What Is An XLIF?
XLIF (Extreme Lateral Interbody Fusion) is a type of Minimally Invasive Spinal Fusion procedure used to treat conditions of the lumbar and thoracic spine. The XLIF is primarily utilized to treat spinal injures, deformities or conditions that affect the vertebrae above the L-5 level of the spine. The XLIF procedure utilizes a lateral (side of the body) approach due to the discs above the L-5 vertebrae being more easily accessed in this fashion.
The goal of this procedure is to remove the spinal disc and/or bone spurs that are causing irritation of the spinal nerves and use internal fixation to stabilize the spine and relieve the pain associated with lumbar spinal conditions.
How is an XLIF Performed?
First, a small incision (usually 1-2 inches) is made on the side over the area of the affected spinal disc or vertebrae where a series of dilating tubes will be inserted. The muscle structures near the incision site are gently retracted, as opposed to being cut or dissected, and surgical tools and implants are slipped between the muscles. Next, under fluoroscopic guidance (real time X-ray visualization) the impinged spinal nerve is placed to the side and a substantial amount of the intervertebral disc and/or any bone materials are removed. Using the lateral incision made earlier a structural implant that also contains bone graft is placed into the disc space to restore normal height and stability to the spine.
This bone graft implant creates a biological response and, over time, this bone graft will knit together with the adjoining vertebrae and form one continuous and stable vertebra.
Next, a small metal rods and screws are implanted between the two vertebrae to ensure stability. The incision is then closed with small stitches.
In many cases, an XLIF can be performed on an outpatient basis due to the reduced trauma to the spine and muscular structures. In fact, most patients are up and walking shortly after this procedure and physical therapy will begin within a few days of the procedure.