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Lumbar Interbody Fusion (IBF)

Overview

Your lower back is one of the body’s most important physical features. This part of your spine is vital for performing day-to-day functions like bending, sitting, and lifting.

You might experience pain and other life-altering effects if your spine is diseased or injured. A procedure known as lumbar interbody fusion can correct these problems.

Anatomy

Your spinal column is made up of bones called vertebrae, which are divided into subcategories depending on where along the spine they are located. For example, the lumbar vertebrae are situated in the lower back and are made up of five or sometimes six bones. Surrounding these bones are protective cushions called disks.

Description

If lumbar disks become damaged or you encounter an illness, you might contract what is known as lumbar disk disease.

Causes

Lumbar disk disease is a collection of problems capable of damage. Such issues are usually divided into several categories.

  • Congenital Deformities – Abnormalities you are born with that may revolve around the improper formation of the spine. They can place extra pressure on lumbar disks and eventually cause deterioration.
  • Degenerative Diseases – lower back issues might be brought on by diseases like arthritis, which cause a gradual weakening of disks and neighboring structures.

The aging process also plays a role. Disks contain large amounts of water. As you grow older, disks gradually lose their moisture content, limiting their cushioning abilities and laying the groundwork for cracks and tears. As this damage progresses, broken disks can press against vertebrae or spinal nerves.

Any traumatic event, such as a fall from significant heights, excessive forceful contact in athletic competition, or involvement in a serious car accident, could result in immediate and significant damage to lumbar disks and surrounding muscles, bones, and tissues.

Risk Factors

Your risk for lumbar disk disease rises if you:

  • Work that requires repeated heavy lifting or bending, like construction workers and airline baggage handlers.
  • Have a family history of illnesses or arthritis, degenerative bone, or muscle issues.
  • Are excessively overweight or obese.
  • Smoke cigarettes or take nicotine through other sources.
  • Forceful contact sports like football.
  • Are of advanced age.
  • Sit for extended periods like working at a computer terminal or watching television.

Poor posture can also eventually lead to the condition. Prolonged stretches of inactivity can weaken back muscles, which places additional strain on lumbar disks.

Symptoms

The most noticeable and significant symptom is lower back pain. The discomfort will often worsen when you bend or lift an object. This pain comes on suddenly and lasts for at least six weeks in most cases. After that, the pain could spread to other areas like the legs and hips.

Other common occurrences include muscle weakness in the lower back and legs, numbness or tingling in your legs and feet, and decreased knee or ankle reflexes. You might lose control of your bowel or bladder functions in more serious cases, experience significant mobility issues, or possibly get paralysis.

Diagnosis

Lumbar disk disease produces symptoms seen in other injuries or illnesses. An accurate diagnosis can take time and is often a multi-step process.

During the process’s first stage, your doctor will likely examine your lower back for visual abnormalities like swelling or tenderness and ask you various questions, including:

  • When did the pain start?
  • Do any specific actions or movements make it worse?
  • If you are experiencing any other problems.
  • If you were in an accident recently.
  • Do you participate in contact sports?

Once these facts are established, the doctor may ask you to perform various movement tests to measure your range of motion, pain threshold, muscle strength, and reflexes.

You might also be asked to undergo internal diagnostic tests like:

  • X-rays – This diagnostic uses electromagnetic energy to create and capture pictures of your lumbar region.
  • Computerized Tomography – CAT or CT scans create highly detailed scans of body parts like your spine’s lumbar region.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Abbreviated as an MRI, it uses magnets, radio frequencies, and computer technology to create specific and detailed bodily scans.
  • Electromyography – This device stimulates muscles using electrical impulses. Doctors can then test how your muscles and reflexes respond to such stimuli.

Lumbar Interbody Fusion

You might be a candidate for this procedure if you receive a definitive diagnosis. In general, the procedure is performed to remove or repair lumbar disks pressing against vertebrae or nerves, which cause pain and other concerns.

Types Of Lumbar Interbody Fusion

There are four specific types of interbody fusion surgery performed, including:

  • Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion – Often abbreviated as PLIF, surgeons make an incision in a patient’s back, remove damaged disks, and fuse vertebrae together using cushioning devices called grafts.
  • Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion – Referred to as ALIF, doctors approach the spine from the front, remove the faulty disk, and insert grafting materials to fuse vertebrae.
  • Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion – Abbreviated as LLIF, medical teams make small incisions on the side of the patient’s body to repair damaged or diseased disks. LLIF is sometimes considered a more favorable option because it does not need to move muscles aside, moving blood vessels, or the bone cutting involved in other processes.
  • Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion – Abbreviated as TLIF, a single bone graft connects vertebrae from the side instead of fusing two bone grafts from the backside. This procedure is performed to prevent potential nerve damage.

Recovery

It is difficult to determine the specific length of time you will need to recover fully. This will depend on the procedure you received, how severe your degenerative disk disease was, your overall physical and biological health, and your level of physical activity. Most procedures are followed by a period of physical therapy designed to help regain any lost strength or motion ranges.

Next Steps

Talk to your Florida Orthopaedic Institute physician to learn more about lumbar Interbody fusion (IBF).

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