TLIF and PLIF: Minimally Invasive Spine Surgeries

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The goals of minimally invasive transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) and posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) are to address the cause of your back pain and to keep your spine stable by fusing 2 or more of your vertebrae together.
Surgical LampsMinimally invasive TLIF and PLIF are fusion surgeries, and although they have many similarities, the major difference between these 2 procedures is how your surgeon accesses your spine.

To understand the difference between a TLIF and a PLIF, it helps to understand a little bit about spinal anatomy and spinal terms.

Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion
For a TLIF, you need to know that the foramen are on the sides of your spine, and they are where nerves exit the spinal cord and travel to other parts of your body. In the illustration below, you can identify the foramen—which means opening—by finding the nerve root branching off the spinal cord. (Sometimes foramen are called "neuroforamen" as labeled in the illustration below, but they're the same thing.)

In a TLIF, then, the surgeon accesses your spine from one side; it is unilateral access. He or she will make small incisions that line up with your foramen, and then he or she will operate on your spine through that incision and through the foramen; that's why it's called a transforaminal procedure.

Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion
In a PLIF—posterior lumbar interbody fusion—the surgeon accesses your spine more from the middle of your back. Posterior in doctor-speak means "from the back side" (the opposite of this is anterior, or "from the front side"). For a PLIF, the surgeon makes incisions on your back that line up with the middle of your vertebra.

That's the basic difference between a TLIF and a PLIF. Your surgeon will make the best recommendation about whether you should have a TLIF or PLIF, and you should make sure you understand all the details of the surgery you're going to have.

When Is Minimally Invasive TLIF and PLIF Performed?
Minimally invasive TLIF and PLIF are performed for 2 main reasons:

  • Relieve pressure on your spinal nerves and/or spinal cord
  • Stabilize your spine

These procedures are commonly performed in patients who have low back pain or radicular pain associated with these spine conditions:

Updated on: 04/13/17
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