Central Texas Spine Institute

Randall F. Dryer, M.D.

Top Rated U.S. Spine Surgeon

Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion



Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I need a TLIF spinal surgery?

When considering the indications for lumbar spine fusion, low back pain that lasts for more than six months is the most general indication. The indications for fusing the low back occur primarily in situations where there is a large deformity, such as:

  • Mechanical back pain (usually attributed to disc degeneration)
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • Recurrent disc herniations
  • Fractures
  • Tumors
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal instability (spondylolisthesis)

How will you confirm whether I need the TLIF procedure?

During your consultation appointment, we will use some or all of the following methods to determine whether the TLIF procedure is best for you:

  • Patient history
  • Physical Exam
  • X-Rays, Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) or CT Scan
  • Discogram
  • EMGs
  • Myelogram and CT Scan
  • Treatment Alternatives
  • Medications
  • Physical therapy (exercises and stretching)
  • Chiropractic Manipulation
  • Epidural Steroid Injections (ESIs)
  • TENS Units

What is the purpose of a Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion (TLIF) procedure?

The primary purpose of this procedure is to stabilize the spine by restoring the disc height and fusing the vertebrae together using the patient’s own bone or a genetically engineered substance known as Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP).

TLIF fuses the anterior (front) and posterior (back) columns of the spine through a single posterior approach. The anterior (front) of the spine is stabilized by the bone graft and cage. The posterior (rear) column is locked in place with pedicle screws, rods, and bone graft.

Where do you get the bone used for fusion?

There are currently two primary alternative sources for the bone needed for the spinal fusion. Traditionally, some of the patient’s own bone has been harvested from the iliac crest (hip bone). This technique produces excellent results for the fusion.

In addition to this, earlier in 2003, the FDA approved a genetically engineered bone substitute for use in spinal fusions. Under the brand name InFUSE, BMP converts stem cells into bone forming cells and stimulates rapid growth of bone at the targeted site. Using BMP eliminates the need for harvesting the patient’s own bone and speeds up the fusion process.

What is the advantage of the TLIF approach as opposed to PLIF?

The TLIF procedure has several theoretical advantages over some other approaches to lumbar fusion:

Bone fusion is enhanced because the bone graft is placed both along the gutters of the spine posteriorly but also in the disc space. A cage is inserted into the disc space, which helps restore normal height and opens nerve foramina to take pressure off the nerve roots. A TLIF procedure allows the surgeon to insert the bone graft and spacer into the disc space from a unilateral approach laterally without having to forcefully retract the nerve roots as much, which may reduce injury and scarring around the nerve roots when compared to a PLIF procedure.

Who will be involved in my spinal procedure?

Surgeon – The orthopedic surgeon that you have been seeing in our office will be the primary surgeon in charge of your surgery.

Assistant Surgeon – Another orthopedic surgeon, usually from our office, will assist your orthopedic surgeon with the procedure. This is done to minimize the length of time you are under general anesthesia and to provide the necessary assistance with the actual surgical procedure.

Anesthesiologist – The doctor who actually administers and monitors the anesthesia is a critical part of the surgical team. You will normally meet with the Anesthesiologist during your pre-op appointment at the hospital.

What can I expect from my hospital stay?

With most spinal surgeries, patients are up and walking within hours after their procedure, although the walking is very limited. It is no longer necessary, or recommended, that you lie stationary in bed for days or weeks after spine surgery. Nurses who are experienced in working with spinal surgery patients will assist you during your first few efforts at getting out of bed and walking.

Your doctor may may put you into a back brace to wear for comfort while the fusion is progressing.

How should I care for my incision?

The nursing staff at the hospital will show you how to keep the dressing dry and in place to protect the incision while showering. The wound should not be submerged in water (pool or tub) until it has healed and has been cleared by your doctor. The nurse will change the dressing after your shower, and again later if necessary.

Your doctor will tell you when it is safe to shower after surgery. Your surgical incision will be checked during your first post-op Post Op appointment. However, should your incision become red and tender or drainage occurs, prior to your first scheduled post-op visit, you should contact our office for instructions.

What are the risks and potential complications associated with TLIF?

Potential risks or complications of the TLIF procedure may include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Complications from anesthesia
  • Continued low b Back pain
  • Fusion may not occur (note: there is a higher incidence of non-fusion in patients who smoke)
  • Hardware (i.e. pedicle screws or cages) may break or come loose
  • Numbness
  • Nerve damage
  • Weakness
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Infertility
  • Death

How quickly can I return to my normal daily living routine after surgery?

It normally takes approximately 3 to 6 months for the fusion to occur. During that time, you should avoid strenuous activities that might affect the fusion process. During the rehabilitation process it is important to recondition the muscles with exercise, stretching and aerobic conditioning.

If you have been referred to a spinal specialist in Austin, schedule an initial consultation online or call us today!

No guarantees can be made as to the success of this procedure.

Double click to download a printed version of TLIF FAQs

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Central Texas Spine Institute, PLLC, (CTSI) located in Austin, Texas, is a private medical practice offering comprehensive spine care, including diagnostic services, conservative treatment modalities, and spine surgery.

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Dr. Dryer specializes in treatment of degenerative conditions of the spine. Dr. Dryer utilizes the very latest minimally invasive surgical techniques to minimize recovery times and allow you to get back to enjoying life as quickly as possible.

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