Severe, chronic back pain that doesn’t resolve with other treatments may require surgery. One surgery that can address pain is called transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion. TLIF is the medical abbreviation of this procedure.

TLIF is a specialized type of spinal surgery used to stabilize the spine. The procedure permanently joins together, or fuses, two or more bones in the lower spine.

Why is TLIF Performed?

The spine is made up of stacked bones, or vertebrae, with intervertebral discs between them, like cushions. These discs have a gel-like center, allowing your spine to bend and rotate.

Sometimes, due to injury, disease, or other underlying medical conditions, these discs can become damaged and cause problems. The result is pain or instability in the lower spine or lumbar back region.

Indications For the TLIF Procedure

Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, or TLIF surgery, is often considered a good option if you are suffering from conditions that cause chronic lower back discomfort and limited mobility. TLIF is often used to address issues like sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy, where nerve irritation or compression leads to shooting pain that radiates down the leg.

TLIF can also be an effective treatment for a range of other spinal disorders, including:

TLIF aims to stabilize the spine in each of these conditions to alleviate pain and discomfort.

How the TLIF Procedure is Performed

In TLIF surgery, the surgeon’s approach is through an incision made at the back of the spine. This approach also allows access to the front part of the spine, where the vertebral bodies are located.

The vertebral bodies provide an area for disc attachment between the vertebrae. The fusion of these vertebral bodies is a key component of the surgery, hence “interbody fusion” in its name.

To reach the front part of your spine, the surgeon removes some bone and disc material. There are also small, natural openings in your spine called foramina, where the nerve roots emerge. The surgeon makes these openings bigger during the procedure. Working through these enlarged foramina is why it’s named the “transforaminal” procedure.

By removing bone and disc material and enlarging these openings, TLIF helps take the pressure off your spinal cord or nerve roots. Therefore, it is not only a fusion surgery to stabilize your spine but also a decompression surgery, aiming to ease any pressure and discomfort in your back.

The Disc Fusion Process

The actual fusion process involves removing the problematic disc. Once the disc is out, the surgeon places a bone graft in its place. This graft acts as a scaffold, helping the two vertebrae grow together or fuse over time. The fusion process, which can take several months, eventually stabilizes the spine by eliminating movement between the affected vertebrae.

The TLIF procedure can be done as an open surgery involving a larger incision or as a less invasive option with smaller incisions and potentially quicker recovery times.

Is TLIF Right for You?

If you have questions or are considering TLIF surgery, getting all the information you need to make an informed decision is important. We encourage you to discuss your chronic back pain with a neurosurgeon.

Don’t live with chronic pack pain – find out if TLIF is right for you and schedule an appointment today!