When professional golfer Tiger Woods needed a solution to alleviate his chronic back and leg pain, he and his physician opted for an anterior lumbar interbody fusion. This type of minimally invasive spine surgery helped relieve Tiger Woods’ sciatica and severe back pain due to a severely narrowed lower-back disc, resulting from previously herniated discs and three previous surgeries. He has now returned to playing tournaments after his successful lumbar fusion procedure.
A spinal fusion, in general, is a surgical procedure during which bone graft is placed alongside bone that is already in the spine in order to create one solid bone. This fused bone or vertebra helps to stabilize that part of the spine, especially in the lumbar section of the spine.
Who Are Candidates For Lumbar Interbody Fusion?
When degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or nerve compression affects one or more of the lumbar vertebrae, intense pain in the lower back and other parts of the body are felt. The pain can radiate to the shoulder, arm, hip, thighs, or other areas due to pressure on a nerve root. The minimally invasive spine surgery that Tiger Woods underwent is often recommended for patients who suffer from segmental instability, osteoarthritis of the spine, spondylolysis, or chronic disc herniations, in spite of their having undergone previous surgeries.
What Happens During This Type of Fusion Surgery?
This minimally invasive surgery is quite commonly used for treating patients’ conditions as referred to above. A facet screw system is used to bring stability back to the spine. Small incisions, neuromonitoring, and the guidance of a fluoroscope let us insert a tubular dilator to move the muscles and other tissues between the incision and the spine so as not to irritate any nerves or muscles. A retractor and spacer cage is then put in place for removal of disc and/or bone material. The spacer lets the physician fill the area with bone graft or a bone graft substitute, letting the spine fuse. Finally, screws and tiny rods are placed to hold the spine in position and promote successful fusion at the site. The retractor is then removed and the small incision closed.
The lumbar interbody fusion allows surgeons to correct lower back conditions without the need for large incisions or disruptive manipulations of back muscles. This procedure enables quicker recovery times and less post-operative pain than traditional open fusion surgeries.
What To Expect After This Procedure
Patients typically can expect to spend a day at the surgical center for this minimally invasive spine surgery. Most patients are able to head home the same day. The spine will stabilize over a period of 6-24 months as the bones continue to fuse together. In the meantime, patients must work with a physiotherapist to keep the rest of the lower back mobile without stressing the site of the fusion. Physical therapy should not begin until the surgeon decides the time is appropriate, however.
The lower back should be kept in as vertical a position as possible during recovery. This means that bending or twisting should be avoided, though the lumbar should be kept mobile so as to avoid stiffness. Patients may wear a light support brace for as long as three weeks if it provides extra pain relief, but using a brace for a longer period than that is not advisable. This is because the spine needs to strengthen, with walking, swimming, or straight leg exercises as soon as your physician approves. Smoking is discouraged, as it interferes with vascular healing, which is important for bone growth.
Here at the Spine Institute Northwest, we perform this type of minimally invasive procedure for our patients who suffer from chronic pain and require vertebrae stabilization to relieve nerve root pressure. Contact our offices at 206-496-0630 for a complimentary consultation if you think you are a candidate for this procedure or have other questions concerning minimally invasive spine surgery.