potential risks and complications of XLIF surgery that you should be aware of:

  • Continued pain following surgery
  • Infection
  • Muscle weakness
  • Injury to the blood vessels
  • Stroke
  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infection

If you have any questions about these risks or would like to discuss them in greater detail, please do not hesitate to contact OSA and schedule an appointment with Dr. Atwater.

Recovering from XLIF Surgery

Unlike many other types of back surgery, XLIF patients are usually able to move around later in the day following the surgery. Depending on your current state of health and any other medical conditions, you may soon be able to return to normal daily activities. Because of the fast recovery time, lack of scarring, and less potential for complications, XLIF surgery is a popular option for lumbar conditions like spinal spondylolisthesis and degenerative disc disease.

Many patients even report a noticeable improvement in the symptoms they had been experiencing before XLIF surgery. For others, the symptoms dissipate with time. It is essential to understand that each patient is unique and, therefore, their recovery process will look different. Whether you can get up and walk around the evening of the surgery or in the days to follow, expect some localized tenderness in the area of the incision.

Is XLIF Surgery Right for Me?

An orthopedic doctor can evaluate your condition and determine if surgery is the right move. For spondylolisthesis sufferers, a spinal fusion like XLIF surgery is the most effective treatment option. Learning what to expect from the surgery will ensure you make a full recovery with the relief you need to recover fully.

If you are experiencing back pain because of degenerative disc disease, spinal spondylolisthesis, or trauma, contact our accident injury doctor. You don’t have to live in pain, and Dr. Atwater is an orthopedic specialist who can help. For more information about XLIF surgery, give OSA a call today.

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