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Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion: What is it?


Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) is a procedure that removes a damaged intervertebral disc that is pressing against a nerve and not providing the support needed by the vertebrae above and below it.

TLIF surgery, unlike traditional open back surgery, is performed by making a small incision beside the spine and moving muscles to the side rather than cutting them. The surgery is used to treat the effects of a herniated disc or other spinal conditions caused by degenerative disc disease when conservative treatments fail to provide relief of symptoms.

If you’ve been living with pain that hasn’t improved after months or years of nonsurgical treatments, Back Pain Centers of America can help. Our minimally invasive procedures have helped more than 30,000 people find the road to recovery from chronic back pain. Call us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] today to learn more about your options.

Woman does yoga after recovering from transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion


TLIF offers many benefits over traditional open back surgery. By approaching the disc space from one side of the back as opposed to the center, the surgeon can access the vertebrae and disc without having to cut through muscle and other tissue. This results in a shorter hospital stay—often less than 24 hours—and a quicker recovery with less pain and scarring.

The TLIF procedure relives pain and leg weakness by taking pressure off the spinal cord or nerve and stabilizes the spine.

Conditions/Symptoms Treated

TLIF is used to treat conditions such as degenerative disc disease, herniated discs of the lower back, and spondylolisthesis. It can provide relief from symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Radiating pain to the buttock and leg
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Weakness in the leg and foot
  • Difficulty walking or standing


You will be given specific preparation instructions before your transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion. The following is part of your preparation:

  • Stop smoking – Smoking has been linked to degenerative changes in the spine and is known to slow healing. You will be advised to stop smoking for a time before and after your surgery.
  • Avoid certain medications – Some medications and supplements may increase your risk of bleeding. You will be told which of these you need to stop taking and for how long.
  • Fast for 6 to 12 hours – You will need to stop eating and drinking for a period before your TLIF surgery.
  • Arrange a ride home – You cannot drive the day of your surgery and will need to arrange a ride.

Not following your pre-surgical instructions may result in the postponement of your procedure.


Your surgeon will make a small incision on one side of your back, often measuring just over an inch. The muscle is moved to the side to allow the surgeon to access the damaged disc. Your surgeon will remove the disc and a special implant (spacer) will be placed in the disc space. This spacer helps restore the space to its proper height and offer support while the bone grows, fusing the two vertebrae together. Once your TLIF 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.

Depending on your condition, the surgeon may also use screws, plates or rods to stabilize the spine for the fusion.


Most patients can go home within 24 hours of having TLIF surgery. You will be advised as to when you can return to work and certain activities, often between 6 to 12 weeks. The minimally invasive technique used to perform your TLIF causes less pain than traditional open back surgery and can be easily managed with pain medication and by applying ice.

Physical therapy will assist you in your rehabilitation and help you get back your flexibility and range of motion.

If you’re ready to take the first step in getting back to your active life, call Back Pain Centers of America today at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to get matched with a board-certified spine specialist who can provide the treatment you need. Relief is just a call away!

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