TLIF and PLIF: Minimally Invasive Spine Surgeries

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How a TLIF or PLIF Is Performed

After accessing your spine—either from the side (TLIF) or more from the middle of your back (PLIF)—your surgeon will decompress your spine. This means that he or she will remove parts of your spine that are pressing on nerves and causing pain or other symptoms.

Your surgeon may do a microlaminectomy or microlaminotomy, decompression techniques that allow your surgeon to better see your nerve roots.

Another decompression technique is a discectomy, which involves removing your intervertebral disc.

These decompression techniques can make your spine unstable—more prone to excessive movement and perhaps injury. Therefore, a TLIF or PLIF stabilizes your spine.

Your surgeon can fill the empty space from decompression using an intervertebral fusion cage. This cage is shaped like a hollow cylinder, and it's usually made with plastic polymer, bone, or titanium. It will be filled with bone graft, a substance that facilitates fusion between your vertebrae.

Bone graft can be created with actual bone or a biologic substance. When it's taken from your own body, it's called autograft; when it's from a donor's body, it's called allograft. Biologic substances (eg, bone morphogenetic protein), which are man-made bone graft substitutes, can also help facilitate fusion between vertebrae.

In order to provide instant support for your spine, your surgeon will also use rods and screws during a TLIF or PLIF. These spinal implants will help support your spine as your bones heal and fuse, a process that usually takes 6 to 9 months.

Minimally invasive TLIF takes about 2 ½ hours to perform, and minimally invasive PLIF takes less than 3 ½ hours to perform.

Minimally Invasive TLIF and PLIF Risks

As with any type of surgery, there are complications associated with minimally invasive TLIF and PLIF. But besides the typical risk of infection and blood loss during surgery, there are other potential complications associated with these procedures:

  • Blood clots
  • Increased risk of scarring your nerve roots
  • Failure of bone graft to properly fuse, which may require additional surgery
  • Screws, rods, and other instruments can shift

Minimally Invasive TLIF and PLIF Recovery

Many patients who have minimally invasive TLIF or PLIF experience less blood loss, shorter hospitals stays, and a faster recovery than those who have traditional open TLIF or PLIF. These patients can usually return to their normal lives in less than a few weeks, but your doctor will let you know when you're ready to return to your regular activities.

Updated on: 03/15/19
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