Patients recommended for the eXtreme Lateral Interbody Fusion (XLIF®) procedure have probably had their surgeons talk about the fusion process. But what is interbody fusion?

Interbody fusion is the biological process that grows bone across two or more vertebrae to stop the motion between them – specifically between the vertebral bodies of adjacent vertebrae.

In order for fusion to occur, there are three requirements that must be met:

  1. Stability – Bone won’t grow between vertebrae if there is motion between them, so they need to be stabilized. Implants (spacers) and internal fixation intrumentation (screws, plates, and/or rods) provide stability.
  2. Loading – In order to activate the cells that grow bone, load needs to be applied to them. That means there needs to be contact between the vertebrae being fused, which is typically provided by an implant and supported with internal fixation instrumentation.
  3. Nutrient-rich Environment – As the bone-growing cells are activated, they will need an adequate nutrient supply and blood supply to fuel the bone-growing process. In interbody fusions, the surfaces of the vertebral end plates provide this nutrient-rich environment.

Interbody fusions, like those done in the XLIF procedure, have become the standard method for spinal fusions since they provide stability, carry the spinal load, and have a better nutrient supply than fusions between other parts of vertebrae.

A healthcare provider may consider fusion for patients who need to:

  1. Prevent a progressive spinal deformity,
  2. Reestablish spinal stability following a loss of structural integrity (e.g., fracture, trauma to ligaments), or
  3. Diminish pain by eliminating motion between segments of the spine.

If you want to learn more about fusion and the XLIF procedure, watch the XLIF Patient Animation.

As with any medical condition, individual experiences will vary from patient to patient. Since this information is intended for informational purposes only, it is important that it doesn’t replace the relationship you have with your healthcare provider. Be sure to consult your healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.