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What is Oblique Lumbar Interbody Fusion?


The lumbar spine, or the lower back, comprises five vertebral bones divided by discs. As we age, the discs begin to wear down so the vertebrae rub against each other, causing degeneration, lower back pain, and leg pain, numbness, and weakness. As up to 80% of people in the Western world will suffer from lower back pain during their life, the medical community is constantly researching ways to refine spinal surgery. Oblique lumbar interbody fusion (OLIF), a new minimally invasive spinal surgery, is an advanced technique of the direct lumbar interbody fusion (DLIF), which Dr. Leipzig currently performs. It can treat lumbar spine conditions and provide pain relief by removing the damaged bone or vertebrae and allowing the healthy vertebrae to successfully fuse together.

How does it work?
In traditional spine fusion surgeries, the muscles and soft tissues are stripped through an invasive procedure. OLIF relies on a lateral approach so muscles, ligaments and bones in the back aren’t impacted. By avoiding the pelvic bone and entering through the oblique, OLIF allows spinal surgeons to reach each vertebra. The damaged bone or disc is removed and replaced by a bone graft or spacer and, if necessary, screws, rods, or plates. The bones are then able to fuse.

One of the major advantages to opting for a minimally invasive procedure like OLIF is the lack of disruption on the back — as no major muscles are cut, back strength is preserved. Like all minimally invasive approaches, OLIF can potentially lower rate-of-morbidity, decrease postoperative pain and limit both operating time and time spent in the hospital.

Though every condition differs, a short hospital stay in generally required. Patients then use a back brace and physical therapy is recommended to rebuild strength. Generally, patients are able to return to work after three to six weeks.

What conditions does it treat?
OLIF is an option for abnormal spine curvature, fractured vertebrae, bulging discs, spine instability, and displaced vertebrae, or lumbar spondylolisthesis. With any spinal condition, it’s critical to consult a spinal surgeon to find the option best for you and your postoperative goals.

Dr. Leipzig is a Virginia spine surgeon with over two decades of experience and specializes in procedures including minimally invasive spine surgery and disc arthroplasty. Contact Virginia Spine Care today.


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"I enjoy interacting with patients and helping them understand their condition and treatment options. Spine problems and spinal surgery can be stressful. It’s an honor to be able to treat patients and guide them toward recovery."
James Leipzig, M.D., F.A.C.S.