Mini ALIF: A minimally invasive treatment for lower back pain

UW Health offers a minimally-invasive procedure that can help people return to a life they have missed. Our team of surgeons work together to perform a customized procedure that results in less pain and faster recovery that conventional back surgery.


What is a mini ALIF procedure?

If you are living with pain from lower back or nerve conditions, the minimally invasive anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery — or mini ALIF — may bring relief. The mini ALIF treats pain caused by common lower back problems that do not respond to other nonsurgical treatments.

About mini ALIF

What we do

The mini ALIF is a minimally invasive spinal fusion procedure. A vascular surgeon and a spine surgeon perform this surgery together. They use small incisions. You enjoy a shorter hospital stay and a faster recovery.

All of these conditions can narrow the spinal canal and put pressure on the nerves. A shrinking spinal canal from spinal stenosis can also be present with each condition. Spinal stenosis leads to instability and nerve compression that causes pain in the buttocks or legs.

When your doctor believes a spinal fusion is necessary, the mini ALIF can be considered. At UW Health, our spine surgeons often use the mini ALIF because of its overall effectiveness and rapid recovery.

Is this surgery right for you? 

Your doctor might recommend the mini ALIF if you do not get pain relief from treatments such as medications, injections or physical therapy.

Seth Williams, UW Health spine surgeon, and Jon Matsumura, UW Health vascular surgeon, explain more about mini ALIF.

Treatment process

What happens during a mini ALIF?

UW Health surgeons perform mini ALIF procedures to remove and replace painful discs and stabilize your spine.

Working together, spine and vascular surgeons:

  • Make a small incision in your lower abdomen

  • Access your spine while protecting blood vessels and checking blood flow

  • Remove the damaged disc

  • Insert a titanium cage and bone graft to replace the disc that was removed

  • May use medical screws to stabilize your spine

The cage restores the original disc height and helps fuse the vertebrae on either side of the disc. If medical screws are needed, the surgeons make two small incisions on your back to place the screws.

Your recovery and success after surgery 

You can expect to spend one or two nights in the hospital after a mini ALIF. 

You build strength after surgery by walking for therapy. You should be able to walk for several miles a month after surgery. You can return to desk or light duty work within a week or two.

While you need to avoid heavy lifting, bending or twisting for about three months, you should be ready to return to your normal activities in about six months.

About 90 percent of mini ALIF patients at UW Health report big improvements and minimal pain after surgery.

Patient stories

Inspiration from others who have overcome

Learn how the mini ALIF procedure helped Andrea and Lisa find relief from lower back pain and return to the activities they love.

Watch Andrea’s story
Watch Lisa’s story

Meet our team

An expert team by your side

Orthopedic spine surgeons and vascular surgeons work together on the mini ALIF surgery.

Our providers


Mini ALIF locations

We offer spine surgery clinics at UW Health Science Dr Medical Center and East Madison Hospital in Madison, Wis. Most surgeries are done at East Madison Hospital.

Meet with our team to learn more

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