Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion (OLIF)

Anatomy of the Lumbar Spine

The lumbar spine is made up of 5 bones, arranged one above the other and separated by spongy intervertebral discs that cushion the spine during movement.

Degeneration of the Lumbar Spine

As vertebral bones age, the discs go through wear and tear, leading to damage and degeneration of the discs. This further causes the bones to rub painfully against each other. The symptoms include lower back pain, and pain, numbness and weakness in the leg.

What is Lumbar Interbody Fusion (LIF)?

Lumbar interbody fusion involves the removal of the damaged intervertebral disc and fusion of the two adjacent spinal vertebrae into one bone. When the bones do not move, they do not cause any pain.

What is Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion (OLIF)?

Lumbar interbody fusion can be performed through different approaches. Oblique lumbar interbody fusion (OLIF) is a minimally invasive approach to LIF, where an incision is made on your side to avoid damaging important muscles and ligaments in your back.

Diagnostic Tests for Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion (OLIF)

Before performing OLIF, your doctor will order X-rays and MRI scans of the lumbar spine in flexion and extension, discogram and computed tomography.

Surgical Procedure of Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion (OLIF)

The procedure is performed under general anaesthesia with you laying prone on your stomach. Your doctor makes an incision on the side of your abdomen and carefully separates soft tissues to access the degenerated lumbar vertebrae. The damaged vertebral bone or intervertebral disc is removed. A spacer with bone graft is implanted in the intervertebral space and screws, rods and plates are inserted to keep the graft in place. The bone graft helps in bone healing and fusion of the adjacent vertebrae. Following this, care is taken to reposition the soft tissues carefully and the incision is closed.

Risk and Complications of Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion (OLIF)

As with all surgeries, oblique lumbar interbody fusion may be associated with complications such as infection, bleeding, failure of bone fusion, nerve damage, bowel and bladder difficulties, thigh pain, numbness or weakness.

Postoperative Care for Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion (OLIF)

Post-surgery, you may be required to stay in the hospital 1 to 2 days or longer depending on your condition. You will be prescribed pain medication and your back will be supported by a brace to mitigate pain and expedite the healing process. Physical therapy is required to improve strength and movement post-surgery. You will need 3-6 weeks of recuperation for the bones to normally fuse and for you to be able to go back to work.

Benefits of OLIF Procedure

The OLIF procedure is a minimally invasive procedure performed with small incisions that result in less scarring and postoperative pain.

Some of the benefits of the OLIF procedure over other approaches are:

  • Aids in early mobility
  • Associated with minimal risks and complications
  • Does not require cutting of major muscles
  • Shorter operative time
  • Less blood loss
University of Leeds British Orthopaedic Association Royal College of Surgeons Swansea University NHS Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh