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What is a Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion?


A lateral lumbar interbody fusion (LLIF) is a surgical procedure that involves removing a disc from between the vertebrae in the lower back and implanting a bone spacer in its place. You may hear the procedure referred to as extreme lateral interbody fusion (XLIF) or direct interbody fusion (DLIF), which specifically refers to a technique in which the surgeon accesses the spine through the side of the patient’s flank instead of the center of the back. By using this approach, the surgeon can directly reach your vertebrae and discs without needing to cut through muscle or bone or disturbing the blood vessels in your back.

LLIF is used to treat herniated discs and other painful spinal conditions affecting the lower back after nonsurgical treatment has failed to provide relief of symptoms.

At Back Pain Centers of America, we understand the frustration of trying different types of treatments only to still deal with back pain and stiffness. We have helped more than 30,000 patients find relief, and we’re ready to help you now. Give us a call today at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to find out if you qualify.

Get back to your active lifestyle following lateral lumbar interbody fusion


XLIF offers several benefits over traditional open back surgery, such as:

Symptoms that can be relieved by a lumbar interbody fusion are:

  • Pain when walking or standing
  • Stiffness
  • Numbness and tingling that can affect the buttock, leg, or foot
  • Muscle weakness and pain that radiates down through the buttock to the leg


You will be given specific preparation instructions before your XLIF. Part of your preparation will require you to (consult your doctor to find what applies to your case):

  • Stop smoking – Smoking has been shown to slow healing and contribute to the degeneration of the spine. You will be asked to stop smoking for a period before and after surgery.
  • Stop taking certain supplements and medications – Some medications and supplements increase your risk of bleeding and need to be avoided before LLIF or any other surgery. You will be told which of these to stop taking and for how long.
  • Fast for 6-12 hours – You will be told exactly how long before the procedure you need to stop eating and drinking.
  • Arrange a ride – You will not be able to drive after your surgery. Arrange to have someone drop you off and pick you up.

Not following the preparation instructions you’re given may result in the postponement of your XLIF.


Minimally invasive Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion affects the lower back; however, two small incisions (less than 1″) are made in the patient’s side at the lower portion of the rib cage. The surgeon uses a special type of probe through one incision to enable him to see the anatomy throughout the procedure.

The second incision is used for the doctor to complete the surgery. A tube is placed in the second incision to gradually push back the muscle and gain access to the spine. Specialized instruments are placed inside the tube to remove the damaged disc. Once the disc space is empty, a special implant (spacer) will be placed in the disc space to provide support and restore the proper height so that the bones can grow and fuse properly. In some cases, additional support is needed to keep the spine stable. In these situations, the surgeon may insert rods and screws to stabilize the spine as your bones fuse to provide permanent support.

Once your lumbar interbody fusion is complete, the incision will be closed and you will be moved to a recovery room where you will be monitored for a few hours.


Your doctor will advise you as to how long you will need to stay in the hospital depending on your overall health. Most patients can go home within 24 hours of their LLIF. You may be given a back brace to wear to help support your back with the fusion process.

Having pain at the incision site is normal and can be easily managed with pain medication. Applying ice to the area can also be helpful.
Physical therapy will be prescribed to help you with your rehabilitation, and you will be advised as to when you can go back to work and resume certain activities.

If you’re ready to move beyond debilitating back pain and toward getting back to your active life, call us today so we can match you with a board-certified specialist. Call us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] now. The call is simple and could be the most important one you ever make.

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© 2019 Back Pain Centers of America. Back Pain Centers of America does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information on this website is not designed to replace a doctor's judgment or course of treatment. All physicians and practices operate independent of and are in no way owned or controlled by Back Pain Centers of America. Results and recovery times may vary. User Agreement and Privacy Policy.

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