What Is Spinal Fusion ?

The various types of spinal fusion refer both to the affected area of the spine and the area of the spine being fused.

Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is neck surgery that involves approaching the spine through an incision in the front of the neck. The affected disc is removed and replaced with bone from the individual’s hip. In some cases, the surgeon will implant a small metal plate to stabilise the spine while it heals.

Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is back surgery that involves approaching the spine through an incision in the abdomen. A portion of the affected disc space is removed from the spine and replaced with an implant. Titanium or stainless steel screws and rods may be inserted into the back of the spine to supplement the stability of the entire construct.

Posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) is a type of back surgery that involves approaching the spine from the back (posterior) of the body. Bone graft material is then placed between two adjacent vertebrae (interbody) to promote bone growth that joins together the two structures (fusion). The bone graft material acts as a bridge, or scaffold, on which new bone can grow. The ultimate goal of the procedure is to restore spinal stability.

Today, a PLIF may be performed using minimally invasive spine surgery. This procedure allows the surgeon to use small incisions and gently separate the muscles surrounding the spine rather than cutting them. Traditional open spine surgery involves cutting or stripping the muscles from the spine. A minimally invasive approach preserves the surrounding muscular and vascular function and minimises scarring.1,2

Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) is a form of back surgery in which the lumbar spine is approached through an incision in the back. The name of the procedure is derived from: transforaminal (through the foramen), lumbar (lower back), interbody (implants or bone graft placed between two vertebral bodies) and fusion (spinal stabilisation).


  1. Stevens KJ, Spenciner DB, Griffiths KL, Kim KD, Zwienenberg-Lee M, Alamin T, Bammer R. Comparison of minimally invasive and conventional open posterolateral lumbar fusion using magnetic resonance imaging and retraction pressure studies. J Spinal Disord Tech. 2006 Apr;19(2):77-86.
  2. Khoo LT, Fessler RG. Microendoscopic decompressive laminotomy for the treatment of lumbar stenosis. Neurosurgery. 2002 Nov;51(5 Suppl):S146-54.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 27 Sep 2010

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