Spinal Fusion: Anterior Lumbar

Spinal fusion is surgery to connect 2 or more bones in the spine. The bones are called vertebrae. Fusing vertebrae in the lower (lumbar) spine may help ease lower back and leg pain. Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is done through an incision in your stomach area. The surgery may take from 3 to 8 hours. This depends on how many vertebrae are fused. In some people, an ALIF is combined with a posterior instrumented fusion (PIF). This is done through an incision in the back. 

Side view of lower back showing lumbar spine.

The fusion procedure

Here is what to expect:

  • An incision is made on 1 side of your stomach.  

  • The disk is removed from between the vertebrae that will be fused. This leaves an empty space between the vertebrae.

  • A bone, synthetic, or metal graft is placed into the empty space.

  • The graft may be held in place with screws or a plate with screws. Over time, the graft and the bone around it grow into 1 solid unit.

  • A tube called a drain may be left in the wound for a few days.

  • The incision is closed with sutures or staples.

Cross section of lumbar vertebrae showing three steps in lumbar fusion.

Online Medical Reviewer: Anne Fetterman RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Luc Jasmin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2021
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