What is ALIF?
ALIF is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat vertebral compression fractures (VCF), which are fractures of the vertebra. These fractures commonly occur as a result of osteoporosis, spinal tumors or injury, and can cause severe pain and limited mobility. They can also lead to abnormal spine curvature and increase a patient’s risk for serious spinal complications.
In many cases, vertebral fractures can be treated through conservative methods such as bed rest, a back brace or pain medication. Like fractures in other areas of the body, these fractures can heal on their own. However, patients with osteoporosis or whose fractures have caused severe, long-term pain may benefit from a minimally invasive procedure such as ALIF to relieve symptoms. This procedure is also recommended for patients who are too weak to undergo spinal surgery, or have a malignant tumor within the spine that has caused vertebral damage.
Dr. Lipani will perform an X-ray examination of the spine to determine the specific location and severity of the fracture, as well as how long ago they occurred. ALIF is most effective when performed on fractures that are less than six months old.
During the ALIF procedure, an injection of a bone cement solution is administered into the affected vertebra to stabilize the fracture and relieve pain. This procedure is performed under X-ray guidance to ensure precise delivery of the cement solution, which hardens in approximately 20 minutes. The needle is then removed and a bandage is placed over the injection site, with no need for sutures. ALIF is performed using only a local anesthetic on an outpatient basis. In most cases, patients will be able to return home about an hour after their procedure.
Patients suffering from vertebral fractures may be treated with ALIF or kyphoplasty, which are very similar procedures, aside from the fact that kyphoplasty involves inserting a balloon into the fractured bone to restore it to its original height and shape before filling it with cement. Dr. Lipani will determine which treatment is right for you based on a thorough evaluation of your condition.
Recovery from ALIF
After the ALIF procedure, most patients experience immediate pain relief and are able to return to normal activity within 24 hours. Others will notice a more gradual reduction in pain, and may experience soreness or pain caused by the procedure that can last up to two weeks. The treated area will be covered with a bandage at all times for the first few days after surgery, but patients can apply an ice pack to the area to relieve any discomfort.
Patients can return home the same day, but should rest and increase activity levels gradually. Most patients will experience a significant increase in functional abilities with no need for physical therapy or rehabilitation. The regained mobility and increased activity levels also help fight the effects of osteoporosis for a reduced risk of future complications.
Heavy lifting and other strenuous activities should be avoided for at least six weeks after treatment. Dr. Lipani will provide you with specific post-operative instructions based on your individual condition.
Risks of ALIF
ALIF is considered a safe procedure with only a minimal risk of complications for most patients. As with any type of surgical procedure, there are risks of infection, bleeding, increased back pain, numbness and tingling. There is also a risk that some of the cement may leak out of the vertebral body, although this is not usually a major problem.
Dr. Lipani will discuss any potential risks with you prior to surgery and help you decide whether or not this procedure is right for you. Most patients experience effective results from the ALIF procedure with no major side effects or complications.