Copyright 2010 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Spinal Fusion Glossary

Understanding why spinal fusion is done can be difficult and confusing. Your surgeon will discuss your questions in detail. To help you better understand the different spinal fusion surgeries, this glossary of words and abbreviations has been developed.

For more detailed information about spine anatomy: Spine BasicsSpine Basics (topic.cfm?topic=A00575)

Incision Site

Surgeons can reach the spine by making an incision (cut) in different places on your body. Incision sites are often described as:

A posterior incision site.

Anterior. This term refers to the front of your body. In spinal fusion surgery, an anterior fusion is done by making an incision in the abdomen (belly).

Posterior. This refers to the back part of your body. If you are having a posterior fusion in your lower back, you will lie on your belly during the operation and your surgeon will make the incision in your lower back.

Lateral. This refers to the side part of your body. Surgeons can reach certain parts of the lumbar spine by making an incision in your side.

Procedure Site

Surgeons will also perform the surgical procedure in specific parts of your spine, such as the vertebra or the intervertebral disk. In most cases, the part of your spine being operated on is the place where the problem is present.

Intertransverse or posterolateral. This is the part of the lumbar spine between the transverse processes of a vertebra.

Surgeons most often reach this area by making an incision on the back. This type of fusion is called:

  • Posterior (from the back) posterolateral (specific spinal anatomy involved)
    Fusion. This procedure is often referred to as a PLF.

Interbody. This is the part of the spine where the disk is present, between the bones (vertebrae). An interbody fusion can be performed with different approaches:

  • Anterior (from the belly) Lumbar (part of the spine being operated upon)
    Interbody (in the disk space) Fusion. You may see this written as an ALIF.
  • Posterior (from the back) Lumbar (part of the spine being operated upon)
    Interbody (in the disk space) Fusion. or PLIF.
  • A different type of PLIF is called transforaminal. Although the spine is still reached through an incision in the back, the disk space is approached from the side. Transforaminal (from the back) Lumbar (part of the spine being operated upon) Interbody (in the disk space) Fusion or TLIF.
  • Lateral (from the side) Lumbar (part of the spine being operated upon) Interbody (in the disk space) Fusion (specific surgery being done). This type of surgery is often described as a Direct lateral or Extreme lateral approach (DLIF or XLIF).
Last reviewed: June 2010
AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS "Find an Orthopaedist" program on this website.
Copyright 2010 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Related Articles
Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00595)
Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion and Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00596)
Posterolateral Lumbar Fusion (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00594)
Spinal Fusion (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00384)
Spine Basics (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00575)
Related Resources
Video: Spinal Fusion ()
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