Frequently Asked Questions

What is Mini ALIF?

Minimally invasive anterior lumbar interbody fusion (Mini ALIF) is a surgery to treat lower back problems that can cause back pain and/or nerve pain radiating into the legs (also called sciatica or radiculopathy). It is primarily for people with spondylolisthesis, degenerative disk disease, spinal stenosis or pain after a previous diskectomy.


How is it done?

At UW Health, a vascular surgeon and a spine surgeon work together to access the spine from the front of the body (called an anterior approach). The vascular surgeon carefully accesses the spine, protects the blood vessels and monitors blood flow while the spine surgeon removes the painful disc between the two bones (called vertebral bodies). A titanium cage with bone graft is inserted between the vertebral bodies (where the disc was) to fuse the spine together. Screws are often used to stabilize the spine. These minimally invasive screws are inserted through two small incisions on the back.


Am I a candidate for Mini ALIF spine surgery?

Mini ALIF is primarily for patients diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, degenerative disk disease, spinal stenosis with instability, or patients who are still having pain after a previous diskectomy. It is typically an option after other non-operative treatments such as medications, physical therapy and/or injections have been tried without success.


How does Mini ALIF spine surgery differ from other spine surgeries?

With a conventional ALIF, the incision on the lower abdomen can be relatively large. With the Mini ALIF, the surgeons make the incision as small as possible to safely access the spine, the spine is accessed through natural tissue planes, and the abdominal muscles are not cut. With minimally invasive spine surgery, patients have smaller incisions, usually spend less time in the hospital and typically return to daily activities more quickly.


What are the benefits of Mini ALIF spine surgery?

The technique we use for Mini ALIF offers many benefits compared to traditional ALIF including a smaller incision, a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery. A vascular surgeon and spine surgeon work together and access the spine from the front (anterior) of the body. This means muscles and nerves remain undisturbed.


Where does Mini ALIF surgery take place?

We do almost all of our Mini ALIF procedures at our state-of-the-art hospital, UW Health at The American Center, which was built as a sub-specialty surgical facility. It is quiet, modern and well-equipped, and patients and their family members have been very pleased with their experience. Our private patient rooms are large enough to comfortably accommodate patients and family members.


How long does it take to recover from Mini ALIF surgery?

It differs for every patient, but generally, most patients are discharged from the hospital after a one- or two-night stay. The main therapy immediately after surgery is walking for exercise, and many patients are walking several miles within a month of surgery. We ask that patients avoid heavy lifting, bending, or twisting for approximately three months after surgery, but most people are ready to return to a desk job or light duty within a week or two of surgery. Full recovery and return to unrestricted activities are often possible within six months of surgery.


What is the success rate for Mini ALIF surgery?

We track our outcomes after surgery and have experienced a very high success rate. Approximately 90 percent of patients are substantially improved after surgery, with significant pain reduction.