Fusion of vertebrae in the spine—in which two bones are combined to form one single bone and the space between them ceases to exist—is a common procedure for people suffering from a degeneration of vertebral discs or scoliosis or those who have spodylolisthesis. In extreme lateral interbody fusion, a surgeon gains access to the patient’s spine from their side (laterally) and a bone grafting material is placed in the space between the two vertebrae in order to help with the process of fusing.

Essentially, the goal of all interbody fusions are the same, however the approach the surgeon takes to the fusion procedure can differ depending on the needs of the patient and the underlying spinal issues that necessitate the surgery. There are four approaches a surgeon can choose from: anterior (front, through the abdomen), posterior (rear, through the back muscles) transforaminal (at an angle through the lower back muscles) and lateral (through the side).

When performing a lateral lumbar interbody fusion a patient is placed on their side and the surgeon makes two small incisions, moving aside local muscles and tissue and giving access to the spine. Disc tissue is then removed and a bone graft (and possibly surgical hardware implants) are strategically placed to help maintain appropriate space during the fusion.

During the recovery phase the fusion process will result in the two former bones becoming one solid piece. The patient should experience immediate relief, however, from any pre-surgery pain or discomfort and will be able to resume normal activities based on a recovery plan from their physician.