PLIF, or posterior lumbar interbody fusion, is an approach to spinal fusion surgery in which the neurosurgeon accesses and repairs the lower (lumbar) spine from the back (posterior) of the patient’s body.
Spinal fusion is performed to join together two or more bones of the spine, called vertebrae, eliminating movement between them. This is done by removing the intervertebral disc between the two vertebrae, which normally enables the spine to bend and rotate, and inserting a bone graft in its place. The bone graft heals over several months, fusing the vertebrae together and stabilizing the spine.
PLIF can be done as a traditional open surgery or as a less minimally invasive surgery, depending on the patient’s condition and medical history. In the less minimally invasive surgery, a neurosurgeon makes a small incision in the muscle and uses a retractor to gently widen the layers of tissue that cover the spine.
PLIF can be used to treat the following conditions of the lumbar spine:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated disc
- Fractures to the vertebrae
- Spinal deformities, such as scoliosis or kyphosis
- Spinal weakness or instability, which may be caused by infections or tumors
- Spondylolisthesis, a condition in which on vertebra slips forward on top of another
You may be a good candidate for spinal fusion if you have instability, weakness, or pain caused by one of the previously listed conditions and have already tried nonsurgical treatments. Spinal fusion changes the normal movement of the spine, which may accelerate wear and tear of the vertebral joints adjacent to the fused vertebrae.
If you do need spinal fusion, your neurosurgeon can help determine which approach is best for you.
- Date of last review: January 8, 2018
- Author: Juan Uribe, MD