Complication avoidance and management in anterior lumbar interbody fusion

Khoi D. Than, Anthony C. Wang, Shayan U. Rahman, Thomas J. Wilson, Juan M. Valdivia, Paul Park, Frank La Marca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


The goal of this study was to review the literature to compare strategies for avoiding and treating complications from anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF), and thus provide a comprehensive aid for spine surgeons. A thorough review of databases from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health was conducted. The complications of ALIF addressed in this paper include pseudarthrosis and subsidence, vascular injury, retrograde ejaculation, ileus, and lymphocele (chyloretroperitoneum). Strategies identified for improving fusion rates included the use of frozen rather than freeze-dried allograft, cage instrumentation, and bone morphogenetic protein. Lower cage heights appear to reduce the risk of subsidence. The most common vascular injury is venous laceration, which occurs less frequently when using nonthreaded interbody grafts such as iliac crest autograft or femoral ring allograft. Left iliac artery thrombosis is the most common arterial injury, and its occurrence can be minimized by intermittent release of retraction intraoperatively. The risk of retrograde ejaculation is significantly higher with laparoscopic approaches, and thus should be avoided in male patients. Despite precautionary measures, complications from ALIF may occur, but treatment options do exist. Bowel obstruction can be treated conservatively with neostigmine or with decompression. In cases of postoperative lymphocele, resolution can be attained by creating a peritoneal window. By recognizing ways to minimize complications, the spine surgeon can safely use ALIF procedures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE6
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior lumbar interbody fusion
  • Anterior spine
  • Complication
  • Lumbar spine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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