Dr. Jim Rothermel, a retired ob/gyn, had been living with back and leg pain for more than three years. He was told that he needed extensive open spinal surgery. However, he came to the Emory Spine Center for another opinion and met with Dr. Tim Yoon, an internationally recognized spine surgeon and expert in minimally invasive techniques. Dr. Yoon diagnosed Jim with stenosis and scoliosis. His condition would typically require complex open spinal surgery, but Dr. Yoon determined that using a less invasive method, the XLIF technique, would reduce the stress on his body and reduce recovery time.
XLIF (eXtreme Lateral Interbody Fusion) is an approach to spinal surgery in which the spine surgeon accesses the intevertebral disc space and fuses the lumbar spine from the side rather than from the front or the back. By going through the side of the body with a small incision rather than through a large abdominal incision, much less soft tissue is traumatized, resulting in a faster recovery. XLIF may be an option for patients who have scoliosis, spondylolisthesis (where the vertebrae have slid in relation to one another), or spinal stenosis. These diagnoses typically causes leg pain and back pain. When XLIF is used to perform a simple one-level fusion surgery, the patient often is able to go home the next day.
The XLIF technique can also be used to access multiple different discs and may be combined with other procedures, such as minimally invasive screws, to handle more complex cases, like Jim’s. This less-invasive approach can make surgery an option for people who, in the past, might not have been chosen surgery because of the prolonged recovery time or because the doctors thought the surgery was too invasive for a frail patient. Therefore, XLIF allows surgeons to treat more spinal conditions and different types of patients.
Emory spine surgeons have extensive experience performing a wide variety of spine surgeries. They know when the minimally invasive approach won’t be effective or should be combined with a bigger surgery. “Not everybody is going to be best treated by an XLIF, but I know who will be, and I choose those people,” Dr. Yoon says. “That way, you maximize the best results and minimize any likelihood of complications.”
Jim and his wife, Midge, couldn’t be happier with Dr. Yoon and their experience at the Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. Jim says, “Dr. Yoon spent quality time with me. He thought he could do this XLIF procedure with a three-level fusion. He explained it in detail and then referred me to a website. I looked at the procedure carefully and thought it sounded like the proper way to go about doing it. He scheduled the surgery for two stages. We did the XLIF on a Monday, and he was able to do it in a manner that wasn’t muscle cutting. The recovery time was markedly improved.” Three days later, Dr. Yoon performed the second stage of the surgery, and a few days after that, Jim went home.
“Jim was extremely uncomfortable for over three years, and to see the difference in him now is just an absolute miracle. He’s happy. He’s always been a big teaser and silly, and I’ve got him back again,” Midge says.Have you had XLIF spine surgery, or would you like to learn more about spine surgery at Emory? We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.