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Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF)

Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF) is a form of spinal fusion surgery where the surgeon accesses the affected lumbar vertebrae through the back. Incisions are between 3 and 6 inches long, depending on how many vertebrae need to be fused.

PLIF has largely replaced an older form of spinal fusion surgery called posterior lumbar fusion surgery (PLF). PLF consisted of fusing adjacent vertebrae without the placement of an interbody implant, which often worked in the short term but led to worsening pain down the road.

Today’s spinal fusion patients enjoy much better long term outcomes with the inclusion of interbody implants, which restore disc height and maintain a healthy spinal curvature that improves overall long term pain reduction and outcomes.

PLIF can also be performed as a minimally invasive surgery using smaller incisions and special instrumentation. Dr. Baig is skilled and experienced in both forms of PLIF.

What happens during PLIF?

PLIF uses a posterior (from the back) approach, but with smaller incisions than standard posterior lumbar fusion surgery. Through the incision, Dr. Baig will retract the back muscles and carefully remove the lamina of the affected vertebrae to access the damaged disc or discs. Additional bone and tissue may need to be removed.

The damaged disc is surgically removed and replaced with an interbody implant and bone graft tissue. This implant will restore and maintain lost disc height as well as proper spinal curvature. Additional bone graft material and screws, plates or rods are used to fuse the vertebrae together.

Why PLIF?

Other interbody fusion surgeries that access the spine from the side (XLIF) or front (ALIF) are preferable, but not everyone is a candidate for these approaches. Most people, however, are candidates for PLIF, which offers the following benefits over traditional spinal fusion surgery:

  • The inclusion of an interbody implant restores three-dimensional alignment and balance to your spine.
  • Long term outcomes of pain reduction are far superior to traditional posterior lumbar fusion surgery.
  • Post-operative complications such as hardware failure and non-union (bones not healing) are significantly reduced as compared with traditional spinal fusion surgery.
  • Minimally invasive PLIF uses much smaller incisions and sparing the back muscles from significant damage. Dr. Baig uses minimally invasive PLIF surgery whenever appropriate.

Am I a candidate for PLIF?

Most people who are candidates for spinal fusion surgery are candidates for PLIF. As always, Dr. Baig will not perform any form of back surgery unless he is certain it will help you. A consultation with Dr. Baig is the best way to find an effective treatment plan for your back pain and related symptoms.